ST. LOUIS — The skin on Jason Vargas’ right palm still is peeling and raw-looking, but the incision from surgery more than five weeks ago is closed up.
For a lefthander like Vargas, that’s good enough. He’ll make his Mets debut Saturday against the Padres in San Diego.
“I don’t know if I would say we’re completely back to normal,” said Vargas, whose return was a primary motivation for the Mets to remove struggling righthander Matt Harvey from the rotation. “We’re still trying to work to get the strength back to 100 percent, but as far as being able to go out there and catch a baseball and do normal baseball stuff, we’re doing pretty well.”
Vargas’ debut is more like a re-debut; he pitched in two games for the Mets as a 24-year-old in 2007. Eleven years, three teams, several injuries and an All-Star 2017 later, Vargas had one last hurdle to clear: a broken hamate bone in his non-throwing hand. He suffered the injury late in spring training during a backfields minor-league game, and when he first had surgery March 20, the Mets were not sure he would even need to start the season on the disabled list.
A slower-than-expected healing process cost Vargas, 35, nearly a month of regular-season action.
“It took longer than expected, that’s for sure,” Vargas said Wednesday at Busch Stadium, where he rejoined the Mets Tuesday after a rehab start with Triple-A Las Vegas. “That was the biggest waiting game from the beginning, how the incision was going to close up, being where it was in the hand and the ability to catch and not mess with the incision when it’s getting banged around while you’re playing catch.
“It was more frustrating just waiting for the incision to close up. That’s really what we were waiting for. Since surgery, there hasn’t been any pain from that broken bone. They took it out. So it’s been all about making sure the incision is closed up, and we’re at that point now.”
Vargas’ injury history is lengthy: a torn labrum in his hip (2008), a blood clot in his left armpit (2013), an appendectomy (2014), a left flexor strain (2015), Tommy John surgery (2015).
The fractured — and removed — hamate was different in that it affected only his non-throwing hand. Vargas was largely able to continue his throwing program and maintain his arm strength, though he was limited to several simulated games as he waited for the cut to heal.
Vargas’ glove won’t include any extra protective padding, but he said he isn’t worried about fielding potential comebackers.
“If I did [have any concern], I wouldn’t be out there,” Vargas said.
The Mets signed Vargas days into spring training to a two-year, $16-million contract as a measure of stability for a rotation that was hit hard by injuries last year. While Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler all dealt with health issues, Vargas, with Kansas City, pitched a full season for the first time since 2014.
After posting a 2.62 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in the first half — and getting picked for the All-Star Game for the first time — Vargas dropped off in the second half with a 6.38 ERA and 1.60 WHIP.
He’ll be looking to put that rough stretch, and this most recent injury, behind him starting Saturday.
“Just happy to be back in a competitive situation a few days ago [with Las Vegas] and looking forward to getting back in the mix,” Vargas said. “We’re playing so well, I would think that anybody would want to get out on the field and be a part of that. I’m just looking forward to being able to do my job again.”