Jacob deGrom’s back stiffness doesn’t appear serious, but still to be resolved is whether the Mets ace will make his scheduled Opening Day start.
A day after deGrom departed an intrasquad scrimmage because of lower-back discomfort, an MRI exam Wednesday showed nothing of concern, according to an industry source. DeGrom had pitched only one inning the previous day before walking off the mound and informing team officials of his discomfort.
With just over a week until the season opener against the Braves at Citi Field on July 24, manager Luis Rojas and team brass must decide whether to go full steam ahead for deGrom’s scheduled start or to take a more cautious approach.
It isn’t the first time back discomfort has put a deGrom start on Opening Day in jeopardy. In 2018, he incurred back stiffness early in spring training that delayed his buildup. DeGrom ultimately wasn’t ready until Game 2 of the season, after Noah Syndergaard had replaced him in the opener.
If deGrom — whose only career Opening Day start came last season at Washington — isn’t a go, the likely considerations would be Marcus Stroman and Steven Matz for the assignment.
DeGrom, in a final tune-up before the season, was scheduled to face the Yankees over the weekend in one of the two exhibition games the teams will play. Rojas on Wednesday was waiting until he received more information before formulating a plan.
The manager noted deGrom “touched three digits” on the radar gun in his inning of work in the intrasquad scrimmage.
“I think somebody asked me [Tuesday] about how healthy camp has been and I’m very proud of it, the shape the guys brought here,” Rojas said. “This is something like we said, Jake had some history a few years back with back tightness. We’ll reassess more, but right now it’s a day-to-day thing.”
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If deGrom needs a stint on the injured list to begin the season, there is question of who might fill his spot in the rotation. One candidate, left-hander David Peterson, pitched three scoreless innings in Wednesday’s scrimmage.
“To this point in camp the pitchers have looked dominant,” Rojas said. “I think the batters are now starting to get their timing down. [Sunday] we saw some better contact, more hard-hit balls, but everybody has looked good so far. Still nine days to go in camp, you are going to see some of the guys going multiple innings, and I think we’ll know what we have in the depth as far as which guy can come in and help the team.”
The Mets are already without Syndergaard, who underwent Tommy John surgery in March that will sideline him into 2021. Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha are the other rotation components, behind deGrom, Stroman and Matz.
Each start will be precious for deGrom, who is attempting to become the third pitcher to win as many as three straight Cy Young awards. In a best-case scenario in this 60-game season, the right-hander would likely start 12 times.
“There’s some things that happen in this game and any major sport that get in the way of any plan that you might have, but it’s definitely something to take into consideration,” Rojas said. “Injuries are going to play a big part of a short season like this.”