PORT ST. LUCIE — Always working to get better.
That’s how you win two straight Cy Young awards. That’s also the first step to winning a third straight Cy Young Award.
Jacob deGrom, 31, is perfecting a backdoor slider this spring. He threw a perfect one to teammate Brandon Nimmo for a called third strike Tuesday during his two innings of work in a simulated game at Clover Park.
DeGrom will get on the mound Sunday for the first time in a spring training game against the Nationals.
Look out for the backdoor slider.
Nimmo never saw it coming. He thought it was going to be a fastball out of the zone, then the ball darted back over the plate at the last second.
To truly believe what he just saw, Nimmo had to run to TrackMan to follow the path of the pitch. As he told The Post what his eyes and TrackMan both saw, he held his thumb and forefinger about a quarter of an inch apart to reveal how the pitch had been thrown with precision.
“Right on the black, he’s on a different level,’’ Nimmo said. “His slider doesn’t have an eye. You are flying blind on that pitch.’’
The pitch looked like a fastball until it broke across the corner.
DeGrom, of course, had planned to throw just such a pitch to Nimmo because Nimmo is so disciplined at the plate. That is the genius of deGrom.
He thinks along with the hitter and sets a trap, knowing exactly what the hitter is attempting to do to him.
“I threw him a curveball, I don’t know if he knew I had a curveball,’’ deGrom said. “Fastball and backdoor slider. That was a guy I actually wanted to go to the backdoor slider because he has really good plate discipline. He said it looked like a four-seamer that was going to be up and away and then it ended up as a strike. That’s something I didn’t throw a whole lot last year and I am going to continue to work on it.’’
In 2018, deGrom threw a backdoor slider, but he didn’t have a great feel for it last year and missed too much middle on that pitch so he went more to the glove-side slider. If he continues to perfect it, hitters will have something else to worry about with deGrom.
“Anytime you can move anything on both sides of the plate, that’s a plus,’’ deGrom said. “I wanted to do that today and that was one of the better pitches I threw today.’’
DeGrom said he is ready for Opening Day.
“I just have to build up my pitch count,’’ he said. “This is the same as every camp. Felt good with the fastball. I just have to get used to throwing the off-speed. The hits I gave to our guys were slider up, changeup up, changeup up. … My changeup is the last thing to come around.’’
Like an elite golfer going over his round, deGrom went through the at-bats and the three hits he surrendered over his 31 pitches.
DeGrom will continue with his two bullpen sessions between starts under new pitching coach Jeremy Hefner.
“He said whatever I need to do, he’s been great to work with,’’ deGrom noted, showing Hefner is smart enough not to mess with success.
When Jed Lowrie squeezed an opposite-field single down the third-base line, deGrom immediately shouted “foul!’’
That is his competitive nature. He said the same thing to Michael Conforto during a live BP session earlier in camp on a drive down the right-field line.
Later when deGrom was asked how foul Lowrie’s ground ball was, he smiled and said, “about 10 feet foul.”
“That group I just faced, those are tough hitters, great guys to be around,’’ deGrom said of Pete Alonso, Robinson Cano, Amed Rosario, Lowrie, Nimmo and Conforto. “It’s a fun spring, everybody is getting along great. It’s impressive.
“Even to our guys I don’t like giving up hits. I don’t know if I’m hard on myself or really competitive. Their goal is to get hits, mine is not to give up hits.’’
That is how you gun for a third straight Cy Young Award.