Jacob deGrom passed his latest test, and his next step is likely to involve higher competition.
After deGrom’s three scoreless innings for Single-A St. Lucie at Daytona on Friday, the Mets ace “felt good,” per Buck Showalter. He is expected to remain on normal rest and continue his five-day schedule, pitching either Wednesday or Thursday, though the Mets have not yet announced where his third rehab start will take place.
DeGrom is expected to throw four innings around the 50-pitch range in his next outing. He could pitch for Double-A Binghamton or Triple-A Syracuse.
“He’s going to pitch on normal rest and extend his ups,” Showalter said on Saturday. “There’s a tentative place and time and all that. Let me make sure I’m OK to talk about that. Don’t want to be on double-secret probation.”
DeGrom told reporters Friday he felt strong after his second rehab start – a 36-pitch affair with 100-mph fastballs and his filthy 92-mph sliders scattered throughout. His fastball maxed out at 101 mph, identical to his max velocity in his first rehab assignment.
“Coming off the first time in a game, being on a five-day routine, I felt really good,” deGrom said after his outing Friday. “I was happy to get out there and get three complete innings.”
DeGrom is expected to need two more rehab starts before the Mets consider bringing him back into the rotation. Those in the organization who are familiar with his progress and rehab schedule said they would like to see him complete five innings before he comes off the injured list.
The two-time Cy Young award winner, who was diagnosed with a stress reaction on his right scapula in late March, is expected to make his first major-league start in over a year around July 22-27, either debuting against the Padres or the Yankees at Citi Field after the All-Star break.
His return date will depend on when deGrom can make his final rehab start, as the minor-league schedule is also inactive around the All-Star break. It’s possible deGrom will complete a simulated game as his final tune-up before rejoining the Mets.
“It’s step by step, but I have been following the process how it was laid out and just trying not to do too much,” deGrom said on Friday. “Everything feels good. Pitching my first game in a couple months, I responded really well and was able to go out there and throw three innings tonight. Hopefully, I’ll keep moving forward like this and be back in the big leagues before too long.”
Jeff McNeil is expected to go on paternity leave following Sunday afternoon’s series finale against the Marlins, Showalter said. McNeil was absent from the lineup on Saturday against left-hander Braxton Garrett, but was available off the bench. The second baseman will be in the starting lineup on Sunday.
It sounds like McNeil will miss at least one game of the three-game Mets-Braves series, which begins Monday in Atlanta. It’s not an ideal situation, as McNeil has been one of the club’s most productive hitters this season, bringing a .317/.378/.444 slashline and 35 RBI into Saturday.
“I’m sure nine months ago they didn’t look at the schedule,” Showalter said of McNeil and his wife, Tatiana. “I hope not. This is something a lot bigger than baseball.”