By Ed Coleman
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PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. (CBSNewYork) — Steven Matz will be the final member of the Mets’ expected rotation to toe the rubber and pitch his initial two innings Monday in Jupiter, Florida, against the Marlins. But it was a good several days for the young guns, even if the numbers didn’t always come out in their favor.
Robert Gsellman, the expected No. 5 starter, was the first to go on Thursday. Noah Syndergaard made his debut Friday against the Astros in Port St. Lucie. He allowed a hit and two walks while striking out one, and accomplished what he set out to do.
“I wanted to get my feet wet,” Syndergaard said. “Establish the strike zone and get comfortable throwing all four pitches. I didn’t throw any curveballs, but there were positives to come out of it. My changeup was real good. The slider looked real sharp as well. The walks showed I was a little erratic, but that’s kind of expected the first go-through.”
There was a lot made when Syndergaard arrived in camp, supposedly 17 pounds heavier, ready to crank it up and throw even harder this season. Well, he’s actually 3 pounds lighter than he was at this time last year, but there’s a lot more muscle. He’s no doubt much stronger, which can only help his stamina through 30-plus starts.
“I just feel really in control on the mound,” he said. “My legs feel real stable and powerful, I’m able to maintain my balance easier, and I think it’s going to allow me to go deeper into ballgames.”
And those will be Mets games, as Syndergaard made eminently clear when he was asked whether he had any regrets about deciding not to play in the upcoming World Baseball Classic.
“Nope. Not one bit,” he said. “Because I’m a Met. Ain’t nobody making it to the Hall of Fame or win a World Series playing in the WBC.”
Take that, Rob Manfred.
Jacob deGrom faced the Astros as well, this time in West Palm Beach on Saturday. He admitted to being a little nervous for his first outing since elbow surgery — but he sure didn’t look it. He came out with a blazing fastball, topping out at 97 mph, retired all six batters he faced, two by strikeout, and threw 26 pitches, 19 for strikes.
“It was something that I wanted to work on, my mechanics, and getting back to where I was smooth,” deGrom said. “I feel like last year I was fighting myself and wasn’t staying behind the ball as much as I have in the past, and I think today I did a good job with my mechanics.”
And was he surprised by the 97 mph?
“Last year, it took all I had to get to 92, it seemed,” deGrom said. “I think it has to do with repeating my mechanics and being back in line where I need to be. Last year, I flew open all the time and my arm was really dragging, and now I’m staying on top of the ball, and I get more down angle to it.”
Matt Harvey did not come out Sunday throwing 97. He had a strong 10-pitch first inning, with two strikeouts, followed by a shaky second inning.
The biggest thing for Harvey?
“Going out, having the feeling back in my arm,” said Harvey, who missed the last half of 2016 after undergoing surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome. “The off-speed pitches were a big thing, throwing the changeup, being able to get extension on that, and I threw some good sliders. So overall, it’s only a matter of time.”
Harvey threw a nasty changeup that caught Cardinals shortstop Aledmys Diaz looking in the first inning. “The Dark Knight” said that was very encouraging.
“When I know I can get extension and get feel, when that’s working, I know things are going pretty well,” Harvey said. “I felt confident throwing that, good throwing the slider, and the fastball velocity is going to come.”
Harvey has waited eight months since surgery to face another team and has been working hard to get his mechanics back. He was asked if he has any goals for this season.
“I just want to make every start,” he said. “Day by day down here, start to start, working on the process more than expectations. Just be out there every fifth day.”
Manager Terry Collins was not concerned about the difficult second inning nor the runs allowed by Harvey.
“If he has the command of his stuff, he can pitch,” Collins said. “I don’t care how hard he throws. This guy moves the ball around, both sides of the plate. He knows how to pitch up, pitch down. He’s got other weapons. When he’s overpowering, he can take over a game. His next two or three starts, I’d like to see where he’s really commanding his fastball on both sides, maybe his slider, too. There’s some work to do yet, but he came out of this healthy, and that’s step one.”
And there’s more. Zack Wheeler threw live batting practice Sunday. He looked and felt great.
“Everything is going good,” said Wheeler, who missed the past two seasons after undergoing Tommy John surgery. “I feel good about it. Everything was coming out of my hand nice today, definitely felt better than last time, spinning some curveballs and stuff. So I’m happy.”
Wheeler, a candidate for extended spring training, is not quite at 100 percent right now, but he is not holding back at all on the mound.
“That’s out the window. Whatever comes out is coming out,” he said. “Breaking off curveballs and sliders, started throwing the slider — really haven’t been throwing it that much. Everything feels good.”
Finally, if anyone wants to know why teammates root for David Wright, here’s one reason. Wright was asked how he can still stay positive after back, then neck, then shoulder problems he’s experienced.
“If this is the most adversity I’m going to have to face in my life, it’s not that bad in the grand scheme of things,” he said. “The early years of my career, I stayed fairly healthy. You get to a certain point where injuries are a part of the game. I guess I’m paying for that injury-free first part of my career. The positive side is, if I can get this right and be able to produce the way I’m capable of on the field, then it’s just a little blip on the radar and a small little speed bump.”