Mets pitching coach Jeremy Hefner is no stranger to the monotony and endlessness of Spring Training. Even so, slowing it down to a crawl is a good plan.
The Mets will play their first 2020 regular-season game a month from tomorrow. No one is more aware of the challenges that lie ahead during the four weeks in-between than pitching coach Jeremy Hefner.
An unknown when he arrived in camp, Hefner’s style and philosophy are quickly emerging.
Ironically though, the word “quickly” is not in his vocabulary when it comes to handling his pitchers between now and Opening Day.
Jeremy Hefner might have suffered a heart attack, for instance, if he were around last year when Noah Syndergaard unleashed the very first pitch of his preseason at 100+ mph.
Hefner, who is not far removed from pitching for the Mets himself, understands that players these days are in shape 12 months every year.
Most pitchers maintain a throwing program over the winter and necessarily are ready to pitch on day one of Spring Training.
The Hefner Plan: Less Is More
At the same time, Hefner also knows there are only so many bullets in a pitcher’s gun. A pitch thrown in March counts the same in terms of stress as a pitch thrown in September.
This is why the Mets do not have Jacob deGrom scheduled to appear in a preseason game until this Sunday.
DeGrom is coming off two straight Cy Youngs. Over the last two seasons, deGrom has thrown 421 innings with 524 strikeouts and only 90 walks.
The Mets need him to be active in October, and a postseason that will add as many as thirty innings to the 200+ he is expected to hurl during the regular season.
Hefner’s job depends on deGrom, making it that far.
Hefner is also not falling into the trap of setting a schedule that he posts in the clubhouse for his pitchers “Bullpen Days”.
As Hefner explained to the New York Post, “Everyone’s workload is not the same, but everyone is starting to get into the phase of the build-up to the games.”
Whereas Pitcher A needs only one session a week, Pitcher B may require two, or possibly even none. “Spring training can get long. We are building them up in a fashion that sets them up for success in the season. We don’t want any huge spikes in their workload.”
Noticeably and maybe because he doesn’t want to jinx the Mets, Hefner refrains from using the injury word. But surely, that is at the top of his most significant fear list, having a pitcher go down even before the season begins.
Mets Mindful Of A Riddled Injury Past
Controversy exists, however, and someone like former Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone, who massaged the careers of John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Greg Maddux would find cause to heartily disagree with Hefner, as well as (virtually) all pitching coaches today.
To Mazzone’s way of thinking as he told the New York Times:
“The greatest teacher for a pitcher is starts,” he says. “Pitch and pitch and pitch. Let a pitcher find himself.
“The problem is that so many pitching coaches and managers are yes-men and don’t want to challenge their front offices.”
The inference being that management is more concerned with protecting their “investment” than what may be best for the pitcher.
Hefner Sees It Differently
Then again, Mazzone never had to deal with the rash of injuries the Mets have endured over the years to their starting staff.
That, coupled with the criticism the Mets have engendered regarding their handling of injuries, perhaps gives Hefner extra pause in being extra-careful with his staff.
One thing that can’t be argued about Hefner’s cautious approach is the dastardly length of Spring Training.
There is more than ample time for a pitcher to be “ready” when the bell rings.
Unfortunately, the same is not valid with hitters, most of whom need all the time and at-bats they can get to refine their timing during the preseason.
A logical solution then might be to have pitchers report two weeks after the hitters do, but then the complaint would be who is going to pitch to the hitters?
Mets Ready With Chains If Need Be
In any event, the Mets have a pitching coach in Jeremy Hefner with a plan for Spring Training he intends to see implemented.
And he’d instead field the complaints from a bored Steven Matz, for instance, then having to stand by awaiting the results of an MRI about a possible shoulder injury.
For now, less is more. And hopefully, the Mets will appreciate and applaud Hefner for his doggedness as he watches Jacob deGrom throw the first pitch of the 2020 World Series.