JUPITER, Fla. — Kodai Senga has been looking forward to taking on Major League hitters for weeks. Once he finally did, the results were good, but not exactly what he had been looking for since the Grapefruit League started.
The Mets right-hander who arrived from Japan this winter only faced batters from his own team until Sunday, when the Mets took on the St. Louis Rams. Louis Cardinals at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium. His first start of spring was a B game in the backfields of the club’s Clover Park complex in Port St. Louis. Lucie, who lacked some of the competition he was looking for.
After spending the winter getting used to the Major League ball and the last two weeks adjusting to a steeper mound, the 30-year-old Japanese phenom wanted to see how his stuff would perform against some of baseball’s best hitters.
He looked at the Cardinals’ lineup and found a few of them: reigning NL MVP Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, and potential slugger Jordan Walker, who hit two home runs 24 hours earlier.
He handled these three well, causing Walker to attack his infamous “ghost fork” splitter. But the two batters before them he walked. And in the second inning, Tres Barrera hit a home run. The excitement subsided.
“They have a really good lineup and before I got there I was really looking forward to facing these guys,” he said through a translator. “But once up there, my mind was busy with the pitch clock and I couldn’t enjoy it as much as I wanted to.”
Senga finished with a final line of an earned run on one hit, one strikeout and two walks. He didn’t think it was as sharp as it could be.
“Nothing in particular was that good,” Senga said. “But it’s something to work on next time.”
He sure picked an interesting year to come to the major leagues. Most Mets pitchers have adopted the clock, even if they are still figuring out ways to adjust to it. Hitters may still be figuring it out, but reception has been largely positive at the Mets clubhouse. Every pitcher seems to have a different approach to baseball’s newest and most controversial rule.
Justin Verlander wants to get into the rhythm. Max Scherzer wants to use it to play chess with the hitters. Relievers aren’t worried about this, but some are concerned about how long it can take to get to the mound and whether or not they should increase the amount of cardio they do.
Senga worked the pitch clock in his spring bullpen sessions, in his live hitting practices, and in that mock game he played last week. But once the reality of the game set in, everything seemed to speed up for him.
However, Senga still felt the tour was beneficial.
“I see five on the field clock and I feel very rushed,” he said. “But in reality, five seconds is a long time.”
Coach Buck Showalter did not realize that Senga had a problem with the field clock. It wasn’t obvious, but Senga can be critical of himself.
Senga is not put off by the ride and Showalter likes his attitude. The manager said that pitchers often strive for perfection, and while that drive is never a bad thing, he can afford to be easier now. Coming to the US means a lot of changes, but so far Senga has embraced them all.
The affable Senga frequents a restaurant called Sushi Goma in Port St. Lucie and has already sent several teammates and employees there. Mark Canha liked it so much he posted about it on Instagram and gave the venue a shoutout on an SNY broadcast. Senga’s English is improving and he feels comfortable showing his personality and humor around the clubhouse. Some teammates said he was a hit at the infamous Showalter team talent show earlier this week.
On the field, he watched Scherzer’s match against the Miami Marlins earlier this week, paying close attention to how Scherzer was working the clock and attacking the hitters he’ll face frequently in the NL East.
“Just watching him, I could see what a great pitcher he is,” Senga said. “It gave me a goal to work towards.”
It’s clear his stuff plays and if he can command it within 15-20 seconds then the Mets might have another bona fide ace.
“He’s good, man. Good fastball,” Arenado told reporters in St. Louis. Louis. “I thought the slider was really good. Obviously, he was a little erratic in the first inning, but it looks like he’s got more and it looks like it’s going to be really good for them.
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