PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The television in the Mets' clubhouse showed the image of a hard-hit comebacker smashing into the elbow of pitcher Jeremy Hefner. Mets captain David Wright, in the middle of an interview about his own injury, stopped mid-sentence to watch.
The Mets could ill afford another injured pitcher, and with Hefner, they caught a lucky break. X-rays revealed only a bruise. But with righthander Shaun Marcum, the Mets weren't so lucky. And now, once Opening Day rolls around, the Mets face the prospect of having two members of their starting rotation on the disabled list.
Marcum will likely join lefthander Johan Santana on the shelf. Marcum, a 31-year-old righty, complained of what the team called "neck discomfort" during his bullpen session on Monday. He is scheduled for more tests today.
But since Marcum hasn't pitched since March 15, thanks to right shoulder impingement, he appears bound for the DL.
"To have him all of a sudden ready to pitch Game 3 or 4, I'd be surprised," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "Tomorrow we'll know more."
In Marcum's injury-plagued pitching career, he has dealt with various maladies in his back, leg, knee, hip, finger, elbow and shoulder. But until Tuesday, he had never been derailed by a pain in the neck.
He will be replaced by lefthander Aaron Laffey, whom the Mets had sent to minor-league camp on Sunday after a rough outing against the Cardinals. Laffey wasn't on the radar at the start of camp.
Righthander Jenrry Mejia had been considered the top candidate to serve as rotation insurance. However, Mejia has been sidelined with tendinitis in his elbow. Yesterday, the Mets announced he would be shut down for two more weeks after doctors examined him in New York on Sunday.
Collins also dismissed any temptation to call up top prospect Zack Wheeler.
"He needs to go to Triple-A," Collins said. "He needs to face hitters in Triple-A."
The Mets also have a financial reason to keep the phenom in Triple-A Las Vegas for at least the first month of the season. An April call-up would cost the team an extra year of team control, meaning that the righthander would qualify for free agency a year early.
"He needs to go work on his stuff and he needs to be able to do what he did midseason, which is pound the strike zone," Collins said. "In the games he's thrown over there [in the minors], they say he's been a little wild."
There may also be a remote chance that the Mets seek help from outside. Chris Young is available after opting out of his minor-league deal with the Nationals. The 6-10 righty enjoyed a strong spring.
According to a source, general manager Sandy Alderson joined other Mets staff in watching Young's start on Monday night against the Astros, though the team has shown no signs of adding another piece. Said Collins: "Laffey's our No. 1 option right now."
The Mets won't need a fifth starter until April 7. Until then, Laffey is expected to pitch out of the bullpen. With less than a week until Opening Day, it appears that lefty Jon Niese will be followed in the rotation by Dillon Gee, Matt Harvey and Hefner, who emerged from his close call largely unscathed.