Jacob deGrom says he’s OK, and the Mets need him to be right

“I must have slept wrong,” a healthy-looking Jacob deGrom theorized Thursday at Citi Field, and the ace proceeded to outline a plan that would still have him on the mound for Opening Day, July 24, perhaps just with a few less pitches in his tank.

Nevertheless, you know that no one with a rooting interest in this team will sleep right until the Mets’ most important player — by far — gets on a mound again and completes his work in a way he couldn’t Tuesday due to back tightness.

“This is a day-to-day approach that we’re taking,” manager Luis Rojas said. “We’re excited for the news that came out from the MRI [exam Wednesday] obviously being clean, but this is the day-to-day approach we’re taking. We are all hopeful for a lot of things. Jake to throw, Jake to do Opening Day, but right now, it’s a day-to-day approach that we’re taking.”

Following the Mets’ intrasquad game, Rojas said deGrom had played catch without difficulty, setting him up to start Sunday’s exhibition game against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium and, on his normal rest, go against the Braves in the opener. The upshot of his early departure Tuesday, deGrom mused, could be throwing 80 to 85 pitches on Opening Day as opposed to 100 if not for his setback.

This is an organization that very much wants to under-promise and over-deliver on the player-injury front, after doing the opposite for too many years in its past — hence Rojas sounding more tentative than Dr. Anthony Fauci at a toga party. Yet the straight shooter deGrom calmly painted a picture of optimism. The fact he just couldn’t loosen up during his intrasquad outing Tuesday, as opposed to feeling something dramatic after a single pitch, heartened him, and the MRI result confirmed his hunch.

“I think being around for a little bit, knowing my body … if that was a regular game, I wouldn’t have said anything,” he said.

He rightly said something, and the Mets universe rightly shook. DeGrom has led the Mets in wins above replacement for four of his five full big-league seasons. In 2016, the exception, he finished second to Noah Syndergaard, who will miss this season rehabilitating from Tommy John surgery.

Last year, when the Mets won 86 games, deGrom compiled an 8.2 WAR to finish three full wins ahead of his closest teammate, Pete Alonso (5.2).

Though Alonso, the reigning National League Rookie of the Year, brings leadership and moxie in addition to his prodigious power, the Mets cover for him far more ably — by playing Dom Smith at first, plus they’re well-equipped to capitalize on the designated-hitter addition — than they could their two-time reigning NL Cy Young Award winner deGrom, whose absence would compel the Mets to choose among Walker Lockett, Corey Oswalt or youngster David Peterson to fill their fifth starter’s slot.

Removing himself from the intrasquad contest “was out of an abundance of caution and trying to play it smart,” deGrom said. His status creates an abundance of caution after the fact.

Even in this reduced season, amidst an ultracompetitive NL East that has seen the Braves and Nationals both take some coronavirus-related hits, it’s difficult to see the Mets capturing the division without considerable help from deGrom. So mark Sunday down on your calendar. Suddenly that Subway Series scrimmage will feel as vital as a September game in Washington.

After all, you do want to start sleeping soundly again, don’t you? As long as you see deGrom get through his shift against the Yankees lineup, you’ll be dreaming of a parade once more.

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