What looked as if it could be a pivotal day in Starling Marte’s recovery instead proved less than encouraging.
He attempted two-handed swings off short toss Monday, but “I don’t think that got a real good return,” Mets manager Buck Showalter said.
Marte, who suffered a non-displaced fracture of his right middle finger when he was hit by a pitch against the Pirates on Sept. 6, hasn’t been able to swing or grip a baseball since then and spent the better portion of last month with his finger in a splint.
The next three days, Showalter said, will be pivotal in determining his playoff availability, though with Game 1 of the wild-card series Friday, a return by then appears increasingly unlikely.
“There was a little progress but not enough to think something is imminent,” Showalter said. “I don’t think so. I know we’re looking more [at] ways to manage it and the discomfort — trying to see if there’s some way, but you know, the earliest we would play obviously would be Friday, so we’ll see what the next three days bring.”
Showalter said in previous days that if there was any way for Marte to manage the pain and swelling and still play, the Mets would be quick to consider it. Showalter noted last week that he himself once played with a broken thumb, icing it between innings. That, though, isn’t in play until Marte can grip and throw.
Whatever the case, there is a distinct air of urgency when it comes to Marte’s injury. This last weekend’s series against Atlanta continued to showcase some of the Mets’ offensive deficiencies, and Marte’s skill set — his speed, stolen bases and ability to make contact and get on base — has been key in this team’s blueprint for manufacturing runs.
“He’s just such a well-rounded player,” Showalter said. “That’s why he was such a good addition to us. But people who have taken his place are capable of doing some things, but he’s got a track record, and it stretched out our lineup and created some problems for bullpens. I think the well-rounded game – he doesn’t have to hit a ball out of the park, he can steal a base - [he’s] just a really good fit for who we’ve tried to be.”
Before getting hurt, Marte provided a jolt out of the two-hole, compiling a .292/.347/.468 slash line with 18 stolen bases.
The Marte news hasn’t eased the sting of a decidedly tough few days, one in which the Mets not only lost their grip on the season tiebreaker to Atlanta but all but cost themselves the NL East crown, even as they sent Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer to the hill. Atlanta’s 4-0 loss at Miami on Monday night kept its magic number at one.
“How do you think [the players feel]?’’ Showalter asked. “Someone says, are they pressing? Yeah, of course they’re pressing. It’s a tough ride. It’s a tough plane ride. I know how much they care. I know how much the fans care. You hate to disappoint people. It hurts.”
Even so, they’re already putting things in motion. Monday meant a meeting with deGrom, Scherzer and Chris Bassitt, Showalter said — the presumed wild-card starters. Jim Leyland, the manager of the 1997 world championship Marlins, also a wild-card team, has been in Showalter’s ear, too (though Showalter said he won’t concede the division until it is official). Leyland, he said, “keeps reminding me about his ring and a wild card.”
“You put yourself out there every day and I’d hate — I’d hate to go through life not having those challenges and not having opportunities to separate yourself,” Showalter said. “You just can’t allow people to take you somewhere you don’t want to go. You control it. You’ve got to stay positive. There are some good things ahead.”
Maybe, but it’ll be harder to get there than it once was.