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Mets’ Kodai Senga explains not using ghost fork in second spring start

New York Mets starting pitcher Kodai Senga (34) delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Washington Nationals at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches / Sam Navarro – USA TODAY SPORTS

WEST PALM BEACH — Considering he didn’t throw even one of his signature splitters, better known in Japan as his ghost fork, and evaluated by scouts as his strikeout pitch, Kodai Senga had an impressive outing here Thursday night, racking up five K’s in his three innings of work against the Nationals.

The only concern would be that he avoided throwing the splitter because of the tendinitis on his right index finger that caused him to be scratched from his start last Saturday.

Senga said that wasn’t the case. He said the finger felt fine.

Nevertheless he might be trying to protect it from flaring up again, even while getting the work he needs to be ready for the season. Senga did indicate that he is still getting “treatment and training” that is helping him adjust to the baseball here, which is slightly bigger than the one he pitched with in Japan.

That size difference could have been a factor in the original injury, as he presumably has to split his fingers wider than he did in Japan to throw an effective splitter with the MLB ball.

Buck Showalter said he wasn’t concerned, noting that the pitchers he’s had experience with from Japan in the past have all been able to make the adjustment.

“I think he’ll do it too,” Showalter said of Senga.

In any case, when asked why he didn’t throw the splitter, Senga explained through his interpreter, “The cutter and sweeper-slider are new grips that I developed this past off-season. Going into this outing, those are the pitches I wanted to work on. It happened naturally.”

If so and he’ll have that splitter available when he needs it as he gets closer to the season, Senga offered evidence as to how he can dominate a lineup by keeping hitters off-balance with an array of pitches at various speeds.

Or as Showalter said afterwards, “The guy’s got a talented hand. He can do a lot of things with the baseball.”

Even without using the splitter, Senga’s velocity on his various pitches ranged from 81 mph on that sweeper-slider to 97 when he wanted to max out on his fastball

And unofficially it seemed he hit just about every speed in between, pitching like a wily veteran, adding and subtracting velocity on his breaking stuff as well as his fastball, which varied from 92 to 97.

“That’s what I’m trying to do (keep hitters off-balance),” he said. “Everything went according to plan.”

Senga threw 47 pitches in three innings, and he’s a little behind a normal ramp-up because of the finger injury. But when asked how close he feels to being ready for the season he said, “80 percent,” indicating that two more starts in spring training will have him ready for the games that count.

He also said that, after feeling a bit rushed by the pitch clock in his first start 10 days ago, this time he said he was able to make the adjustment.

“It wasn’t a factor this time,” he said, “and I was able to control my pitches pretty well. I thought everything went well.”

He did give up a run in the first inning, but it was mostly the result of a leadoff bloop double.

Most impressively Senga struck out the side in his final inning, again mixing his pitches nicely. He struck out Lane Thomas swinging at an 82 mph slider, then fooled ex-Met Dom Smith badly into a check swing-strike three on an 84 mph slider, and finally blew a 94 mph fastball past Alex Call.

Whether hitters will adjust to Senga’s off-speed stuff eventually could be a key to his long-term success in MLB. But certainly having that 97 mph fastball when he reaches back will surely help. And perhaps most significantly, he seems to be keeping that splitter in his pocket for when he needs it.

Either that or the new ball is more of an issue for his famous ghost fork than he wants to admit.

We’ll know soon enough.

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