For now, Bobby Parnell will adopt a conservative approach.
The Mets closer will spend the next six weeks in rehab in hopes of avoiding surgery on the partially torn ligament in his right elbow. But if the process proves unsuccessful, he will spend the next year recovering from Tommy John Surgery.
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"All things considered, the best approach in this case is the conservative route," general manager Sandy Alderson said Wednesday night, before the Mets faced the Nationals at Citi Field. "And hopefully, that will work for Bobby, and he'll be back as soon as possible."
Parnell stood at the center of the Mets' plan to revamp a bullpen that has chronically underachieved during Alderson's tenure. With Parnell entrenched as the closer, the Mets envisioned eventually surrounding him with some of the talented arms that have graduated through the organization.
Parnell was the linchpin.
Now, with Parnell out of the picture until late May, the bullpen may stand as yet another hindrance in the Mets' quest to reach Alderson's goal of 90 wins.
Alderson offered one sliver of encouraging news. Parnell's tear was discovered in a thicker portion of his ligament, and to Alderson that means "the partial tear may not be as serious and immediately require surgery."
However, even if Parnell returns this season, the risk still remains that he might tear the ligament completely and wind up undergoing surgery. It also remains possible that Parnell doesn't make it through his rehab before requiring the procedure.
In the meantime, manager Terry Collins confirmed that Jose Valverde will step in as the closer. With Valverde elevated into a ninth-inning role, Collins said he will mix and match in the eighth.
"As we go along, certainly if we find that guy that shows he can pitch the eighth inning, we'll have the definitive roles," Collins said. "But right now, I think you've got to go with somebody who's going to step up and earn it."
Of course, the Mets never thought it would come to this.
Both Alderson and Collins indicated Wednesday that Parnell had not complained of any arm issues until after he blew the save against the Nationals on Monday. Though he spent the spring dealing with diminished velocity, the Mets chalked it up to Parnell's recovery from surgery last season to repair a herniated disc in his neck.
Collins said that at no point in the spring did Parnell exhibit any signs of hiding an arm injury. He offered no clues, at least through his mechanics.
Said Collins: "Coming through spring training there was not any indication that he had any issues."
Alderson said the Mets likely will stick with their current bullpen configuration. The Mets likely will wait a month before summoning any of their young pitching prospects from Triple-A Las Vegas.
With the exception of top prospect Noah Syndergaard, Alderson said that the Mets' young starting pitchers will make occasional relief appearances to prepare for a possible transition into the big-league bullpen. The relief work also will help those prospects stay within their innings limits.
The Mets also intend to monitor a free-agent market that includes several established relievers who are nearing a return from injuries. But for now, the Mets' plan involves making due with the arms they already have on hand.
"We'll continue to monitor those situations," Alderson said. "But, I think that the way it stands now, we want to see how things shake out with the bullpen over the next several weeks."