PORT ST. LUCIE — “What I like the most is the camaraderie, the teamwork. I said it here, it hasn’t been easy. We have guys everywhere at the facility. This is a pretty big facility, having all the fields and the two buildings and different things like that. You see everyone relating really well, coaching each other, helping each other out.” — Luis Rojas, March 7, 2021.
“I think we kept that vibe throughout the pandemic. The same camaraderie that we had in the first camp, it’s going on right now.” — Rojas, July 14, 2020.
Yes, the Mets’ second-year manager prioritizes camaraderie, and these dual quotes are not presented to belittle either Rojas or the concept of camaraderie. You want it, and from what can be witnessed and gathered in this COVID era of media access (the lack thereof, to be more precise), the Mets have it. Connectivity with his players has been a Rojas strength since his first day on the job.
No, consider this a friendly reminder that, while you strive for a peaceful, successful camp, it carries only so much weight into the regular season. On the bright side? Camaraderie can both contribute to and feed off wins, and wins can emanate from roster depth. And only the most pessimistic Mets fan would dispute the notion that this 2021 team possesses superior depth to its immediate predecessor.
In front of a wind-beaten Clover Park crowd that included new Mets owner Steve Cohen, the Mets tied the Marlins, 4-4, giving them a Grapefruit League record of 3-2-1, which would’ve been good enough to win the NFC East. Marcus Stroman, making his second start of the spring, battled with his command, allowing a pair of runs in three innings, yet he came away beaming about his fastball that reached 94 miles per hour — unusually high for this time of year, he offered.
Pete Alonso, looking to rebound from his shaky sophomore season, preceded a pair of strikeouts with a shift-thwarting, ground-ball single to right field. He now owns a .333/.400/.889 slash line.
“A guy like Pete, he will benefit a lot from the early results,” Rojas said. “It’s encouraging to see him down there having good reps, swing-wise and on the defensive end as well.”
Jeff McNeil, starting at third base, committed three errors at the hot corner, which constitutes a yEEEsh (get it? Apologies). Maybe keep him at second base, where versatile new guy Jonathan Villar started and slammed a three-run homer in the fourth inning; Rojas said after the game that Villar would indeed get more reps at third whereas McNeil would spend more time at second moving forward.
Another new guy, Jose Martinez, left mid-game after colliding with first-base umpire Greg Gibson. Rojas called the injury a twisted left knee and said more information should arrive on Monday.
So all isn’t perfect, yet less needs to go perfectly than a year ago in order for these Mets to at least contend. When Stroman opted out of the 2020 season, it created a ripple effect that eventually compelled the Mets to move stud reliever Seth Lugo back to the starting rotation. Now, the Mets possess more interesting options to fill out their starting rotation, one of whom, lefty Joey Lucchesi, pitched two innings of a morning “B game,” showing off his funky delivery and intriguing stuff. His opposing starting pitcher was an interesting reliever, long-ago Yankees prospect Arodys Vizcaino, only 30 (the Yankees traded him to the Braves in 2009 for Javier Vazquez), who hasn’t pitched in a big league game since April 7, 2019; he underwent right shoulder surgery 10 days later.
“He feels strong. He wants to get out there,” Rojas said of Vizcaino. “The breaking pitch, it looked nasty in the bullpens. The velo has touched up to 96, maybe. He’s been in that range.”
The Mets very well might need some long shots to aid their suspect bullpen; beloved veteran lefty Jerry Blevins, here on a minor league deal, tossed an inning, allowing a run. The more roster-depth bets that pay off, the easier it will be for Rojas and the Mets to sustain their camaraderie.