CINCINNATI — The scenario, presented a year ago this week, was as surprising as it was unlikely: Yes, said Luis Rojas, then the Mets’ manager, the team was considering starting Jacob deGrom, its injury-prone ace, on short rest on the last day before the All-Star break.
That would have given deGrom, who didn’t want to go to begin with, a free excuse to skip the Midsummer Classic (which he did anyway). And it would have given them a good chance against the Pirates, who wound up with an unlikely comeback win that foreshadowed the Mets’ looming freefall.
But deGrom didn’t pitch that Sunday afternoon. And he hasn’t pitched since. Thursday is the one-year anniversary of his most recent major-league game, an excellent seven innings against the Brewers on July 7, 2021, that actually increased his ERA to 1.08.
“We always thought we were one start away, one good bullpen (session) away” from deGrom returning, pitching coach Jeremy Hefner said Wednesday. “It hadn’t worked out that way.”
Maybe something good can come of a lost year at the peak of his pitching powers.
“Jake is a mature individual, and he understands where he’s at in his career and what he needs to do to get back to the point where he’s dominating at the major-league level,” Hefner said. “I certainly think he’s learned some things about himself and he’s now, to his credit, using that information to better himself. He’s making a positive out of (the prolonged absence).”
Hefner, noting that he didn’t want to speak for deGrom, declined to say what deGrom has learned about himself.
DeGrom is getting closer to a return, the Mets believe, and is scheduled to make his second rehabilitation outing on Friday with Low-A St. Lucie. He was diagnosed with a stress reaction in his right shoulder blade late in spring training and has been out ever since.
But if there is a lesson in the details of the past 12 months of occasionally odd injury updates, it is that deGrom’s body can be unpredictable.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. DeGrom’s issues, especially last season, were never revealed outright to be that big of a deal.
It started with mere tightness in his right forearm during and then after the All-Star break. The organization considered him day-to-day before putting him on the injured list during the first weekend of the second half. By the end of the month, it was right elbow inflammation, so they shut him down for additional two weeks. Then two more weeks. Then he started throwing and — according to everybody with the organization at the time who spoke publicly on the matter, including deGrom — wanted to pitch in a game by the end of the season.
But that didn’t happen, either. With the Mets out of it in September, and deGrom’s rehab not progressing nearly quickly enough for him to make a safe return, the Mets shut him down.
There also was the strange episode, in the waning weeks of the season, in which team president Sandy Alderson said deGrom’s condition had been a minor tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, an injury that in severe cases requires Tommy John surgery. Alderson added that the sprain had “resolved itself.” That reveal drew a curt retort from deGrom, who said that week that “my ligament is perfectly fine.”
Upon arriving at spring training this year, DeGrom deemed himself fully healthy — and said he would opt out of his contract and become a free agent after this season.
All was well until it wasn’t. He reported soreness prior to what was supposed to be his final spring-training start. Hefner said the stress reaction and the problems last year were not “related in any way.”
“Obviously, missing a whole year is a huge negative, not only for the Mets but for him personally,” Hefner said. “He’s using that information and what he’s learned over the last year to make it into a positive moving forward.”