PORT ST. LUCIE — Wednesday morning, Jacob deGrom stood on the mound out on Field 4 of the Mets’ spring training complex. The Mets ace peered in at an imaginary catcher before he looked over his shoulder and fired a throw to first base in an attempt to pickoff an imaginary baserunner. The first formal workout for the Mets pitchers and catchers began with fielding practice going at full strength.
That’s a marked contrast from last spring, when the Mets did everything but wrap their pitchers in bubble wrap to try and prevent injuries. That included not allowing the pitchers to actually throw — they simulated a throwing motion — during fielding drills. That didn’t exactly work out, considering all but one starter had to go on the disabled list last season.
This year, the Mets are supposedly healthy and going full strength into the season.
Under the new regime of Mickey Callaway and pitching coach Dave Eiland, the Mets are attempting to build their pitchers up stronger through work rather than just protection. There will be plenty of precaution, especially with the Mets’ reorganized medical staff focusing on proactively monitoring players’ health, but this spring there is no holding back.
“We have the plan,” Eiland said. “They are going to get sides and (batting practices) and we are going to go from there. There is nobody from a medical standpoint that we’re holding back. There is no red flags.
“This is baseball. There are going to be some guys that are going to be held back as we go, but hopefully it won’t be anything major,” Eiland continued. “We have to be careful and we’re going to err on the side of caution early. We also have to get these guys ready for March 29. If we hold them back too much, they are not going to be ready.”
After informal workouts for the last two weeks, the Mets’ pitchers and catchers officially got their year started with the first formal workout. The tone was set with a meeting Wednesday that players need to put in work off the field to get ready. They emphasized that each pitcher — and catcher — will be held responsible for their preparedness. “Accountability” was the takeaway, one pitcher said.
That is a message Mets pitchers better get used to, former Mets reliever LaTroy Hawkins said. A big fan of Eiland from their days with the Yankees, Hawkins described him as a knowledgeable, straightforward and no-nonsense pitching coach who has high expectations.
“He’s honest. Sometimes, he’s brutally honest, but he lets you know what’s going on, what he’s thinking and what the team is thinking,” Hawkins said. “A pitching coach’s job is to help you get better, and Dave is there to do that for you. He will help you all he can. He’s very supportive.
“But he won’t coddle you.”
Mets pitchers, who were pretty vocal last year about not needing a change in pitching coach, have had nothing but positive things to say about the new routines and working with Eiland and Callaway.
DeGrom said that they have talked to him about a new way to try and keep his front shoulder from flying open — a problem he has struggled with for years.
“It’s always good to hear new ideas,” deGrom said, “and try new things. So far so good.”
Eiland has talked to Matt Harvey about some bad habits he picked up during the years he pitched through injuries.
“Getting him back to the level of 2013, certainly that’s our goal. We’ll see where it takes us,” Eiland said of Harvey. “He’s healthy. He’s done his work this winter. He’s in good shape, physically and mentally. I don’t know Matt that well obviously, but I am getting to know him. I have every reason in the world to be optimistic. What’s happened in the past is in the past, and that’s where we are going to leave it.”
And Zack Wheeler said that despite the changes in little things, it all feels pretty familiar.
“Working with new coaches can give you a different way to look at something, more eyes looking at your delivery means they might see something to help you and that’s always good,” Wheeler said. “But, in the end, it’s all about the same thing. We have to be prepared to go out there and that’s what everybody is trying to do.”