New York Mets Ace Jacob deGrom warming up prior to his spring training debut 2020
Kyle Newman/ESNY

Sunday was a huge day for two of the New York Mets’ most important players. Jacob deGrom made his spring debut and Michael Conforto turned 27.

Kyle Newman

The New York Mets took part in split-squad games on Sunday, with one of the matchups resulting in a victory. New York ousted the division-rival Washington Nationals by a score of 3-1 in Port St. Lucie.

The ballclub has now won four games this spring with two of them coming against Washington. But prior to the final result, there were two eye-catching storylines within this matchup involving a pair of the team’s most important players

Jacob deGrom starts his Cy Young defense

Mets ace Jacob deGrom has won Cy Young’s in back-to-back seasons. Now he’s looking to do something only Randy Johnson and Greg Maddux have done, and that’s win three consecutive. He started the trek towards that monumental goal on Sunday.

Normally, a pitcher who hasn’t seen game action in over five months would possess a little rust. Not deGrom though. The right-hander went three innings — tied for the longest appearance of any Mets pitcher this spring — and was dominant throughout.

deGrom allowed one hit, which was wiped away when Wilson Ramos caught Andrew Stevenson stealing. The only negative within the appearance had to do with deGrom’s strikeout numbers. He only struck out two batters throughout the entire outing.

deGrom had everything working in this game. He was inducing soft contact with ease. It was pure domination, but nobody should get ahead of themselves. deGrom wasn’t going up against the strongest lineup on Sunday.

The Nationals didn’t bring the majority of their starters, and the ones they did bring aren’t their best players. Trea Turner, Starlin Castro, Ryan Zimmerman, and Yan Gomes headlined the Washington lineup.

The rest of the lineup was made up of bench players and Carter Kieboom, who’s been a disaster in spring training. deGrom should be storming through that lineup with ease. That’s an AAAA lineup that most major-league pitchers should dominate against.

deGrom is an elite pitcher, arguably the best in the majors, and the Mets simply need him to stay that way. After losing Zack Wheeler in free agency and replacing him with Rick Porcello, the Mets can’t afford for deGrom to regress.

The rotation is already expected to have a significant drop-off from its 2019 value. Losing Wheeler obviously hurts, but that’s not the only cause. The Mets possessed the healthiest rotation in baseball last year and that may not occur again in 2020.

That’s why having a consistently elite pitcher like deGrom has become a necessity for this ballclub. They’ve built this team around the idea that deGrom must pitch exactly like he did on Sunday throughout the entire season. Otherwise, the rotation is at risk of plummeting.

Michael Conforto prepares for his biggest season yet

Michael Conforto has been one of the Mets’ most important players since his debut in 2015. It was around his call-up that year when New York began its turn around and surged towards October baseball.

He broke out in 2017 when he made his lone All-Star appearance. It’s been downhill from there. With only two years left before he hits free agency, Conforto is in do-or-die time. If he wants a contract extension from the Mets, he’ll certainly need to earn it in 2020. That’s doubly true with new owners potentially arriving.

Sunday was Conforto’s 27th birthday, a big milestone due to the fact that the ages of 27-32 are often described as a player’s prime years. Conforto thus celebrated the monumental day with a home run.

New York Mets OF Michael Conforto as he hits a home run on his birthday 2020
Kyle Newman/ESNY

He went 1-for-2 with a walk. He also played right field where he had a rather easy day. Conforto is slashing .267/.353/.467 so far this spring. That’s about in line with his career regular-season numbers (.253/.353/.481).

The Mets are going to need Conforto to produce that way over a full season. They can’t afford the long droughts he could certainly experience. For example, Conforto’s slumps were a huge part of the team’s awful Junes in both 2018 and 2019.

In June 2018, Conforto hit a dreadful .198/.327/.374. That played a huge role in the Mets’ 5-21 record during that month, which essentially tanked their season. If they just finished 13-13 that June, they would’ve won 85 games and sat in second place in the National League East.

That trend continued in 2019. Conforto put together a slash line of .229/.303/.429. The team thus responded, going 10-18 in June which was a slight improvement from the previous year. That record cost the Mets a playoff spot though. Had they gone 14-14 in June, they would’ve won 90 games and earned the second wild-card spot.

If Conforto wants to earn a second contract with the Mets, he’ll need to prove he can avoid that June rough patch. Part of that is making sure to remain healthy. He didn’t miss much time in 2019, but he suffered a concussion in May which could’ve played a role in his low-end performance the following month.

With his health seemingly in order and his prime years commencing, Conforto is slated to undergo a productive season. If not, he could be playing somewhere else this time next year.

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