Matt Harvey elects to rehab, delay decision on surgery

Matt Harvey speaks during a news conference announcing

Matt Harvey speaks during a news conference announcing that he has been diagnosed with a partially torn ligament before a game between the Mets and Philadelphia Phillies at Citi Field. (Aug. 26, 2013) (Credit: AP)

The timing of Matt Harvey's elbow injury has afforded him one important luxury -- time.

And the Mets righthander will use every bit of it before deciding whether to undergo Tommy John surgery on the partially torn ligament in his right elbow.

Harvey will attempt what the team in a statement termed a "structured throwing program" that will last six to eight weeks. According to the statement, Mets doctors have deemed surgery likely will be necessary unless Harvey can "complete a throwing program free of elbow related symptoms."

"Why jump into surgery in a situation where I never had the tingling, the numbness, the shooting pain in my elbow that are usually the symptoms of needing that surgery?" Harvey said Tuesday. "For me, if a rehab process and a strengthening process is the way to go, in my mind that's what I wanted to do."

At any point during what general manager Sandy Alderson called a "free-flowing" process, a recurrence of symptoms could prompt surgery. But the Mets have a two-month window to allow Harvey a chance to rehab without affecting his 2015 season, should he wind up undergoing surgery.

During the next few days, Alderson said the Mets will determine a rehab plan, which will involve specialists at the Hospital for Special Surgery and perhaps a stint at the team's complex in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

Though every operation carries some degree of risk, ligament replacement procedures enjoy a high success rate and a predictable rehab length of at least 12 months. It is common for pitchers to return to the majors after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Meanwhile, a rehab option presents its own difficulties. Avoiding surgery likely would allow the 24-year-old to pitch next season. However, should Harvey wind up pitching with a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament, he runs the risk of suffering a more severe tear that would ultimately require surgery and cost him precious time.

"There's always risks on both sides," Harvey said. "And for me, I believe if I can rehab, I'd rather bet on myself doing the work to stay out of getting surgery [rather] than having the surgery."

Since an MRI exam revealed the injury on Aug. 26, Harvey has held out hope of dodging surgery. Even as he sought a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews in Florida on Monday, there was little doubt about the phenom's preference. The most important development to come out of the visit is that Harvey's elbow has been deemed to be stable enough to attempt rehab.

"From Dr. Andrews' tests of elbow stability, nothing was moving in places it shouldn't," said Harvey, who started the All-Star Game and finished 9-5 with a 2.27 ERA in his first full big-league season.

Harvey has frequently noted that other pitchers have delayed ligament replacement surgery and pitched effectively for years before eventually having the procedure done.

Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright stands as one prominent example. He was diagnosed with a partial elbow ligament tear in 2004 but did not require surgery until 2011. In between his initial diagnosis and surgery, Wainwright logged 200 innings in three of his first four seasons as a big-league starter. He was also named an All-Star and finished second in Cy Young Award voting.

And now, it appears Harvey will at least get the chance to take a similar path. He remains optimistic.

"Everything feels completely normal and I know there were some symptoms of forearm tightness and this and that," Harvey said. "But I never had like I said sharp elbow pain or numbness."

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