It was a day of firsts on a middle-of-July Monday at Citi Field, with several key Mets working to get healthy in the hours that preceded the team’s 6-3 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Starters Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard threw off flat ground for the first time since being placed on the disabled list with arm woes: Harvey with a stress injury in the scapula bone in his right shoulder and Syndergaard with a torn right lat.
Second baseman Neil Walker ran the bases for the first time since partially tearing his left hamstring on June 14. Reliever Hansel Robles returned from a nearly two-month stay with the Mets’ Triple-A affiliate in Las Vegas, a visit that was based upon performance rather than ailments.
While it’s still too soon for returns on Syndergaard, Harvey or Walker, the early ones for Robles were not good. On his second pitch back in the big leagues, Robles watched as Tommy Pham’s three-run homer sailed over the leftfield fence and put the Cardinals ahead 6-1 in the sixth. It was a key moment in the game that took the air out of a Citi Field crowd hungry for any signs of a second-half surge.
After Pham’s blast, Robles retired the next two batters, Dexter Fowler and Jedd Gyorko, and left the field to a chorus of boos.
“I thought he had some positives for sure,” catcher Travis d’Arnaud said. “Unfortunately, to Pham, he missed one location. But with Fowler, he was able to locate both his fastball and slider and struck him out on an inside slider. That thing was sharp and it had a lot of bite to it . . . Besides that one pitch [to Pham], he was able to locate his fastball.”
Robles, who was a key part of the Mets’ bullpen last season, was sent down on May 23. The righthander was 4-1 with a 6.23 ERA in 21 pre-demotion appearances. He allowed 15 runs, 21 hits and 13 walks and struck out 23 in 21 2⁄3 innings.
Initially, he struggled with Las Vegas, allowing 15 earned runs and pitching to a 5.79 ERA in 18 games (23 1⁄3 innings). Then things appeared to turn around for him as he pitched 6 2⁄3 scoreless innings in his last five outings with Las Vegas.
“It was something that just kind of caught me by surprise,” Robles said through an interpreter before Monday night’s loss. “I wasn’t where I wanted to be and it was kind of hard to assimilate and adjust to that, and I worked through it.”
Manager Terry Collins said Robles’ early struggles in Triple-A might have been a result of frustration. Once he got past that, he started to throw more effectively.
“The reports were that he started to command his fastball and start it down in the zone,” Collins said. “He started to get a better breaking ball that he could control for a strike.”
Collins also indicated that, for now, Robles probably will be used in the middle of games. He needs to see results before he trusts Robles with the seventh or eighth innings.
“Paul [Sewald] has done a nice job in that seventh- or eighth- inning area,” Collins said. “Coming out of spring training, that’s where we pictured Hansel to pitch. But I don’t want to force-feed him yet. I want to make sure that he shows us, at this level, he could continue to do the things he did in Vegas. If he does, I’m sure he’ll earn that job back.”
If Monday night was any indication, though, Robles’ road to owning those later innings remains a work in progress.