It is downright painful for the Mets to consider how the season would have been different if Noah Syndergaard and Matt Harvey had been in the rotation all year. The thought will hit home Saturday night when the two of them will be on the same mound in the same game.
In an unusual bit of scheduling, Syndergaard will pitch the first inning against the Nationals in his return after more than four months on the disabled list with a torn lat. Then Harvey will begin his scheduled “start” in the second inning, continuing his anguished comeback from a stress injury to his scapular bone.
The Mets scheduled it this way, general manager Sandy Alderson said, to make the circumstances seem more natural for Syndergaard.
“We felt that was important, given the circumstances,” Alderson said before the Mets beat the Nationals, 7-6, at Citi Field. “We just want to get him back on the mound, if for only a moment relatively, before the season ends so that he’s back out there, is re-familiarized with the circumstances and the fact that he’s in a big-league game and he goes into the offseason with a little bit of that additional confidence. We told him today if it’s 10 pitches, it’s 10 pitches. If it’s 20, it’s 20.
“We certainly consulted with Matt to make sure he’s comfortable with this,” Alderson said, adding that the original plan was to have Syndergaard hand off to Robert Gsellman, who was moved up to Friday night as a replacement for Jacob deGrom (stomach ailment).
The club acknowledged that Harvey has struggled since his return from the disabled list. Alderson and Terry Collins insisted that a year after having major surgery, he is making progress, regardless of how downcast he has been after his past two starts. But it is clear that, for Saturday, Syndergaard is the priority. He desperately wants to have at least one major-league appearance before the offseason as vindication for his rehab.
“It is a grueling process, make no mistake,” Collins said. “I’m going to be real ly happy to see him, especially if on Sunday morning he comes in and says, ‘Boy, I feel good.’ That will be a relief.”
On Friday night, Travis d’Arnaud homered twice, Nori Aoki (three hits) had the deciding double in the sixth and Jeurys Familia earned his first save since May 5 as the Mets overcame a 6-1 deficit.
Mostly, the focus is on 2018. Alderson said he wants to find a healthy, experienced starting pitcher to be “a bridge” for a rotation filled with starters returning from injury. He said he will be looking to improve the bullpen, the defense and general health. He said the club is looking at ways to prevent the rash of injuries. Alderson added that if shortstop Amed Rosario can better command the strike zone, “he can be a superstar.”
Still, it is hard not to look back at what might have been. “Yeah, it’s in the back of your mind, ‘If we could have had these guys . . .’ But you didn’t. That’s the reality of it all,” Collins said. “This whole process right now is making sure these guys, starting on October 2, can go into the wintertime knowing that they’re healthy and can get themselves ready for spring training and hopefully have a successful season where they can run out there 30-some times.”
What manager will be naming that rotation is an open question. When he was asked about Collins’ status, Alderson said: “As I’ve said before, that situation will be resolved very shortly after the end of the season. And beyond that, we’re just not getting into a public conversation about it.”