Mets’ Kodai Senga explains not to use a ghost fork in the second spring start

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

WEST PALM BEACH — Considering he didn’t even throw one of his signature splinters, better known in Japan as his ghost fork and rated by scouts as his strikeout pitch, Kodai Senga had an impressive showing 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 splinter due to the tendonitis on his right index finger that caused him to scratch himself since his start last Saturday.

Senga said that was not the case. He said the finger felt good.

Still, he might be trying to keep it from flaring up again, even if he gets the work he needs to be ready for the season. Senga said he’s still getting “treatment and training” that’s helping him adjust to the baseball here, which is a little bigger than the one he played with in Japan.

That height difference may have been a factor in the original injury, as he presumably needs to spread his fingers more widely than in Japan to throw an effective splinter with the MLB ball.

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

“I think he will too,” Showalter said of Senga.

Anyway, when asked why he didn’t throw the splinter, Senga explained through his interpreter, “The cutter and sweeper-slider are new holds I developed this past off-season. At the start of this outing, these were the pitches I wanted to work on. It happened naturally.”

If that’s the case, and he’ll have that splinter available when he needs it as the season approaches, Senga provided evidence of how he can dominate a lineup, hitting hitters with a range of pitches at different speeds from the brings balance.

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

Even without using the splitter, Senga’s speeds on his various courts ranged from 81 mph on that sweeper slider to 97 mph when maxing out his fastball

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

“That’s what I’m trying to do (keep racquet 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 felt to being ready for the season, he said “80 percent,” suggesting that with two more starts in spring training, he’ll be ready for the games that count.

He also said that after feeling a little rushed by the pitch clock on his first launch 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 casting distances pretty well. I thought everything was going well.”

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

Most impressively, Senga hit to the side in his last inning and again mixed his pitches well. He struck Lane Thomas swing on an 82-mile slider, then ex-Met Dom Smith badly into a check swing strike three on an 84 mile slider and eventually blew a 94 mile fastball past Alex call.

Whether the hitters eventually get used to Senga’s off-speed stuff could be a key to his long-term success in MLB. But surely having that 97mph fastball when it reaches backwards will help. And perhaps most importantly, he seems to have that shard in his pocket when he needs it.

Either that or the new ball is a bigger problem for his famous ghost fork than he cares to admit.

We’ll know soon enough.

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