JUPITER, Fla. — While most Mets eyes turned to ace Jacob deGrom’s Grapefruit League debut up at Clover Park on Sunday afternoon, Michael Wacha proved here at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium that his impressive velocity was both not at all a fluke and quite the notable fluke.
Not at all a fluke in the sense that the right-hander, competing for a steady gig in the Mets’ stacked starting rotation, followed up his initial outing (on Feb. 25) with similar fastball might, his four-seamer traveling primarily in the 92-94 mph range and even hitting 95.
Quite the notable fluke in that Wacha, who averaged 93 mph with his fastball in 2019 (thanks, MLB.com), doesn’t usually throw like this so early in the season.
“I think in the spring, usually it’s a tick lower than when I’m in the regular season,” the 28-year-old explained to The Post after tossing three shutout innings in the Mets’ 7-1 split-squad loss to the Marlins. “In the regular season, I’m usually from [ninety]-two to -four, touch -five a little, -six every now and then. Right now, I just know it’s coming out nice and feeling good.”
Even better news for Wacha and the Mets?
“In the past, I feel like I’d have to grunt to get it up there, but right now, it feels like it’s just coming out nice and easy,” he said. “Not really trying to throw hard, but it’s coming out with some good velo.”
In addition to the velocity, Wacha threw a bat-breaking, first-inning changeup to Marlins veteran Corey Dickerson, who grounded out to Max Moroff at second base, and he also expressed pride in a cut fastball to leadoff hitter Jonathan Villar that produced a weak grounder to shortstop Amed Rosario for the home team’s first out of the day.
Opponent affirmation from Marlins skipper Don Mattingly: “He looked good today. Velo back up. Any time this guy’s been healthy, he’s good. You know you’re getting into it with him.”
The Mets entering into a one-year, $3 million agreement with Wacha, granting him another $7 million in performance bonuses, knowing that good health can be a crapshoot with him. Just twice in his seven big league seasons has he cleared the 150-innings threshold. Which explains why they nabbed him for such a modest guarantee and why they won’t guarantee him a starting job. As The Post’s Joel Sherman reported, the Mets could utilize their fifth starter job as a flextime arrangement with Wacha and Steven Matz as well as openers.
Wacha unsurprisingly didn’t engage much on that topic, saying, “I try not to worry too much about it. It’s not my decision to make.” At his best, though, he can be a guy to start postseason games, as he did six times for the Cardinals.
This past offseason, Wacha worked with a personal trainer and his father Tom to fix some mechanical kinks.
“Just trying to stay through the ball a little more,” he said. “I had gotten a rough patch in my mechanics where I was pulling off on my left side. Probably showing the ball a little bit early. Not really fluid mechanics from what I was used to. Just watched quite a bit of video this offseason to get back to where I needed to be. Definitely made the right changes.”
Physically, too, he used the winter to ramp up. “I know the shoulder and body have never felt better,” said Wacha, who has missed time with both right shoulder and right elbow woes. “It’s all plus.”
Consequently, the Mets remain plus-one, a good place to be, as they contemplate their rotation.