Jose Quintana struggles with pitch clock in first spring outing, Kodai Senga makes progress

PORT ST. LUCIE — Jose Quintana’s first spring start hit a snag while Kodai Senga cruised through his.

The Mets left-hander was tagged for five earned runs on four hits in just 2/3 of an inning Tuesday at Clover Park in his first Grapefruit League start of the season. He threw 30 pitches in the game and then another 15-20 in the bullpen in the Mets’ 8-4 loss to the Houston Astros.

“They were better,” Quintana said of the pitches he threw in the bullpen. “You see results there by feeling how it goes out of your hand. Way better pitches than I executed in the game. I think I was worried more about the hitter instead of executing my pitches and focusing on the glove.”

It’s entirely too early to be worrying about one bad spring training start, but the worry for Quintana could be the pitch clock. The left-hander admittedly was flustered by the timer and not ready for the increased pace. It may not be a problem yet but Quintana will be leaving for the World Baseball Classic on Monday. A pitch clock will not be used in the WBC, which leaves Quintana with only a limited amount of time to get used to the rule that’s making waves throughout baseball.

Quintana will make his next start Sunday before heading to Arizona to join the Colombian team before the start of pool play.

“I think he’s probably like a lot of guys, adjusting to a little different tempo,” manager Buck Showalter said. “When you’ve been pitching as long as he has it’s kind of tough.”

The 34-year-old was scorching hot over the second half of 2022, going 4-2 with a 1.67 ERA over 14 starts for the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals. He held hitters to just a .230 average over that span and helped the Cardinals capture the NL Central. There is little to take from one spring training start like this, but this is part of the reason why the Mets have stockpiled so much starting pitching. If the injuries start to mount or a veteran like Quintana becomes ineffective, they have Tylor Megill, David Peterson or Joey Lucchesi ready to step in and make starts.

Quintana was disappointed but not discouraged by the performance.

“This start will give me an idea of where I’m at right now and how aggressive I need to be for the next one,” Quintana said. “I need to be aggressive and execute my pitches better. Today, I made too many mistakes down the middle too many times and I paid for that.”

Senga faced a much lower-pressure situation in the B game facing only Mets hitters. He threw 30 pitches and felt he had good command. He’s looking forward to making his first Grapefruit League start on Sunday.

“It will be my first time throwing to actual hitters, not the Mets hitters,” Senga said through a translator. “It’s something I look forward to.”

Prior to coming to camp, Senga had spent time at Driveline Academy working with MLB balls, which are different than the balls used in Japan, and he’s spent much of camp getting used to a steeper mound. The adjustments have been made and he feels that he’s able to execute all of his pitches.

The next step is getting into a Grapefruit League game and then working on a schedule of pitching every five days.

“For the slider and the cutter, I’ve looked at the metrics, the numbers and the movement,” Senga said. “I’ve set goals for myself and through these live BPs I think I’ve been able to reach my goals, so I’m not worried about the mound.”