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David Wright's diagnosis leaves Mets in offensive limbo

David Wright #5 of the New York Mets

David Wright #5 of the New York Mets walks on the field between innings against the Philadelphia Phillies during Opening Day at Citi Field on Monday, April 13, 2015. Credit: Jim McIsaac

David Wright's troubling back condition, described Saturday by the Mets as the ominous-sounding lumbar spinal stenosis, has shut down their captain for at least another week and perhaps longer.

It also has paralyzed a flawed team that is fighting to stay near the top of the NL East, leaving Sandy Alderson uncertain of what his next move should be in trying to upgrade a struggling offense that is wasting some of the Mets' better pitching performances.

The general manager said this past week that he is not seeking outside help, preferring to wait for the returns of Wright and Travis d'Arnaud (broken finger) from the disabled list. That was fine as long as both were making progress, but only d'Arnaud is showing improvement.

Wright, who first was sidelined by a hamstring strain, developed a lower-back issue during his rehab in Port St. Lucie that twice has put his recovery on hold. It wasn't until Saturday -- five weeks after he landed on the DL -- that the Mets revealed he is being treated for lumbar spinal stenosis, which the Hospital for Special Surgery's website describes as a "narrowing of the spinal canal or tunnel that houses the (nerves) that travel along the spinal column."

The same condition caused former Met Lenny Dykstra to retire at age 35 after missing nearly two seasons and trying surgery to fix the problem.

That's not to say Wright is in a similar predicament. We don't know the full extent of Wright's diagnosis or how advanced his condition is.

But Mets assistant GM John Ricco, who is with the team in Pittsburgh this weekend, did mention spinal stenosis by name, so we finally do have something specific to pin Wright's problems on. And every day he is not allowed to continue rehab is another day for that concern to grow.

"He said when they initially put him on some medication, he got a lot of relief," Ricco said. "But that's kind of plateaued. It hasn't been knocked out completely, so the doctor said [to] try to give that a chance to happen."

Words such as "try" and "chance" don't represent a straightforward, clearly marked path to a cure. Not like the situation with d'Arnaud, who merely had to wait for a broken bone to heal, which has a dependable timetable for a healthy person.

Now that Wright's malady has been identified, it sounds as if this is a chronic condition, and we wonder how much it will sap his ability to play baseball.

The HSS website also mentioned that stenosis "can be caused by age-related degeneration of the spine or traumatic injury to the spine," which could explain why Wright is coping with it now, at 32.

Four years ago, he played with a stress fracture in his lower back before winding up on the DL for nine weeks.

Could the stenosis be the residue from that injury? Or is it just the wear and tear of a dozen years of the grind?

Dykstra retired on the advice of his doctors after battling spinal stenosis. Wright appears to be going the maintenance route, with limited success so far.

"The way it was progressing, they thought it would be gone by now," Ricco said. "It's the fact that he's still feeling something. They thought at this point he should be feeling pain-free for the most part, and he's not."

As long as Wright remains in limbo, so do the Mets.

Before Saturday, their .657 OPS was 29th in the majors. Wright is supposed to be the solution to that. But with this latest diagnosis, he might be a longer-term problem instead.

Wright, the highest-paid Met, still is due $102 million through 2020, a major roadblock to adding more payroll.

The Mets have banked on a healthy and productive Wright for this season and beyond. Right now, they have neither. Or any idea if they will in the future.

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