Jacob deGrom is still willing to adapt his routine in order to maintain his perch atop the game’s list of best pitchers; even at 33 years old with not much else to prove in terms of individual accomplishments.
But an injury-riddled 2021 season that robbed the game of its finest pitching season of the modern era — he led Major League Baseball with a 1.08 ERA, 146 strikeouts in 92 innings of work, a 0.554 WHIP, and 14.3 strikeouts-per-nine-innings mark before elbow inflammation ended his season in July — forced the two-time NL Cy Young Award winner to pivot.
With that, he began lifting heavier weights this offseason to build muscle, all while maintaining his trademark slender frame and conveniently helping to protect that elbow.
“You talk about fatigue in a game, like pitches 75 to 110, if you’re strong and you have that muscle, then you’re not depending on your ligaments and your joints to generate the force,” Mets pitching coach Jeremy Hefner said (h/t Anthony DiComo, MLB.com). “You’re actually using the muscle to generate the force. As long as it’s malleable and the muscles are working properly, that’s only a value add.”
Think of it as insurance, at this point, for the Mets’ most prized asset.
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The organization is understandably taking things slow with their crown jewel to ensure that he’ll be able to pitch as close to a full season as possible with a significant workload.
It’s not going to happen right away, as evident in the right-hander’s spring training debut on Tuesday against the Houston Astros in which he delivered just 30 pitches in two innings of work before hitting the showers. But the ramp-up is promising, especially considering the results.
DeGrom struck out five of the seven batters he faced over those two innings with a fastball that mostly sat at 98 mph — even touching 99 — with that familiar devastating slider hovering around 92 mph that is still befuddling the opposition.
“I was nervous, to be honest with you,” deGrom said. “It’s reassuring to go out there and feel completely fine… I’m sure there will be times when I throw as hard as I can. When I’m really in sync and smooth, it comes out better than when I actually try to throw really hard.”
That collective sound you’re hearing in Queens is a sigh of relief.
For now, the Mets’ ramp-up plan for deGrom will feature a five-inning or 75-pitch limit for Opening Day, which is scheduled for April 7 against the Nationals in Washington, D.C.