WASHINGTON — Tylor Megill isn’t the first accidental Opening Day starter in Mets history, but maybe the most unlikely.
The right-hander started spring training as rotation depth after a solid rookie year, but through a confluence of events will be the starting pitcher when the Mets begin their season Thursday against the Nationals, weather permitting.
“It just happened to fall in the right slot of where my throwing lines up with Opening Day,” Megill said Wednesday after a team workout at Nationals Park — during which manager Buck Showalter officially named him the starter for the opener. “They just happened to choose me.”
The start belonged to Jacob deGrom until the two-time Cy Young award winner reported shoulder discomfort that was diagnosed as a stress reaction in his right scapula that will keep him sidelined for an extended stretch. The rotation’s other top gun, Max Scherzer, was bothered recently by hamstring tightness and won’t pitch until Friday, at the earliest. Not wanting to rearrange his alignment of Chris Bassitt, Carlos Carrasco and Taijuan Walker later in the rotation, Showalter needed another option for Thursday.
And so, the unveiling of the 2022 Mets — a team that was rebuilt in the offseason largely on owner Steve Cohen’s cash — will come with the 26-year-old Megill on the mound. Last season he pitched to a 4.52 ERA in 18 starts for the team after he was pressed into emergency service with key pitchers injured.
“Keep in mind that it’s a long season,” Showalter said. “It’s Opening Day and it’s early in the season, but I don’t think anybody is going to remember who pitched Opening Day in about a month.”
The new Mets on display will include Starling Marte, Mark Canha and Eduardo Escobar, who arrived in the offseason on free-agent contracts (along with Scherzer) that helped push the Mets payroll to $285 million. And then there is the 65-year-old Showalter, about to begin his fifth major league managerial stint. When last seen managing a New York team, he took the Yankees to the postseason in 1995.
“He’s really organized, he’s precise, he’s trying to be prepared,” Brandon Nimmo said. “I don’t think we’re going to lose a game because Buck wasn’t prepared, so I gather we’re going to be prepared for this season, we’re going to be very prepared for every situation and he’s going to expect a lot from us.”
Mets general manager Billy Eppler likes the team that he has assembled, but stopped short of calling it complete.
“I always look at where things can be improved,” Eppler said. “You think about the mound, you think about position players, that is just a component of my job is to really look at those things in an objective way, with my staff. I can always point to something … if we can do something in a particular area to reinforce or add depth, those are going to be important aspects for us to do.”
For Eppler and Showalter, it has been a hectic week of trying to formulate a plan through the latest injuries, In addition to deGrom and Scherzer, the team has been monitoring Nimmo, who received a cortisone injection Monday for a stiff neck. His status won’t be decided until before Thursday’s game.
“I’m surprised it took so long,” Showalter said, referring to the cascade of injuries. “When one happens, you always know something else is coming. It’s part of it. Everybody has been dealing with it in spring. Nobody wants to hear you complain about it — it’s part of the gig.”
Following a condensed spring training, Showalter was just happy to have arrived at this moment, the precipice of a new season.
“We have come a long way since the lockout,” he said. “Think of where we are, to hear gloves popping and guys, you can see they are getting a little different look on their faces.”