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Mets begin season at Nationals with pitching pains already piling up

Sportsnaut
Mar 26, 2022; Port St. Lucie, Florida, USA;  New York Mets third baseman Eduardo Escobar (10) talks to Mets manager Buck Showalter, right, as first baseman Pete Alonso, top, looks on during the sixth inning against the Washington Nationals at Clover Park. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Mets and Washington Nationals don’t have a lot in common as they open the 2022 season at Nationals Park on Thursday.

The Mets are expected to contend for the National League East title while the Nationals are rebuilding.

They do share a common concern: starting pitching.

New York planned on the one-two punch of Cy Young Award winners Jacob deGrom and former National Max Scherzer. Now, deGrom is out for at least four weeks with a shoulder issue and Scherzer’s hamstring discomfort threatens to delay the start of his season.

All-Star Chris Bassitt — acquired in a trade from Oakland after going 12-4 with a 3.15 earned run average in 2021 — plus Carlos Carrasco and Taijuan Walker round out the Mets’ desired rotation. Edwin Diaz is the closer.

“We’ll be all right,” Bassitt said of deGrom’s absence. “Max is fine. Jake obviously needs some time, but if we are that reliant on deGrom, I know he’s the best pitcher in the world, but it’s OK. It will be all right.”

Washington is waiting on Stephen Strasburg — who has thrown 26 2/3 innings over the past two seasons — and Joe Ross to return. That leaves the opener in the left-hand of 32-year-old Patrick Corbin, who went 9-16 with a 5.82 ERA and allowed a club-record 37 homers last season.

“He had a good camp,” manager Dave Martinez said. “And some of the things we talked to him about at the end of last year, he really came in and worked on a lot of things this winter and came back and feels strong. He’s throwing the ball where he wants to throw it.”

Beyond Corbin are 24-year-old Josiah Gray, veteran Anibal Sanchez, Josh Rogers and either Erick Fedde or rookie Joan Adon.

Mets owner Steve Cohen opened his checkbook in the offseason, looking to give new manager Buck Showalter all the pieces he needed. Free agent signings in addition to Scherzer included third baseman Eduardo Escobar and outfielders Starling Marte and Mark Canha.

Canha and Marte will flank Brandon Nimmo, with the 33-year-old Marte, a two-time Gold Glove winner, moving from left to right.

“We’re already having to adjust to his arm strength,” Showalter said of Marte. “We’re starting to notice that he can do (things) that normal people don’t. … There are going to be some really entertaining throws he makes this year.”

Slugger Pete Alonso will start at first base and take some at-bats as designated hitter, with Jeff McNeil at second and Francisco Lindor looking for a bounce-back year at short. Robinson Cano, 39, returns from a one-year ban for using performance-enhancing drugs and will back up at second and first.

The Nationals acquired 41-year-old Nelson Cruz to DH. The seven-time All-Star hit 32 home runs last season and has 449 for his career. He also provides veteran leadership for a team that lost Scherzer and franchise cornerstone Ryan Zimmerman (retirement).

“If Nelson Cruz is in the box, everyone stops across America. Everyone knows who that guy is,” first baseman Josh Bell said. “So it’s cool when you see that guy in your clubhouse, when you see that guy wearing the same uniform, you see that guy in the same lineup.”

Right fielder Juan Soto, 23, finished second in the NL MVP voting a year ago, hitting .313 with 29 home runs, a .465 on-base percentage and a .534 slugging percentage. To get him more at-bats, Martinez is moving Soto to the No. 2 slot in the batting order.

Lane Thomas and Victor Robles join Soto in the outfield, and second baseman Cesar Hernandez, shortstop Alcides Escobar and newcomer Maikel Franco round out the infield. Keibert Ruiz looks to be the starting catcher and Martinez will begin the season without a designated closer.

“I think we’ve got some viable guys that can do it,” Martinez said. “I’m not going to set anybody right now and say he’s the closer. We’ll see how the season starts.”

–Field Level Media