PORT ST. LUCIE — Jake deGrom’s Grapefruit League season began Sunday with 13 straight strikes against a top-heavy Nationals lineup, and his afternoon barely worsened from there.
His fastball humming in the 97-98 mph range and offspeed pitches respectable, the Mets ace fired three shutout innings in which he allowed one hit and struck out two. It came 25 days before deGrom is scheduled to throw pitches that count against these Nationals in the Mets’ season-opener at Citi Field.
DeGrom had thrown a simulated game last Tuesday, allowing him to avoid an extended ride to Lakeland, Fla., for his first spring start. Sunday it got closer to real.
“Any time I take the mound I’m nervous,” deGrom said at Clover Park. “I was nervous in the sim game. Any time you are out there competing I always seem to get nervous and it felt good to get out there and a real game feel, people in the stands, another team, so it felt good to be out there.”
DeGrom was barely tested in the first inning, needing just seven pitches to get three outs. With one out in the second, Andrew Stevenson singled to right, giving deGrom the challenge of working from the stretch and holding the base runner.
“I think the second inning was probably a little more useful for me,” deGrom said. “I felt really good out of the windup, I didn’t feel as good out of the stretch, so I think that was good. That is when you make your most important pitches, with runners on and working on varying times, picking, trying to keep the baserunners where they are at, so I felt that was useful for me that second inning.”
DeGrom, who has won the past two National League Cy Young awards, continues to impress team officials with his work ethic and attention to detail. Last season deGrom went 11-8 with a 2.43 ERA in 32 starts for the Mets and led the NL with 255 strikeouts in 204 innings. He will attempt this season to become only the third pitcher to win at least three straight Cy Young awards — Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson each won four in a row.
“He shows who he is, how he gets prepared from another Cy Young and going into the offseason, getting himself prepared to the point he shows in camp, because I did see his bullpens and you see they are electric,” manager Luis Rojas said.
“They are lights-out and then going into the sim games the other day and now into the games, it just shows that he’s out there just working to keep getting better and be the best version of himself. He comes in the first day of the spring to go three innings and he looks like the pitcher he is, just a solid outing.”
Overall, deGrom threw 28 strikes over 33 pitches. He figures to receive four additional Grapefruit League starts before getting the ball in the opener.
“I felt I could command my fastball well,” deGrom said. “Offspeed after that sim game, threw some good ones, threw some bad ones. I think the two-strike one I threw was the one I was the most not-as-pleased as I wanted to be with it. I wanted it more off the plate. I left a couple in the zone. They were still good pitches, but they weren’t the swing-and-miss that I was looking for.”