PORT ST. LUCIE — Dave Eiland understands that Jacob deGrom hopes to be the Opening Day starter. The Mets pitching coach knows deGrom deserves to be on the mound Mar. 29 at Citi Field when the Mets begin their 2018 season in an ideal world.
But this isn’t a perfect spring for deGrom, who was pushed back with back tightness a week ago. Eiland would not rule out deGrom being ready for Opening Day, but it obviously became less likely on Sunday when the right hander did not face batters.
Eiland is not messing around with deGrom’s health.
“With Jacob deGrom we will not make an exception. That’s stupid. We’re not going to be careless. We’re not going to be careless, just so he can pitch Opening Day,” Eiland said Sunday. “If it falls to where he can, he will, he earned it. He deserves that start. We’re not gonna push the envelope and be careless and he starts Opening Day and he doesn’t start again until June. It would be pretty ignorant on our part.”
After two straight years of having their seasons destroyed by injuries to the rotation, the Mets are erring on the side of caution with deGrom. They are slowly progressing him into the season.
Instead of facing batters in live batting practice Sunday, as he said had expected, the Mets right hander threw a regular bullpen with Michael Conforto standing in to track pitches. The next step is to play light catch on Monday to see if his back is still feeling good and then pitch in a simulated game.
That puts him at least one, possibly two spring outings behind the other starters.
With manager Mickey Callaway and Eiland wanting deGrom to face live hitters at least five times before the season starts, the calendar is not in deGrom’s favor.
The 29-year old said he is not using Mar. 29 as a deadline, but he very much wants that start. “I would definitely like to start Opening Day, but that is out of my control,” deGrom said. “It’s kind of up to them. If I can get ready in time, which I think if I can get four starts I should be ready.”
As the only starter who did not go on the disabled list last year — and coming off a career-high 201 innings pitched — deGrom is the obvious pick. He missed out on his other chance — after leading the Mets to the World Series in 2015 because of uncertainty about the birth of his first child — and has said his “plan is not to do something dumb.”
But he still feels it is still he can be ready without risking his health.
“If I don’t start Opening Day, it’s not the end of the world. The goal is to go out there and make every start. Whether it’s Opening Day I start, the third, fourth, fifth day, just make every one of them,” deGrom said. “It’d definitely be an honor to start it, but if I don’t, I don’t.”
DeGrom, who did not throw for three days when he went home for the birth of his daughter, felt the tightness in his back after throwing long toss on his first day back at camp, Feb. 25. He said he has not felt any tightness since that first day, but still the Mets are ramping him up slowly.
Sunday, deGrom threw 40 pitches full strength, the first time he “really got after it,” this spring EIland said.
“It was very important, very important, if he couldn’t get after it today……the first week probably would have been out of the question,” Eiland said.
If all feels good on Monday, deGrom will be carefully watched as he faces hitters in a controlled, simulated game on Tuesday. Eiland said it would like be anywhere from 18 to 30 pitches, depending on how he feels and looks. That will also determine how much faster he will move.
“He’s gonna have to face hitters five different times, whether it be on the backfield, minor league games or out here. We’ll see where it takes us,” Eiland said. “Do we count Tuesday as one? We’ll see what he gets out of it. See what he’s ready for after that.”
There is no question for Eiland or among the Mets that deGrom deserves the honor of pitching Opening Day. That acknowledgement within the team may just have to be honor enough.
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