It seems so long ago, but this time last year, there was a real buzz around the Mets. Yoenis Cespedes was coming back, and the core seemed good on paper . . . but oh, that pitching staff. What can go wrong when you have Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey and Steven Matz?
A lot, as it turned out.
General manager Sandy Alderson minced no words Tuesday, when he said so much of this season depends on the health of the embattled pitching staff. He also made very clear that the Mets are doing everything they can to give that staff the best possible chance to enter and exit 2018 as relatively healthy versions of themselves.
“The starting pitching is going to be key for us, and one of the things that I think has already changed is the way our pitchers approach the offseason,” Alderson told beat writers at Citi Field. “There’s much more monitoring of what they’re doing from a conditioning standpoint.’’
Syndergaard’s offseason training routine has been cited as a cause for his injury-shortened season, one, Alderson said, that in many ways defined the team last year. Harvey struggled to regain his form after thoracic outlet surgery, leading to questions about his rehab. Matz had season-ending elbow surgery. Zack Wheeler’s season ended with a stress reaction on his right arm. Only deGrom survived without a trip to the disabled list.
And thus the new program. Syndergaard’s injury, particularly, led the Mets to re-evaluate how they deal with their arms, Alderson said. New management — Mickey Callaway and pitching coach Dave Eiland — also is a big factor. They just do things differently, he said.
The Mets also have changed their medical staff, with Jim Cavallini taking over as director of performance and sports science. Cavallini, who worked with the United States Army special operations command, was targeted because of his attention to detail and management skills, Alderson said. They’re also trying to improve communication with the training staff, a problem last year.
“Given the fact that we’ve had injuries with our pitchers, I think something more scripted is in order,” Alderson said. “It’s a first-time manager and a pitching coach coming in with a new situation. There’s certainly an interest for them to — not maintain control so much — but have an awareness of what’s going on in the offseason. That’s been mirrored by our performance group, monitoring not just the throwing program but everything else that’s going on with our players — conditioning and in some cases, rehabilitation.”
It also will have to go beyond just the physical aspects. At times last season Harvey questioned his ability to get back to what he once was. The change was noteworthy because the Harvey of old — the one who had Harvey Days dedicated to his starts — was known as much for his swagger and mound presence as his fastball. Harvey’s metrics, Alderson said, are almost there. But baseball is often more than metrics.
“Velocity, spin rates, those kinds of things, are approaching normal,” he said. “One of the hurdles he’ll have to overcome this year is mental and getting his confidence back, and that’s going to come from getting back on the mound and having some success. I think he, as well as our other pitchers, are optimistic about 2018, and that comes sometimes just with change. That’s not to say it’s better or worse, but different, and that can affect someone’s mental outlook.”