PORT ST. LUCIE — The Mets did not escape spring training without a Jacob deGrom scare.
One week before the season begins in Washington, there is suddenly a question of whether their ace will be ready for Opening Day after deGrom reported some tightness in the back of his right shoulder while long-tossing Thursday.
Buck Showalter did not want to sound alarms and did not definitively say that deGrom would be scratched from his scheduled start against the Cardinals on Friday. But the Mets manager said deGrom would have to be pretty persuasive in convincing the team he is OK for the star to take the mound for what is supposed to be his final spring tuneup.
The plan, for now, is to see how deGrom feels Friday morning. If the soreness remains, Showalter suggests they likely would send deGrom for an MRI exam.
“Let’s see what [Friday] brings,” said Showalter, who added the Mets had baked in an extra day for each starter leading up to the season for a scenario like this one, in which deGrom could throw Saturday instead.
When he met with reporters after the Mets’ 7-3 loss to the Nationals at Clover Park on Thursday, Showalter mentioned the possibility of rain in the forecast as a potential reason for deGrom to not pitch in the Grapefruit League game Friday. He then returned to reporters about 20 minutes later to reveal he and deGrom had discussed the discomfort in his office earlier in the day, and the concerns were larger than the weather.
“I’d be surprised if he pitched [Friday]rain or no rain,” said Showalter, whose camp had been quiet until this development.
The Mets’ championship hopes reside on their unmatchable top of the rotation of deGrom and Max Scherzer, but injuries are always the concern, and they might have arrived already.
DeGrom has appeared in two Grapefruit League games and been characteristically dominant, allowing one run in five innings while striking out 10, and perhaps uncharacteristically restrained.
After deGrom — the most dominant pitcher in baseball — did not make a start after July 7 last year because of a low-grade tear of the ulnar collateral ligament, he has said this spring he has focused on being “smooth” and not trying to throw at max effort.
While tag-teaming with Scherzer on Monday, deGrom’s four-seam fastball averaged 97.2 mph, still often untouchable but a few ticks down from his average last season.
The focus has been on building up safely, especially critical because of the shortened spring training that can put a strain on pitchers, whose bodies are used to a specific routine.
In a normal spring, the Mets could rest deGrom — even if he feels perfectly fine in the coming days — and still feel comfortable they could have him ready for the start of the season. This is not a normal spring, and if deGrom takes a few days off, perhaps Scherzer gets the ball against the Nationals.
“If you shorten up spring, that buffer or safety net won’t be there,” Showalter said in December. “It’s going to be tough.”