Mets foursome, Cy Young winners among featured starters
By Doug Miller
They've been held back until now, but there's no more waiting for some of the best arms in baseball.
The week ahead promises us another seven days packed with Spring Training exhibition-game action, and being that it's the second week of March, that means starting pitchers are stretching out and some of the biggest and best of them are finally ready to get the rust out.
With that, we bring you the stellar young rotation of last year's National League pennant-winners, the New York Mets, otherwise known as "Mound Rushmore."
Oh, and we should probably mention both Cy Young Award winners from last year and a couple more familiar, decorated flamethrowers in Adam Wainwright and Jose Fernandez. You can watch Wainwright and the Cardinals on MLB.TV today, as well as a pair of Mets split-squad games.
Let's talk about the Mets' powerful, shiny quartet of Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz. This national monument of a pitching foundation has had all winter to protect the multimillion-dollar wings Mets fans are hoping will fly in 2016, to the tune of a mere three more victories in the Fall Classic.
On Monday, left-hander Matz will get out of the Grapefruit League gate in a split-squad home game against the Cardinals at 1:05 p.m. ET, while venerable righty Bartolo Colon gets the ball on the road against Detroit at 1:10 p.m. ET.
On Tuesday, it'll be the first Harvey Day of the year, with the big righty taking the hill on the road against the Braves at 1:05 p.m. ET.
Wednesday will give us deGrom at home vs. the Yankees at 1:10 p.m. ET, and you can watch it on MLB.TV. You can also tune in to MLB.TV for Thursday's 1:10 p.m. ET game at St. Louis, with Syndergaard likely to pitch at home vs. St. Louis.
That's as good as it gets for this time of year, and barring any unfortunate circumstances, it's what the Mets figure to be running out there just about every day of the regular season … plus Colon, and with a possible midseason return to action by another young stud, Zack Wheeler, who's recovering from Tommy John surgery.
The main question at this point is how the rotation order this spring might or might not dictate who is labeled Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4 once the lights go on at Citi Field for the big 162-game grind that begins April 3. Naturally, it's a bit early for Mets manager Terry Collins to make any of those decisions.
"We try to sit down and look at the schedule," Collins said Feb. 29. "Even though they all throw hard, they're not necessarily similar, so you like to break them up if you can so it's not as consistent.
"And there are certain obvious teams that guys pitch well against, so you want to match them up that way. As we get into the camp and we start to decide how we're going to line them up, we'll take a look at a lot of factors, and one will be their condition. Who is going to be ready the earliest and the fastest and be able maintain it?"
The Mets aren't the only club wondering how its starting pitching will all work out in 2016, and they're not the only one dusting off some prime athletes this week for much-anticipated spring bows.
NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta is expected to take the hill for the Cubs for the first time in the Cactus League on Wednesday, followed by his big-name rotation-mates, Jon Lester and John Lackey.
And Astros lefty Dallas Keuchel, who won the Cy in the American League in 2015, should make his Grapefruit League bow Wednesday at home at Osceola County (Fla.) Stadium against the Braves.
Cardinals ace Wainwright, who missed much of last year after tearing his Achilles tendon getting out of the batter's box during an at-bat in late April, will start his first game since then (he pitched in relief upon returning late in the year) against the Mets and Matz on Monday. The game will be available on MLB.TV.
Marlins right-hander Fernandez, who had an abbreviated return from Tommy John surgery in 2015, also will start for the first time in exhibition competition on Monday afternoon.
Fernandez hit 97 mph in a two-inning appearance in an intrasquad game Wednesday and hopes to continue his progression against the Nationals in Viera, Fla. Marlins manager Don Mattingly doesn't necessarily think the 2013 National League Rookie of the Year needs to throw much harder than that right now.
"He doesn't need to get ramped up," Mattingly said. "He's pretty emotional. Just keep him working. Keep his arm moving. He will be ready in plenty of time. He came into camp in really good shape."
Elsewhere, the roster battles will keep being waged and the innings will pile up for pitchers. But there will also be important things happening off the field this week.
The Major League Baseball Diversity and Business Summit will be held Tuesday and Wednesday at Chase Field in Phoenix and at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale, Ariz. It's an employment trade fair that gives attendees access to representatives from all 30 Major League teams, Minor League teams, MLB Advanced Media and MLB Network.
The event is being co-hosted by MLB and the D-backs, and is taking place for the first time during Spring Training. Also for the first time, Monday will be limited exclusively to veterans, who will tour Chase Field and participate in an MLB Umpire Camp.
"We've always had a commitment to veterans, but I've never felt we've done it as successfully when it comes to the summit," said Wendy Lewis, MLB's senior vice president of diversity and strategic alliances.
"So we worked with a group and decided let's do something where we really structure it toward them."
The rest of the summit will include appearances by Commissioner Rob Manfred and panels about diversity and inclusion from the players' perspective. Former big leaguers Harold Reynolds, Luis Gonzalez and LaTroy Hawkins are expected to attend.
"We're really excited, it's very different than other ones," Lewis said. "It'll make it great experience for everybody."
Registration for the general portion of the summit is available at MLB.com/diversitysummit.
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.