ATLANTA — As the news reverberated around baseball Tuesday afternoon, the shockwaves felt particularly sharp in the visitors’ clubhouse at Truist Park.
Justin Verlander held up his phone and read aloud to those in his vicinity. Hitters filed out of their first-day-of-a-series game-planning meeting and exchanged looks of shock and quiet expletives. Brandon Nimmo immediately shot off a text to his longtime former teammate.
They learned alongside everybody else about the big one that the Mets had feared for years: Their former ace, Jacob deGrom, now with the Rangers, will be sidelined through at least the first portion of next season because of a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. He'll have surgery to repair the ligament next week.
“I feel awful for him,” manager Buck Showalter said. “If I know Jake, he’ll get the surgery and come back and finish his career strong.”
Nimmo, who inherited the title of longest-tenured Met upon deGrom’s departure last offseason, said: “I just wanted to reach out to him and let him know we’re thinking about him.”
And Verlander, signed by the Mets as deGrom’s replacement: “Anybody who’s a fan of baseball just wants to see Jake be healthy and go pitch. Obviously, a few years back, you were able to see what he can do, stringing together a few healthy seasons. Everybody would love to see that again, including me. He’s special.”
After joining Texas on a five-year, $185 million contract in December, deGrom went on the injured list in late April with what the Rangers called inflammation in his right elbow.
That was the latest in a series of body breakdowns that began in 2020, following deGrom’s NL Cy Young Award-winning seasons in 2018 and 2019. His iffy health became routine in his last years with the Mets: He was excellent when pitching, but so often he wasn’t pitching.
Among the problems was an elbow issue that cost him the second half of 2021. Sandy Alderson, then the Mets’ president, once said it had been a slight tear of the UCL; deGrom said then that the ligament was fine.
When deGrom became a free agent for the first time by opting out of his contract following the 2022 season, the Mets stayed in touch with him and his agents until he decided on the Rangers. Less than 72 hours later, the Mets agreed to bring in Verlander on a two-year, $86.7 million deal.
This season had been more of the same for deGrom, who had a 2.67 ERA and 0.76 WHIP in a half-dozen starts. Then he went back on the IL.
“This stinks. It’s not ideal,” deGrom, fighting tears, told reporters in Texas, according to the Dallas Morning News. “But at least we know what it is now. I want to get it fixed and will set a goal to be back before the end of next year.”
In Verlander, deGrom has something of a case study to reference. Verlander had Tommy John surgery in 2020 at age 37 — and then won another Cy Young in his first season back.
DeGrom will turn 35 this month.
A complicating factor: deGrom already had Tommy John surgery, after blowing out his elbow as a first-year professional in 2010.
“The surgery has gotten pretty damn good. You gotta be optimistic. It is what it is,” Verlander said. “Once you learn you need that surgery, it’s kind of like, all right, well, [shoot]. I hope come out of this, do everything I can to come out of it as healthy as possible.
“It’s like an 89% return-to-normal [rate] for your first one. I don’t know what the numbers are for your second. But 89% [chance of] return to previous form? For me, that was an easy decision. My previous form was a Cy Young. All right, if I return to that form, that would be great.”
Nimmo’s text didn’t receive an immediate response.
“And there’s no guarantee I will [hear] from Jake. He’s a pretty solitary guy,” Nimmo said. “Those [injuries] that take 12 months to come back, it’s a long time. It’s a long time away from the game. You hope that everything during that process goes right.”
Jacob deGrom has made only 32 starts since the start of 2021, spending time on the injured list each season:
2021 — 15 starts (7-2, 1.08 ERA)
IL May 11-25: Right side tightness
IL July 18-end of season: Right forearm tightness
2022 — 11 starts (5-4, 3.08 ERA)
IL April 7-Aug. 2: Stress reaction, right scapula
2023 — 6 starts (2-0, 2.67 ERA)
IL April 29-present: Right elbow inflammation, Tommy John surgery