JUPITER, Fla. — His body betraying him, his age robbing him of precious time, Mets captain David Wright has encountered yet another physical setback that underscores the increasingly tenuous nature of what has been a brilliant major- league career.
Wright, 34, almost certainly will miss Opening Day after the Mets revealed Tuesday that pain in his right shoulder will keep him from even light throwing for several weeks. The weakness in the shoulder stems from months of inactivity following season-ending neck surgery last June.
General manager Sandy Alderson called Wright’s status for Opening Day “questionable.” However, the chances appear closer to nonexistent given the massive hurdles he must clear to get back on the field.
Said Alderson: “The muscles around the shoulder have not re-engaged since the surgery, and that’s taking more time than anticipated.”
The lack of stability in the surrounding shoulder muscles have prompted what Alderson called “a banging” in the joint, leading to inflammation that has lingered throughout camp. The Mets had kept those issues under wraps. Wright had a platelet-rich plasma injection about a month ago in hopes of eliminating the discomfort, though to no avail.
“It’s a pretty big setback for him,” manager Terry Collins said after the Mets’ 3-1 Grapefruit League win over the Marlins.
Wright was sent to New York late Monday night and was diagnosed with the impingement Tuesday morning. He’s expected to be in camp again Wednesday. Alderson insisted that no structural damage has been found and that another surgery is not in the cards. But with less than five weeks until Opening Day and Wright unable to throw, the Mets intend to have Jose Reyes ramp up his work at third base, where he filled in upon his return last year.
For now, all Wright can do is strengthen his right shoulder, which carries little assurance of success given his recent medical history.
“He’s not going to be throwing for a couple of weeks, probably not throwing with any real zip for a period after that,” Alderson said. “He can continue to DH, but in the meantime he’ll be doing lots of shoulder exercises to try to strengthen that shoulder.”
The latest health blow has reignited lingering questions about Wright’s viability as a major leaguer, and moved the Mets closer to uncomfortable territory with one of the greatest players in the history of the franchise.
Said Reyes: “It’s very sad news to hear.”
A seven-time All-Star, Wright has four years and $67 million remaining on his deal, though his last two years have been spent in a seemingly interminable cycle of physical maladies. Even before surgery last season, his throwing arm had become an issue, triggering debate about the merits of a move from third base. “Our goal is to get him back to third base,” Alderson said.
If Wright can’t throw, it will be hard for him to play any position, including first base. But according to Collins, Wright has acknowledged his own baseball mortality.
“This kid is a team player,” Collins said. “He has already voiced to me early in spring that he knows he’s got to produce. Don’t worry about where I hit in the lineup. If I can help, I’ll hit anywhere. He came in the other day and he said, ‘I think I need to get a first baseman’s glove.’ That’s the kind of guy he is.”
Wright has shown no indication of giving up on getting back on the field. Reyes said there was “no doubt” that Wright would play again, and cited his longtime teammate’s attitude in the face of odds that appear to grow longer by the day.
“I just see him working in the morning, and then basically working the whole day, in the afternoon, too,” Reyes said. “It’s tough for a baseball player. Not everybody [does] it like that. I appreciate that from him, coming with that attitude to try to get better, to try and get back in this lineup.”
Alderson downplayed the latest setback in terms of Wright’s long-term future with the Mets.
“I don’t think we’re at that point where that concern is at a more heightened level,” he said. “This is all part of the process of rehabilitating from the neck surgery. It’s taken longer than I’m sure David would have hoped and we would have hoped. But it’s part of the process.”
In 2015, Wright returned late in the season after being diagnosed with the chronic back condition spinal stenosis. Last year, he endured neck discomfort beginning in spring training, which ultimately led to season-ending surgery to repair a herniated disc in his neck. That surgery was performed near the shoulder, which continues to be the biggest complication from the procedure.
Wright’s light throwing program had been closely monitored. His throwing sessions every other day had been shielded from all except a few team trainers. He has compared the recovery process to relearning how to throw a baseball. Though he appeared in two Grapefruit League games as a designated hitter, he had taken only modest steps forward with his throwing.
“He was having real trouble getting his arm extended on the throws,” Collins said.
Now, Wright must start over again.
Alderson made a point of acquiring enough depth to account for the uncertainty surrounding Wright, who has played a total of only 75 games the last two seasons. But Collins noted Wright’s willingness to switch positions as an example of his character and importance off the field.
“That’s why we need him, that’s why we need him in our clubhouse, and on our bench, and on our team,” Collins said. “Because his presence and his professionalism is hard to find.”