On the Mets’ standard Panic City scale, with one being “cool, for now” and 10 amounting to “fire everyone, start over,” Sunday night’s revelation that Jason Vargas will have surgery to repair a hamate bone fracture in his non-pitching hand probably rates around a three.
Not ideal, but hardly a major concern. Along the lines of, “OK, that figures.”
There are far worse things that can happen to the Mets before Opening Day, and they avoided one of them Sunday when Noah Syndergaard completed his seven-inning stint (yes, seven innings) without an issue in their 5-4 win over the Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium.
The game wasn’t televised anywhere, streaming or otherwise, so a nervous Mets Nation was mostly kept in the dark as an efficient Syndergaard made it through seven innings and still failed to reach the Mets’ target of 95 pitches (he threw 85) in his fifth Grapefruit League start. Syndergaard’s fastball was in the range of 96-98 mph — we charted only one pitch reaching 100 — along with a devastating slider and so-so changeup.
Like March Madness, the Mets are at the survive-and-advance portion of spring training, and Syndergaard was chipper about his performance afterward. He has only one brief tuneup left before the March 29 opener at Citi Field. As long as he avoids gardening tools and hang gliders in the next 10 days, the Mets should be in good shape. “He was really nasty,” Travis d’Arnaud said.
Did seven innings seem a bit excessive? Sure. But Mickey Callaway assured us that the pitch count went according to plan, so we’ll take his word for it. And if Syndergaard is all-systems-go, that takes a big name off the anxiety checklist.
We’d also be so bold as to remove Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey after their last starts, which, again, weren’t followed by MRI visits.
Maybe if we weren’t talking about the Mets, this would be a good time to bring up the availability of Alex Cobb, the best unattached pitcher left in this black hole of a free-agent market. In the past week, the Phillies signed Jake Arrieta to a three-year, $75-million deal and the Twins added Lance Lynn at the very club-friendly price of $12 million for this season.
We stopped bringing up these names a while ago because the Mets supposedly made their rotation-enhancing move last month by getting Vargas with a two-year, $16-million deal. At the time, with free agents scrambling to sign, that felt sufficient.
Vargas, although 35, was coming off a career season for the Royals and had an existing relationship with Dave Eiland, Kansas City’s former pitching coach.
Vargas fit as a cost-efficient, reliable arm who would provide some stability for a Mets rotation that too often fell apart midway through the season. That was the idea, anyway, until a line drive slammed into his glove hand Friday during a minor-league game. A CT scan later showed the hamate break that the initial X-rays did not.
While the Vargas accident slides neatly into the Mets’ eternal injury narrative, it amounts to a speed bump. After Tuesday’s surgery, he is expected to return to his throwing progression in five days, so don’t anticipate a long rehab.
When Sandy Alderson acquired Vargas, the incumbent members of his rotation had yet to throw a pitch in the Grapefruit League. Syndergaard was returning from a lat-muscle tear that hijacked his ’17 season. Steven Matz was coming off nerve relocation in his elbow. Harvey? We’ll politely describe what happened to him last year as some sort of a mind-body re-calibration.
The Mets’ rotation was a forest of question marks in February. Alderson had to get somebody, and that somebody was Vargas. But here in late March, everyone is making their starts, and Callaway announced Sunday that Zack Wheeler will take Vargas’ place Thursday against the Nationals. Even Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman — both of whom were used Sunday in relief against the Orioles — can be pressed into starting duty again.
“We’re not quite sure how it’s going to affect us,” Callaway said. “We have a lot of guys stretched out, if need be.”
There are plenty of calamities that could torpedo the Mets. Losing Vargas, for now, isn’t anywhere near that scale.