Reopen NYC: Mets host Braves on Opening Day of shortened season

FLUSHING, Queens -- The New York Mets kick off the shortened Major League Baseball season by hosting the rival Atlanta Braves at Citi Field in Queens Friday.

Jacob deGrom takes the hill for the Mets, but the rotation is less certain behind him after starter Marcus Stroman hit the DL with a torn muscle in his left calf.

The All-Star pitcher was expected to follow deGrom, a two-time Cy Young Award winner, in a rotation already minus No. 2 starter Noah Syndergaard all year because of Tommy John surgery.

Mets manager Luis Rojas said the club doesn't anticipate Stroman needing surgery and he will be evaluated on a week-to-week basis. But with the coronavirus-delayed season shortened to 60 games, it could be difficult for the right-hander to return in time to provide much help.

"He's good to throw, it's just moving where the challenge is. You know, getting off the mound and different things like that," Rojas said. "But it's just really unfortunate. This guy, he's a fighter, he wants to go, and it's unfortunate that he's not going to start in that rotation for us."

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Steven Matz will get the ball Saturday and then newcomer Rick Porcello in the series finale Sunday.

Porcello was scratched from his scheduled start in a simulated game Wednesday at Citi Field and threw a side session instead to line him up for this weekend.

Michael Wacha also is expected to have a spot in the rotation, and now the Mets need to find a fifth starter.

Rojas mentioned right-hander Corey Oswalt, young lefty David Peterson and veteran Erasmo Ramírez as potential replacements who have been stretched out in summer camp precisely for this contingency.

"Right now our focus is our guys, and we like them very much," Rojas said. "We like our pitching depth. I think what we have in camp definitely can put us up there from a competitive standpoint."

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Rojas reiterated that reliever Seth Lugo, a converted starter, will remain in the bullpen.

New York went into spring training back in February with six established starters for five available slots, making Matz and Wacha possible bullpen candidates. But then Syndergaard had elbow surgery after the virus shutdown in March, and now Stroman is sidelined as well.

He was placed on the injured list Wednesday along with reliever Robert Gsellman, who has tightness in his right triceps.

"There's no timeline," Rojas said about Gsellman. "He's progressing again. There's a plan to get him ramped up."

The 5-foot-7 Stroman, an energetic bundle of unwavering confidence, grew up on Long Island about 50 miles from Citi Field. He was acquired from Toronto before the trade deadline last July and is eligible for free agency after this season.

Stroman made his first All-Star team with Toronto last year. He was 6-11 with a 2.96 ERA in 21 starts for the Blue Jays before going 4-2 with a 3.77 ERA for the Mets. He pitched 184 1/3 innings overall and twice has surpassed 200.

The 29-year-old Stroman is 51-47 with a 3.76 ERA in 146 games, including 140 starts, over six major league seasons. He was the MVP of the 2017 World Baseball Classic and won a Gold Glove with the Blue Jays later that year.

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Rojas said Stroman has been "grinding through" an issue that at first he always described as muscle tightness. He took a line drive off the calf last Friday on the field but kept pitching and finished his work in the bullpen. He threw a 50-pitch side session Monday, felt a little tightness and had an MRI late Tuesday night that revealed the tear.

Gsellman's injury further depletes a middle-relief corps already missing right-handers Brad Brach and Jared Hughes. Both were placed on the injured list last week with no reason given. It's possible they tested positive for COVID-19, were exposed to the coronavirus or felt symptoms.

Both pitchers had been absent throughout summer camp, which opened July 3. The Mets aren't commenting on players not in camp, declining to give explanations.

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