PORT ST. LUCIE — David Peterson should be considered the favorite for the fifth spot in the Mets’ rotation based on his solid rookie season, but every spring camp needs job competition.
On Thursday, the left-hander took a solid initial step in claiming the job by pitching two shutout innings in the Mets’ 8-4 exhibition victory over the Nationals at Clover Park. Peterson allowed one hit in the 26-pitch outing and also plunked Kyle Schwarber in the first inning.
“It’s nice to get into camp and face guys and all that, but once you start to get into games and face guys in a different jersey, that is when it starts to get fun,” Peterson said. “I felt good about what I did today.”
An afterthought when spring training began last year — he had never pitched above Double-A Binghamton — Peterson’s stock rose in summer camp. He became a needed component to the rotation after Noah Syndergaard underwent Tommy John surgery and Marcus Stroman tore a calf in summer camp before eventually opting out from the season.
Peterson, the organization’s first pick in the 2017 draft, thanked the Mets for the opportunity by going 6-2 with a 3.44 ERA and 1.208 WHIP in 10 appearances for the team. But that wasn’t enough to hand him a job coming into spring training.
“We have got to pay attention to the recent events, so what is going on now has to factor into the final decision,” manager Luis Rojas said. “Obviously we do take into consideration what happened last year, knowing that the experience and the feel is there, everything is there. But what we see now knowing that we have depth with guys in camp, we know that we can have a little competition.”
That competition includes another lefty, Joey Lucchesi, who arrived in a three-way trade with the Padres and Pirates. Another pitcher with major league experience, Jordan Yamamoto, arrived in a trade with the Marlins.
All are fighting for a spot behind Jacob deGrom, Stroman, Carlos Carrasco and Taijuan Walker. The Mets are hopeful Syndergaard can return in June from his rehab to provide another high-octane arm.
“I came in and had a meeting with Louie, and he laid it out for me and said he wanted to see me compete,” Peterson said. “I told him I was ready to come into camp and fight for a spot, and that has been the goal. I want to be helping the team win every five days, and that’s what I came to do, so that is what I’m focused on.”
Peterson, Lucchesi and Yamamoto are equal in the sense that all have minor league options available. There is also the possibility Rojas could employ an opener in the rotation to pitch ahead of whomever is selected.
Rojas admits there is “great value” in having a lefty in the rotation, but also noted Lucchesi fits that description. But Rojas liked what he saw from Peterson in this initial start.
“There were a couple of close pitches he didn’t get in the first inning, but he battled them,” Rojas said. “That was a real good outing for him, going out and throwing strikes.”
The challenge for Peterson will be working on areas of improvement while not losing sight of the job competition.
“I focus more on where I can get better, where I can improve, than messing with things,” Peterson said. “At the end of the day, when I go out there and pitch in a game, it’s about competing and getting guys out and doing my job, and that’s the mindset I brought into camp.”