WASHINGTON — The Mets had been uncomfortably vague talking about rehab timelines for Steven Matz and Jacob deGrom since both were sidelined with troubling arm conditions. Better to be safe than sorry with these two elite young arms, and risking more serious injury for the sake of this wild-card pursuit felt like too much to ask.
But all that seemed to change as soon as Rafael Montero bombed in a big way Monday night, which is when the Mets realized the gauge on their pitching reserves, the tank that also delivered Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman, was now tilting so dangerously close to E that the warning light was now on.
Montero had to go, immediately, and when Terry Collins was pressed Tuesday for the replacement, his answer was somewhat surprising: Matz and deGrom, possibly in a piggyback situation when the next opening up came up, maybe as early as Sunday against the lowly Twins at Citi Field.
That projected outlook, followed by Noah Syndergaard’s domination Tuesday in the 4-3 victory (in 10 innings) had to be a tremendous boost for the Mets, who might get the band back together, and just in time, too. Syndergaard did what he usually does at the height of his powers, holding the Nats to only four hits and one run for seven innings, with 11 strikeouts.
It’s nights like these that make us forget Syndergaard is pitching with a bone spur in his right elbow, as is Matz, and help calm any health-related jitters for one evening. They never go away entirely, however. And the questions about Matz and deGrom will continue to persist even after they do return, if that indeed is what happens.
Judging by the nature of their injuries, however, we wonder if the manager was being overly optimistic — and the Mets, by going to this plan, might also be rushing things a bit to fortify their rotation for the stretch run. Remember, Matz hasn’t pitched since Aug. 14 because of the scary-sounding shoulder impingement, which involved rotator-cuff irritation, and deGrom was shut down after his Sept. 1 start because of right forearm soreness, a rather ominous diagnosis that could be caused by any number of issues.
The prescription for both at the time was merely rest, and the prognosis for the remainder of this season was difficult to predict, at least until they climbed a mound again. Now that Matz and deGrom have been throwing bullpen sessions, in an effort to ramp up their rehab, it’s understandable the Mets may be getting a little anxious, particularly after watching Montero walk everyone but Screech in Monday night’s 8-1 loss.
Collins, as usual, insisted that his pitchers’ health is the primary concern. But he also acknowledged the temptation to again deploy Matz and deGrom, a move that could be a game-changer in holding off the Cardinals, and perhaps even catching the Giants.
“If they aren’t where they need to be, they won’t be able to help us,” Collins said. “We’re talking completely in hope right now.”
The tricky part here is that, with the minor league seasons finished, Matz and deGrom won’t have the benefit of a legit rehab start or two to recalibrate themselves. Instead, this will be sort of a grip-it-and-rip-it situation, and splitting that first game back can help ease them back with a lighter workload.
Aside from Montero’s 7.36 ERA, and astounding 14 walks in 11 innings, the Mets’ starters as a whole have been quite effective lately despite the losses of Matz and deGrom. Before Tuesday, the rotation’s 3.82 ERA for the past 30 days ranked third in the National League, trailing just the Cubs (2.90) and Cardinals (3.74). The wild-card leading Giants were 11th with a 4.27 ERA.
Is it reasonable to believe Lugo and Gsellman can continue to hold up their end of that performance? Sure, for this small of a sample size. The Mets don’t need six months from them. Not yet anyway. And one will end up in the bullpen if Matz and deGrom can return to their own spots in the rotation. That’s the “hope” Collins was referring to. But often not what the Mets end up with.