The Dallas Morning News

A blazing start for degrom

Rangers ace brings the heat, peppers the strike zone in spring debut

- EVAN GRANT Twitter: @Evan_p_grant

SURPRISE, Ariz. —The pertinent stats from Jacob degrom’s first exhibition start as a Ranger on Sunday: 34 pitches, 28 strikes; eight swings and misses on the way to four strikeouts in three scoreless innings against Seattle; a fastball that ranged from 97 to 100 mph.

“And I think he would tell you,” said catcher Mitch Garver, who caught all nine innings of a 2-1 win, “it was not his best outing.”

Could have fooled us. Then again, we’re not exactly experts, having watched the Rangers all these years. Not like they’ve got a long history of spring performanc­es that leave fans, teammates and even opponents a little breathless. Hey, we don’t want to bring the vibe down by going there. This is a new year, a new rotation and perhaps pitching is, as the kids say, a “thing.”

It certainly has been this spring. Rangers starting pitchers haven’t allowed a run since Monday, going 162⁄3 scoreless. People seem to enjoy this new fad, too. On Sunday, 7,464 fans showed up at Surprise Stadium, the Rangers’ largest home crowd since the day Willie Calhoun’s jaw was shattered by the Dodgers’ Julio Urias just before the world shut down in 2020.

A lot of the crowd was Seattle fans. But there was a big crowd hanging over the bullpen to watch degrom warm up. It was crowded in the bullpen, too. Everybody wanted a look. Cole Ragans, the most studious of the Rangers’ young pitchers, wanted to spend as much time as possible observing degrom’s mechanics “because they are as good as you can get.”

Don’t just take the Rangers’ word for it. Consider the plight of poor Cooper Hummel, Seattle’s first baseman Sunday. He got a taste of the big leagues last year but had never faced degrom. In the first inning, with a runner on third and two outs, he couldn’t catch up to a 99mph fastball, then twisted himself into fusilli on a 91-mph slider, and then was late again on a 99-mph pitch at the top of the zone. Good morning. Good afternoon. Good night.

When he came back up the second time around, just after degrom left the game, he stepped into the box, looked at Garver and said: “That was a nightmare.”

You get the feeling it won’t be the last time Garver has such an exchange this season.

For his part, degrom was more focused on a pitch a little earlier in the first inning, a 99mph fastball he wanted to locate down. He left it up. Jarred Kelenic turned on it for a oneout triple. This is how degrom responded: Set up Cal Raleigh with sliders and made him look silly with a curve, and then he carved up Hummel.

In spring training, it’s typical for a pitcher to sum up his day as “just getting my work in.” Not degrom.

“Whether it’s spring training or the season, the goal is to try to put up zeroes,” degrom said. “That’s what I was trying to do out there today. The second batter of the game triples, and I’m like ‘OK, let’s leave him there.’

“You are trying to work on things, but that gives you a real taste, to have to bear down and make those pitches. Other than the triple, I felt like I threw the ball pretty well.”

Truth: If anything, he threw it too well. Or, at least, he was too efficient. The Rangers had him penciled in for about 45-50 pitches in three innings of work Sunday. But he wasted no pitches and was done for the day at 34. Rather than deviate from the plan and have him go back out for the fourth or throw more in the bullpen, the Rangers decided to leave well enough alone. It probably means he’ ll only be able to go to 50 pitches in his next start later in the week. It could keep him on a count below 75 pitches come opening day.

On the other hand, if you throw nothing but strikes, 75 pitches might get you a bit deeper than is traditiona­lly expected.

“You just saw what one of the best pitchers in the game looks like,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “He pounds the strike zone. He doesn’t hold back. I enjoy watching it. He’s an elite pitcher.”

Then after a long pause: “And this is early spring training for him.”

Could have fooled us. It is apparently a whole new ballgame around here.

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