Ahead of spring training, Mets focus on helping 'hard worker' Kodai Senga adjust
On Monday, the Mets' equipment truck will be loaded up and sent off from Queens to Port St. Lucie for Spring Training. Winter is still dominating the present, but the hope of eternal spring and baseball’s return is right around the corner.
Coming off a 101-win regular season and a disappointing postseason, the Mets are hoping an offseason of high spending can put them over the top. And one of the cornerstone signings from the big offseason is making a bigger transition than the others.
Japanese ace Kodai Senga, who signed a five-year, $75 million deal in December, is hoping to help round out a staff headlined by Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander. But New York is focused on easing the transition to big league ball first.
Part of smoothing out Senga's transition has been sending pitching coach Jeremy Hefner, bullpen coach Dom Chiti and director of pitching development Eric Jager to watch Senga work in Seattle and build a bit of a rapport with the soon-to-be 30-year-old right-hander
“It’s just going to be different for him," Hefner told The New York Post’s Mike Puma. "How we handle that and the communication that we have with him and making sure that he’s feeling good and keeping him healthy for the entire season so that we can have him healthy in the playoffs will be important.”
This isn't the first time Hefner or Jager have met with Senga as Mets GM Billy Eppler said the two, along with manager Buck Showalter met with the pitcher during free agency in November.
"We've scouted him from afar for a number of years, and we knew when he hit free agency that we would want to make this day a reality," Eppler said in December. "[We] had a chance to sit down with Kodai in the middle of November. After that meeting, it just reinforced our belief in him... He knows what it takes to win. We're looking forward to adding a player with that kind of resilience to our roster and to our pitching staff. We're also drawn to Kodai's resilience and work ethic."
Hefner added to The Post: “[Senga] is an extremely hard worker and I think he is going to be able to handle it well.”
While Senga's work ethic isn't in doubt, the Mets will have to help him adjust to pitching on fewer days rest and likely, throwing with a ceiling of 100 pitches per outing, lower than his workload in Japan.
“Obviously Max and Justin can go deep into games,” Hefner told The Post. “[Carlos Carrasco] showed that at times last year and then there is a little bit of a wild card with Senga and moving to a five-day spot. He threw a lot in Japan, but he was throwing a lot of pitches. It’s one of those things that is not sustainable on a five-day [rotation], so how deep he goes, that is still to be determined.
“We can’t really predict how he is going to respond, we can only continue to build that relationship with him and how he’s feeling and what he needs.”
Showalter has moved the staff locker room closer to the clubhouse so Senga's interpreter can be close by and he has considered getting the interpreter a locker in the player's locker room, but he would like to stay away from doing that.
“I am a big believer that players only should [dress] in the locker room," the manager said. "The more [Senga] gets to interact with his teammates, it will have a natural flow."
But from Hefner's telling, it shouldn't be too hard for Senga to adjust to the new environment.
“He is funny,” Hefner told The Post. “He doesn’t speak any English, but he is sarcastic and he is a lot of fun to be around. He has got a lot of energy, always smiling and it was a lot of fun to be around him for a couple of days.”