WASHINGTON — Pitching has given the Mets leeway. It has preserved the hopes of a season loaded with expectations despite injuries that have sapped their energy and weakened their roster.
But more cracks emerged Monday night when Noah Syndergaard got chased in the Mets’ 11-4 loss to the Nationals, and a source confirmed to Newsday on Monday night that he has been pitching through a bone spur in his right elbow.
“There’s nothing structurally wrong with my elbow at all,” Syndergaard said when asked directly about the media reports.
Manager Terry Collins said, “I don’t really know what his [issue] is.”
Both said Syndergaard experienced no elbow issues during Monday night’s outing, which the pitcher termed “embarrassing.”
But Syndergaard’s bone spur came to light shortly after it emerged that Steven Matz has been pitching through a bone spur that one source indicated could require in-season surgery. Both have publicly acknowledged elbow tightness and both have undergone MRI exams, though those exams have not revealed ligament damage.
Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom haven’t fully been themselves all season, adding to the strain of a season that has been defined by arm scares.
Syndergaard pulled himself from his previous start because of elbow tightness, then took the mound against the NL East-leading Nationals with hardly a sign of his trademark command. Raw velocity was not nearly enough.
He battled through trouble, then allowed five runs in the third inning. He did not return for a fourth.
In the process, Syndergaard blew an early 4-0 lead. He walked three, a season high, and allowed the Nationals to run wild. They swiped five bases with Syndergaard on the mound and six on the night, picking away at what has been one of his few vulnerabilities.
From the beginning, Syndergaard appeared destined for a slog, loading the bases with nobody out in the first inning, only to escape without damage. But through it all, he looked out of sync with Travis d’Arnaud. Twice in critical spots, the catcher jogged to the mound for impromptu meetings, a sign that he and the pitcher were struggling to connect.
Syndergaard looked rattled. He has allowed 28 steals this season. The next closest pitcher in all of baseball has allowed 14.
By the end of the third, the Nationals had sent nine men to the plate and scored five runs, chasing Syndergaard after 71 pitches.
Anthony Rendon’s two-run single off Syndergaard tied it ahead of Danny Espinosa, who singled home the run that put the Nationals ahead for good.
Entering in relief, Sean Gilmartin surrendered five more runs. The Nationals had 17 hits.
It is not how Collins envisioned the Mets beginning a pivotal stretch leading up to the All-Star break. Beginning Monday night, 11 of the Mets’ next 14 games come against first-place teams. During that span, Collins has emphasized the importance of not ceding any more ground.
Yet they did just that against the Nationals, who pulled three games clear of the Mets. And to make matters worse, the day only heightened fears about the franchise’s most precious assets.
Notes & quotes: The Mets held a private workout at their complex in Port St. Lucie for former Cuban star Yulieski Gourriel, assistant general manager John Ricco said. It was attended by GM Sandy Alderson and a group of the team’s top scouts, including special assistant to the GM J.P. Ricciardi. Gourriel, a third baseman, is expected to receive heavy interest . . . Jose Reyes went 0-for-2 with a walk and an error while playing third base for Class A Brooklyn. He will join Double-A Binghamton on Tuesday . . . Juan Lagares (sprained left thumb) will begin his rehab assignment with Double-A Binghamton on Tuesday. The Mets hope Lagares can play through his sprain and avoid surgery . . . Zack Wheeler played catch Monday for the first time since his rehab from Tommy John surgery was slowed by nerve irritation in his right elbow . . . The Nationals’ Lucas Giolito, one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, will make his big-league debut against the Mets on Tuesday night.