John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
PORT ST. LUCIE -- Jacob deGrom established the terms of engagement with the very first pitch of his afternoon on Field 7 at Mets' spring training complex, an informal setting to be sure.
Friendly fire with teammates at the plate? To deGrom there's no such thing.
As Dom Smith would say with a smile later, "Even in a sim game the guy just wants to beat you bad."
So in stepped none other than Yoenis Cespedes as the first hitter of this simulated game, and deGrom started him off with one of his wicked, late-breaking sliders that produced a weak swing and a miss.
When deGrom was asked about it afterward, his face lit up.
"I knew he was looking for a first-pitch fastball, so I threw him a slider," he said, smiling. "I knew these guys were coming out hacking, but that's good.
"Watching their swings on my stuff is definitely a plus because I know they're going to be aggressive. And my goal is to try to get these guys out. Yeah, there's some joking in between, but when they step in there against me, I want to get them out."
Indeed, the Mets trust their two-time Cy Young winner to get as much out of such intrasquad affairs as Grapefruit League games, thus the sim game while Michael Wacha was starting in West Palm Beach against the Astros Friday night.
To no one's surprise, the two-time Cy Young winner was successful doing that, from getting a weak fly ball on another slider from Cespedes in that first at-bat to getting Smith waving at a 2-2 change-up for the final out of his three innings of work.
All in all, deGrom allowed one run and two hits but mostly got easy outs, and often made some very good hitters, in Cespedes, Smith, and J.D. Davis, among others, look bad with his slider and change-up.
Davis was the only one to get the best of deGrom, slamming a hanging curve ball for a long home run to left field and later lining a single on the only high slider the Mets' ace threw during the three innings.
"It's pretty cool," Davis admitted afterward. "It's a confidence booster for me, but really it was just a mistake on a pitch he's working on."
Yes, this spring deGrom has been trying to sharpen up his curve ball, a pitch he uses only sparingly. He doesn't really need it, as dominant as he has been the last two seasons, especially as his slider and change-up have become more and more important playing off his fastball.
But, hey, even a back-to-back Cy Young winner needs to work on something. So as much as he hates giving up hits in any setting, deGrom could mostly laugh it off as something of a lab experiment.
"I only throw like two curve balls a start," he said. "It's something I've been working on to have another weapon, but as soon as he hit it I said to (catcher) Rene (Rivera), 'that's why I don't throw it.'"
Davis even managed to spin it as praise for deGrom, which tells you how much his teammates admire the guy.
"Give him credit," Davis said. "He's a two-time Cy Young winner putting himself in a vulnerable state because he wants to get better and add a pitch to his repertoire. We appreciate that. As a leader and a guy who is our ace, it's pretty cool to see him push his limits and try to get better."
DeGrom did get Davis once, freezing him with a 2-2 slider that may or may not have been. Suffice it to say that since Rivera was both umpire and catcher, deGrom was getting the benefit of the borderline pitch on this day.
In any case, deGrom saved his best stuff for Cespedes and Smith. Three times he got Cespedes, who still isn't running the bases in these settings, with sliders away, getting weak contact with a fly out and ground ball to short, then a check-swing comebacker.
Then there was Smith. He only faced deGrom once, and the close-up look gave him even more appreciation for the righthander's Cy Young status, as he struck out swinging at a change-up even though he had was sort of guessing that's what he'd get, and then stood at the plate smiling rather wryly.
"I had to smile because that was gross," Smith said with a laugh. "I knew he was throwing it again because he got me to swing and miss earlier in the count with it. But it's so nasty.
"He has great arm action. It comes out firm and just falls off the table. When you have to respect a fastball that he throws at 98, sometimes you're going to be out in front of the change-up."
Smith smiled again and said lightheartedly:
"I'll take it as a sign of respect that he went to change-up to get me. He's just so good, man, and facing him you really see how he can read swings and attack you in different ways. I guess what I'd say is that come November I won't be surprised if he's in the conversation for Cy Young again."