ARLINGTON, Texas – Jacob deGrom will make his debut for the Texas Rangers — and in the American League — against a familiar foe from his nine seasons with the New York Mets.
The two-time NL Cy Young Award winner will be limited to about 65 pitches Thursday against the reigning National League champion Philadelphia Phillies. Just having deGrom healthy and on the mound for the season opener is a positive start for the Rangers and the pitcher whose last two years in New York were plagued by injuries.
“We feel good about him, and he should, too. He's had some great outings,” new Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said. “I think there were probably some questions when we did have to slow play him, but now we see that he's ready.”
Texas was overly cautious with its prized offseason addition ( $185 million, five-year contract in free agency ) after he reported tightness in his left side just before the team's first official spring training workout. The right-hander struck out 10 over 6 2/3 scoreless innings in his only two exhibition games in Arizona, which came after throwing batting practice and in a minor league game.
“Obviously I’d like my pitch count to be a little higher, but we’ll get there,” deGrom said. “We took the smart approach. ... If you throw through (the tightness), who knows, it could have snowballed.”
Settling into his new home stadium in Arlington, Texas, DeGrom said he felt good after being able to throw all of his pitches in the final Arizona tuneup on Saturday “and everything felt like it was working. ... Now it’s time to play real baseball."
DeGrom is 9-1 with a 2.18 ERA and 136 strikeouts over 120 innings in 20 career starts against the Phillies. The only teams he has faced more are the rest of the NL East: Atlanta, Miami and Washington. In three opening-day starts for the Mets, deGrom tossed 17 scoreless innings with 25 strikeouts.
Aaron Nola, the 29-year-old right-hander going into the final year of his contract, will make his sixth — and maybe last — opening day start for the Phillies. It comes days after president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said discussions about a contract extension had broken off, and the pitcher indicated those could wait until after the season.
The opener also will be the Texas debut for Bochy. The three-time World Series champion manager was coaxed out of a three-year retirement by general manager Chris Young, one of his former pitchers who then revamped the Rangers rotation around a lineup with middle infielders Corey Seager and Marcus Semien, who are going into their second year together.
DeGrom didn’t make his first big league start last year until Aug. 2, and he was 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 regular-season games before winning a wild-card game for the Mets. He had a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021 before missing the final three months with right forearm tightness and a sprained elbow, then was shut down late in spring training last year because of a stress reaction in his right scapula.
The Phillies will look different from when deGrom faced them in New York's opener two years ago. Nola didn't oppose him in that game because Philadelphia already had played a series while the Mets' scheduled opening games were wiped out because of COVID-19 issues surrounding the Washington Nationals.
Four players remain from the Philadelphia starting lineup that deGrom faced in his 2021 opener, but only catcher J.T. Realmuto and third baseman Alec Bohm will play Thursday. Star slugger Bryce Harper is recovering from reconstructive right elbow surgery and first baseman Rhys Hoskins suffered a torn left ACL in spring training. Hoskins is scheduled for surgery in nearby Fort Worth on the same day of the season opener.
“Faced those guys a lot, but they've got some new faces,” deGrom said. “I've got to figure out ways to get these guys out.”
Like he has so many times on opening day, and in games against the Phillies.