Five pressing issues facing Mets as season fast approaches
PORT ST. LUCIE — The Mets will bring most of their team across the state to Florida’s Gulf Coast for exhibition games against the Braves and Rays, beginning Thursday.
There are still jobs to be won and lost and the focus will shift toward the March 30 season opener in Miami.
The World Baseball Classic concluded Tuesday night, bringing Team USA representatives Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil and Adam Ottavino back to camp by Thursday.
With spring training less than a week from concluding, there are a few Mets questions to ponder:
Who will be the Opening Day third baseman?
That might be contingent upon whether general manager Billy Eppler is ready to move on from Darin Ruf and give the right-handed DH at-bats to Eduardo Escobar.
That would create an opening for Brett Baty to play third base.
The rookie Baty has been among the Mets’ bright spots this spring, seizing the opportunity presented to him with Escobar away at the WBC.
Baty, who was an emergency call-up last year when Escobar was injured, practically bypassed Triple-A, leaving some to wonder if he could benefit from at least a short stretch at Syracuse.
Ruf was a disappointment last year, but given that Eppler traded four players to the Giants for the veteran, he might receive another shot with the club.
Will Brandon Nimmo be ready for Opening Day?
There is quiet optimism the outfielder’s right knee and ankle sprain won’t necessitate a stint on the injured list to begin the season, but if Nimmo isn’t ready, the Mets have Mark Canha and Tommy Pham as short-term possibilities.
Nimmo’s injury appeared much worse when it occurred, as he needed help to exit the field after he hurt himself sliding into second base last Friday.
Will the Mets open with a six-man rotation?
It’s an idea team brass has considered. David Peterson and Tylor Megill would each receive a start the first turn through the rotation, giving extra rest to Max Scherzer.
The Mets are scheduled to play eight straight days to start the season and the first seven will be in ballparks (Miami and Milwaukee) with retractable roofs, removing postponements from the equation.
Scherzer is lined up to pitch the March 30 opener, and with the extra starter he wouldn’t have to pitch again until six days later, to complete the road trip. Justin Verlander is lined up for the home opener on April 6, meaning without a sixth starter he would likely pitch Game 3 in Miami.
If the sixth starter is added, Verlander could pitch Game 2, giving him an extra day of rest before the home opener.
But the Mets also could give the Game 2 start to Peterson or Megill regardless, with the idea one would immediately be optioned to the minor leagues to add a reliever.
The Mets plan to insert a sixth starter when they are scheduled to play long stretches without a day off, with an eye toward preserving their veteran pitchers for the long haul.
How will the bullpen shape up?
David Robertson, Adam Ottavino and Drew Smith are locked in for Opening Day, as is Brooks Raley, provided the left-hander returns in the next few days, as expected, from the left hamstring strain that has sidelined him.
Tommy Hunter appears in solid shape for a spot and Dennis Santana, who was claimed off waivers from the Twins last weekend, doesn’t have minor league options remaining.
John Curtiss has excelled in his return from Tommy John surgery and has positioned himself for a roster spot.
The final spot will come from a list that includes Stephen Nogosek (out of minor league options), Jeff Brigham, Elieser Hernandez and Jimmy Yacabonis.
Whose stock has risen the most this spring?
Ronny Mauricio earned MVP honors in the Dominican Winter League and followed that with a powerful showing in the Grapefruit League, with four homers and a .922 OPS in 35 at-bats.
The question might be whether the Mets should trade Mauricio with his value high or keep him this season at Triple-A Syracuse as shortstop insurance in case Francisco Lindor were to sustain a long-term injury. If Mauricio stays in the organization, his future likely will be at second base or in the outfield.
Beyond Mauricio, reliever Stephen Ridings’ velocity and movement have created a buzz in camp. Pitching coach Jeremy Hefner recently told The Post the right-hander has “some of the best stuff I have ever seen.” But Ridings, coming off a shoulder injury, is a long-term project who needs to show he can stay on the mound.
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