MIAMI — Kodai Senga wants to see how much his friends really care about him. If his friends and family in Japan aren’t awake at 2:40 a.m., to see him pitch in his first major league game, he’s going to wake them up himself.
“I think a lot of people will be willing to stay up and watch me pitch,” Senga said Saturday at LoanDepot Park through a translator. “If I’m good friends with them and they are not going to be awake watching me, I will make sure they’re up.”
How does he plan to do that?
“A lot of calls,” he said.
The 30-year-old right-hander is set to make his Mets debut and his MLB debut Sunday against the Miami Marlins in the final game of the first series of the season. The Japanese star never really thought he would be in this position considering he wasn’t exactly the phenom he’s considered today early in his career. He didn’t grow up dreaming of playing in the major leagues, but as his unlikely career evolved in the Nippon Professional Baseball League, it became something he saw within reach.
“This is a guy that kind of feeds off of somebody thinking he may not be able to do something,” manager Buck Showalter said.
Showalter and the Mets are eager to see how he handles the Marlins’ lineup in a game situation. The Grapefruit League only mimics those situations, but he performed well in spring training, working with pace and making adjustments along the way. The pitch clock frustrated him early, but the Mets were impressed with how well he handled it after only his first spring start.
“A lot of the things that we threw at him, he was one of the better guys at understanding everything that was going on,” Showalter said. “He picked it up quicker than some of our guys who were playing in the minor leagues last year. The pitch clock and all the different stuff, he seemed to pick that up quickly. We’ll see if it follows that trend tomorrow.”
Senga used spring training to get acclimated to being in a new country and to try and learn about the culture. Of course, Port St. Lucie, Fla., is nothing like New York City and he’ll have a whole new culture to learn when the Mets finally return home to start the home slate next week. But spring training was a good way to ease into learning about his new country and the nuance of the North American game.
Sunday will be the culmination of his spring lessons. So far, he has no nerves, but he knows that could change once he’s finally out on a big league mound in a regular season game for the first time.
“As of right now, no big emotions,” Senga said. “It will hit me pretty soon.”
With eight straight games to start the season, the Mets are trying to make sure the position players stay fresh. It’s why Mark Canha was in the lineup as the DH on Friday night and why Starling Marte got the day off Saturday. Brandon Nimmo will get Sunday off and Tim Locastro will get a start in the outfield so Tommy Pham can DH against left-hander Trevor Rogers.
Having a super utility player like Jeff McNeil makes it easy to rotate players in and out without losing defense. McNeil can play seven of nine positions and has told Showalter that he would like try playing all nine in a game someday, though the manager has some trepidation about letting him put on the catching gear, and he can hit anywhere in the lineup.
McNeil spelled Marte in right field Saturday while Luis Guillorme started at second base.