Mets notes: Kodai Senga’s return delayed, pitching prospects impress in Spring Breakout game

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PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Kodai Senga’s shutdown from throwing will last at least another week to 10 days, New York Mets president of baseball operations David Stearns said Friday. That will postpone the right-hander’s return to the rotation into May, at the earliest.

Senga was diagnosed with a moderate right posterior capsule strain in his shoulder in February, just before spring training games started. After Senga received a platelet-rich plasma injection, the club said he’d be shut down for about three weeks. Friday marked three weeks of that initial shutdown.

“It’s just our internal pacing of this and our internal testing,” Stearns said of the delay. “We’ve got a lot of objective information we can use throughout this process. … In this case, it’s a week longer than we anticipated on the front end.”

If all goes well in the next week to 10 days, the Mets will get another MRI on Senga “to ensure the proper healing and progression has taken place, that the inflammation has resolved,” Stearns said.

While the Mets wouldn’t use the word “setback” — major-league officials more or less view the word as verboten — the delay does push back when Senga might return for New York. Once he is cleared to throw, he’ll require roughly a six-week buildup, akin to spring training, to be ready for major-league action. So the quickest timeline now would mean a return around the first week of May.

The Mets are wise to be cautious with Senga. Attempting to return too quickly from this kind of injury can throw off a pitcher’s mechanics and create other issues, let alone worse results.

The Mets had previously announced that José Quintana would be their Opening Day starter, filling in the spot that Senga was likely tabbed for after his sparkling rookie season.

Tylor Megill remains the front-runner to step into Senga’s rotation spot. José Butto has also been terrific this spring, taking another step forward after his strong finish to 2023 in the rotation. Joey Lucchesi, another depth starter, was optioned to Triple A on Friday.

Balancing the roster

Stearns continues to talk about the club’s balance between giving its younger players major-league opportunities and building the best 2024 team possible. The desire to see more of Brett Baty and Mark Vientos, in particular, has limited the Mets’ aggressiveness in adding at either third base or designated hitter all winter.

The Mets did check in earlier this week with former Met J.D. Davis, who signed Friday night with the Oakland Athletics. The team is not closed off to additions, especially ones that wouldn’t regularly block Baty or Vientos from playing.

“We’re never going to stop looking to improve our team and our organization,” Stearns said. “We’ll continue to do that throughout the year.”

Stearns said opportunities for players like Baty and Vientos need to open up this year, though he qualified that by saying it “may not need to happen exactly on Opening Day.” Still, asked if he expects the club’s current options to be his primary options for Opening Day, Stearns said, “Yeah, I do.”

Stearns said he doesn’t have a specific amount of time in his mind to evaluate those younger players — a leash, so to speak, if they struggle at the major-league level.

“I don’t have firm cutoffs in my mind,” he said. “We have to look at every situation as it unfolds, and it comes back to a little bit of a judgment call and a little bit of feel. You get a feel for the individual player and also where the team is at that moment in time. These are going to be constant conversations.”

Mets win first Spring Breakout game

The Mets won their first-ever Spring Breakout game Friday afternoon, beating the Washington Nationals 4-2. The game, designed as a showcase for each organization’s top prospects, lasted seven innings.

As in the big-league games this spring, New York’s pitching impressed. Right-hander and 2023 draftee Brandon Sproat was especially impressive in a quick inning. Two-way player Nolan McLean had his own scoreless inning, showing off a slider with elite spin rates.

Calvin Ziegler, who missed almost all of last year, struck out two in a 1-2-3 seventh inning.

“I feel like we have a very underrated staff right now,” Ziegler said.

Ryan Clifford and Jeremy Rodriguez, each acquired at last summer’s trade deadline, came through with RBI knocks.

“It was cool to be a part of something the first year it’s happening,” Clifford said. “There’s a lot of great talent and hopefully a lot of great major leaguers.”

Stearns looking beyond results

Thursday’s scoreless tie with the St. Louis Cardinals was the perfect distillation of the Mets’ Grapefruit League performance so far: outstanding work by the pitching staff, disappointing work from the lineup.

Entering Friday, New York’s 2.62 spring ERA was nearly a run better than the second-best in baseball. The Mets have allowed only seven home runs in more than 150 innings.

Meanwhile, their .222 spring batting average and 3.3 runs per game entering Friday night ranked 29th in baseball, ahead only of the Miami Marlins in each category.

“Globally, I try not to pay too much attention to results, good or bad in spring training,” Stearns said. “Those can be misleading at times.”

That extends to the competition for various roles and roster spots over the final two weeks of camp. The Mets are still sorting through playing time at DH, who’ll replace Senga in the rotation, and the last spots on the bench and in the bullpen.

“We try not to look too much at the overarching performance, the end result,” he said. “We try to look at the process that’s leading to it.”

(Photo of Kodai Senga: Jim Rassol / USA Today)

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