The Warning Track Joggers

Early spring training has its quirks and oddities, but still, there's a ballgame today.

If there is such a thing, I’d love to understand the formula teams use to choose their spring training pitchers. A few weeks ago, I commented on the strange foursomes you always see throwing bullpens together, and early spring training games tend to have the same energy. The Mets spring opener, at 1:00 this afternoon against the Marlins, won’t be an exception.

The Mets will use six pitchers, with each pitching an inning, because apparently there’s no need to bother with technicalities like nine-inning games in Spring Training anymore: Harol Gonzalez, Sean Reid-Foley, Ryley Gilliam, Trevor Hildenberger, Stephen Tarpley, and Thomas Szapucki. As weird spring pitching groups go, this one actually isn’t bad. It’s mostly guys near the edge of the roster, competing for spots, so it makes sense to get them early innings. Plus, the game won’t be televised or broadcast on the radio — which is another annoying little quirk of spring training, but whatever — so there’s no sense in wasting Jacob deGrom’s spring debut in a game that no one will see.

That’s yet another strange thing that happens in Spring Training: for some reason, a seemingly random group of regulars doesn’t start playing when the games start, but gets phased in a few days or a week later to great aplomb, like the soldiers coming back from Europe two years after the end of World War I. What have they been doing in the meantime? Nobody really knows. Well, some people know; they’ve been jogging while attached to elastic bands and high-speed cameras, or whatever the training techniques dictate these days. But still, there’s an air of mystery about them.

So, the lineup in the first game of spring training probably won’t look much like the lineup on Opening Day. Luis Rojas said yesterday that Pete Alonso, Brandon Nimmo, J.D. Davis, Kevin Pillar, and Jonathan Villar could see action in the spring opener; that might mean they’ll start, but it also might mean they each play an inning on defense and then go jogging on the warning track, which is — count it — yet another weird thing that players do during Spring Training. The rest of the lineup will probably compose a veritable cadre of veterans competing for bench spots, prospects who only have a few weeks in big-league camp, and journeymen on the periphery of the big leagues. Today’s game won’t be on TV, but if it was, you’d probably, at some point, hear Gary Cohen say something like this:

“Well, the Mets come up in the bottom of the fourth leading 2-1, Pete Crow-Armstrong to lead off the inning, with Brandon Drury and Bruce Maxwell to follow. If you’re keeping score, Mallex Smith is in the game, and the plan is to have Jose Peraza enter in the fifth. Sure sounds like a spring training lineup. Guys?”

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No, it won’t be a regular season lineup. One player who will start, however, is Francisco Lindor. Yes, that’s right. The face of the Mets radical offseason, the star shortstop who seems likely to sign an extension for several hundred million dollars sometime soon, will make his debut in a Mets uniform today. That’s not to say this is the first time he’ll wear a Mets uniform, because he’s already been working out in Port St. Lucie for weeks; it’s also not to say that this is his real Mets debut, because that will happen in early April in Washington, will be on TV, and will be vastly more important. But Lindor will play a game, or part of one, in a Mets uniform today, and that at least counts for something.

Lindor’s first appearance on a playing field as a Met makes it all the more galling that today’s game won’t be broadcast on TV or radio. This feels like yet another strange thing the Mets get up to during spring training; they always seem to start a day or two after everyone else, and not get on TV or radio for a little while after that. What if, today, Francisco Lindor hits a home run that clears the palm trees behind the fence in Port St. Lucie, and there’s no one there to see it? Every time the Mets play a game that’s not broadcast, I think back to Tommie Agee’s famous Shea Stadium home run, the farthest ball ever hit at Shea, that landed in the upper deck, but wasn’t captured by a single TV camera. We’d better hope that Lindor doesn’t hit any monstrous home runs today — although if he did, I suppose that would be fine too.

I’m just spouting off, really. There’s not much of a thread to what I have to say this morning. Basically, the column is “there’s a Mets game today.” The rest is just killing time until first pitch.