Mets’ Joey Lucchesi uses ‘special pitch’ to make rotation case

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Joey Lucchesi had been pitching on the back fields early in camp, but Friday he officially threw his hat into the Mets’ rotation competition for all to see.

The left-hander, featuring a funky delivery and a trademark off-speed pitch known as a “churve,” made his Grapefruit League debut Friday by tossing two scoreless innings to finish off the Mets’ 4-2 loss to the Marlins at Clover Park.

“I’m not gonna lie, I had a little bit of excitement, nerves,” said Lucchesi, whom the Mets acquired from the Padres in a three-team trade in January. “First time out competing for a new team, trying to do well. But after I got that first [inning] down, the second one was way smoother.

“It just felt really good out there today.”

Lucchesi arrived at spring training expected to battle for the fifth-starter spot in the Mets’ rotation, with his competition including David Peterson and Jordan Yamamoto. Then on Wednesday, manager Luis Rojas announced Carlos Carrasco was being shut down for “a few days” due to elbow soreness, putting the veteran righty’s status for the start of the regular season in question.

Mets
Joey Lucchesi
Corey Sipkin

That could open another temporary spot in the rotation for the Mets’ depth starters, which added importance to Lucchesi’s debut Friday.

“Of course there’s competition,” said Lucchesi, who threw two innings in a “B game” last Sunday. “But I’m just out there focusing, tunnel vision, head down, doing my work. I’m letting my work speak for itself.”

Lucchesi got off to a rocky start against the Marlins, walking the first batter he faced in the eighth inning and then letting him get to third base on an errant pickoff attempt to first. But he settled in after that, getting a grounder to shortstop to nail the runner at home before getting out of the inning unscathed.

The ninth inning was smoother sailing. Lucchesi struck out a pair looking to finish his day with 30 pitches.

“I kept telling myself, ‘Remember to breathe,’ between pitches,” Lucchesi said.

Lucchesi showed off his “churve” — a changeup grip thrown like a curveball that Rojas called a “special pitch” before the game — and got three swinging strikes on it. The pitch, which registered from 76-80 mph on Friday, looks like a changeup coming out of Lucchesi’s hand, but acts like a curveball, often fooling hitters.

“This is a huge step right here to keep moving forward so he’s where we want him to be by the end of camp since he’s competing for a spot as well,” Rojas said.

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