PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — After the Mets’ only day off in spring training, their locker room Thursday had more of a big-league feel.
Ruben Tejada, a shortstop with the club since 2010, had been released, creating a wider opening for the infielders Matt Reynolds and Eric Campbell to compete for a spot on the crowded roster.
Several more minor league players cleaned out their lockers, another reminder that there is less than three weeks before games begin for real.
Then Terry Collins, in a rite all managers enjoy, said Matt Harvey would be the starting pitcher on opening day, April 3, when the Mets travel to meet the Kansas City Royals in a rematch of last year’s World Series. Harvey pitched well last year and has looked good in spring training, turning his Tommy John surgery more than two years ago into a distant memory.
“Matt’s the guy, deservedly so, in my opinion,” Collins said before the team headed south to Jupiter to play the Miami Marlins. “I just thought the way he finished last year, the way he is throwing the ball right now. Comeback player of the year came into it.”
Collins said Jacob deGrom had been in the running to start on opening day. But deGrom’s wife is expecting their first child — the due date is April 5 — and the pitcher might leave the club just as the season gets underway, so Collins felt it was prudent to pick Harvey.
Starting Harvey in the opener sets up an interesting showdown. Harvey started Games 1 and 5 of the World Series and is linked to the Mets’ ultimate downfall. After insisting on pitching the ninth inning of the final game, Harvey gave up a walk, a stolen base and a run-scoring double before being pulled. The Royals then tied the score and won in extra innings to capture their first championship in three decades.
“Playing against them, it’s going to bring back a lot of memories, but it’s also going to bring back a lot of fire,” Harvey said.
Harvey will become the sixth opening day starter for the Mets in six seasons. He follows Bartolo Colon, Dillon Gee, Jon Niese, Johan Santana and Mike Pelfrey, who started on opening day in 2011.
Harvey said the honor was validation of the hard work he put in to recover from the surgery that forced him to sit out the 2014 season.
“It kind of makes the process a little surreal,” he said. “Going from missing a year, kind of having to re-establish myself, kind of getting back to where I need to be, and now having the honor of leading us off.”
Harvey will certainly have competition from his teammates. On Thursday in Jupiter, deGrom was sharp in his second start of spring training. He pitched three scoreless innings, giving up just one hit while striking out three and walking none.
Whatever back stiffness that caused him to miss a scheduled start on Monday appeared to be gone.
“I think it was a good decision to skip that start and come back today,” deGrom said.
Steven Matz, who followed deGrom, did not fare as well. In four innings, he gave up three runs and five hits and struck out three batters while walking one.
The Mets batters, though, gave Matz breathing room. They roughed up the Marlins ace, Jose Fernandez, for six runs on five hits. Travis d’Arnaud and Curtis Granderson each knocked in three runs, and the Mets went on to win, 6-5, and improve to 7-6-2 in spring training.
With most of the roster set, the remaining drama in spring training is on the race to fill the infield. Lucas Duda at first base, Neil Walker at second base and Wilmer Flores, who can play second base, shortstop and third base, are certain to make the roster.
The status of David Wright and Asdrubal Cabrera is uncertain, though, so the Mets may keep Campbell or Reynolds on the opening day roster. Campbell, who is batting .300, is having a more productive spring at the plate and can play first and third base, while Reynolds is a shortstop and second baseman.
Cabrera, who injured his left knee a week ago, said Thursday that he had started riding a bicycle and planned to be ready for the opener.
Wright, meanwhile, continued his cautious start by taking at-bats in a simulated game. He will play in his first spring training game on Friday, against the Washington Nationals, at third base, then take Saturday off.
Wright was uncertain about how many games he would be able to play during the season, though, because his spinal stenosis could lead to unpredictable pain.
“I can give myself every opportunity to put myself in a position to play and give my back every chance possible,” Wright said. “But again, there are going to be some days when it’s just not going to be possible.”