PORT ST. LUCIE — Mickey Callaway will wear a big No. 36 on the back of his uniform this season. The front is now covered with a blue and orange bull’s-eye.
The new Mets manager, in his initial press conference of spring training on Tuesday, praised the performance of the front office in providing him with players and holds a high opinion of his coaching staff. So if the Mets are unsuccessful this season, Callaway says the blame will fall on him.
“It’s very evident we are prepared in every way to go out and do something special,” Callaway said. “If we do not do the things, it’s going to be on me. The front office has gotten us the players. The coaching staff is the best coaching staff in the big leagues.
“[The players] want to go out there and do whatever it takes. When you get a group like that, you can do something special. If we don’t do something special with the things we have in place, it’s going to be on the leadership of that. And that is going to be on me. I am going to work tirelessly every day for each and every one of them to be the best I can be and help them be the best they can be.”
Such talk can be considered bold for a rookie manager who is assuming the reins of a team that went went 70-92 last season, after expecting to contend for a third straight playoff berth. The 42-year-old Callaway was hired after five seasons as Indians pitching coach, having earned the reputation of a superior teacher and communicator.
The first workout for Callaway’s pitchers and catchers is Wednesday. But before that crew takes to the backfields at the team’s spring training complex, the manager will hold a meeting — in the weight room, of all places. The venue is significant in that Noah Syndergaard arrived at camp last season boasting about the 17 pounds of muscle he had added over the winter and vowing to throw harder. The stud right-hander ultimately missed most of the season rehabbing a torn lat muscle.
“I am not sure many people have had their first meeting with anybody in a weight room,” Callaway said. “But that is how valuable I think their routines are going to be, and we are going to walk them through what we expect them to do when they arrive at the ballpark. That’s the first thing they are going to hear, and I think that’s important. Just holding guys accountable and going through the process and communicating with these guys every day is the thing I am looking forward to the most.”
The Mets’ hopes of competing in the NL East are hinged to a pitching rotation that will depend largely on Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom. Filling in behind that dynamic duo is a group that includes Steven Matz, Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman and Rafael Montero.
Callaway declined to reveal how many spots in the rotation are open. Besides Syndergaard, the Mets were without Matz, Harvey, Lugo and Wheeler for extensive stretches last season.
“I think all eight of them can contribute in the big leagues, and that is what we’re looking at right now,” Callaway said. “We’ll have a better sense of that moving forward, and obviously we will have to make some kind of decision at some point. The good part is from what I have seen so far, there’s eight to 10 guys who are already making that decision hard on us. This is a great group of arms we are seeing and that is a good problem to have, to make some real difficult decisions when that time comes.”
From his conversations with players, Callaway says he senses the team believes last year was an aberration, and the Mets can compete at their 2015 and ’16 levels.
“They look to their left and look to their right and they know they can contend,” Callaway said. “We have the players to do it. It has become very evident in my time in Port St. Lucie, I have spent time with our coaching staff, time with our players, it is very evident we are prepared in every way to go out and do something special.”
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