PORT ST. LUCIE — Twice was nice, but Jacob deGrom is already past the accolades of winning his second straight National League Cy Young Award and is plotting a course for No. 3.
The Mets ace has become aware of the history. There’s Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson, who each won four consecutive Cy Young awards, but beyond that Hall of Fame pair there isn’t another pitcher who has won as many as three straight.
“Any time you are at your best personally you are going to help the team,” deGrom said Wednesday, following the Mets’ first official workout this spring for pitchers and catchers. “You set personal goals and I have set them the past couple of years and that is definitely another personal goal of mine. But most importantly, it’s a team game and I want to win a World Series, but any time you are at your best you help the team.”
DeGrom went 11-8 with a 2.43 ERA and led the NL with 255 strikeouts last season, when he became only the second Mets pitcher to win multiple Cy Young awards. Tom Seaver won the award three times for the Mets in his Hall of Fame career.
The added thrill for deGrom this time was receiving the award from Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez, who presented the right-hander with his plaque at last month’s New York chapter Baseball Writers’ Association of America dinner.
“When I saw [Martinez.] I actually thanked him because at the All-Star Game he said a couple of things to me,” deGrom said. “He noticed that I was getting more frustrated on the mound than I have in previous years, and said, ‘Hey, calm down out there and just have fun.’ I think that helped and I laughed when I saw him and found out he was giving me the award. I thanked him for that because I do feel that it helped. I was getting frustrated not taking it one pitch at a time.”
DeGrom slumped early last season, and one theory was he might have been tipping his pitches. Over a three-start stretch in April against the Twins, Braves and Brewers he pitched to a 9.69 ERA and failed to survive past the fifth inning.
But upon further analysis, including a conversation with new pitching coach Jeremy Hefner (he worked for the Twins last season as their assistant pitching coach) deGrom said it’s his belief he wasn’t tipping pitches.
“[Minnesota] was the first team to start the three-game stretch and [Hefner] said they had nothing on me,” deGrom said. “I said I didn’t think they did, because when I looked at the video everything looked the same to me. My misses were just over the middle of the plate.
“As far as how I pitch now, I feel like when guys face me they want to jump on something early, and early misses down the middle of the plate is what they were hitting. They weren’t well-executed pitches.”
Part of the poor execution, according to deGrom, might have come from the pressure of trying to be too perfect in the aftermath of his first Cy Young Award and subsequent five-year contract extension worth $137.5 million.
DeGrom will now pitch for a third manager in four seasons, with Luis Rojas directing the activities. It won’t be their first interaction in such roles: Rojas managed deGrom at Single-A Savannah in 2012.
“I know it’s going to go well,” Rojas said. “There’s going to be challenges because maybe we might not agree because that is just how it goes during the season, but we think of what’s best for the player.”
DeGrom’s goal is for the next eight months to lead into an October to remember.
“I feel like ever since we made it to the World Series in 2015 we have had high expectations that we haven’t lived up to,” deGrom said. “I am definitely excited this year as well. I think we have a great group of guys.
“I think our lineup is really good with really good starting pitching and the bullpen looks really good as well, so definitely excited to start the year and I think the expectations are the same as they have been and everybody is pulling in the same direction and wants to win a World Series, so that is the goal.”