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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Mets should be playing it safer with Jacob deGrom

Erring on the side of caution might be wise move to protect club's ace pitcher.

Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom delivers a pitch

Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom delivers a pitch against the Twins at Citi Field on April 9. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Let’s hope Jacob deGrom is the exception.

That the past 24 hours, this whole ElbowGate affair, was just a case of the Mets being overly careful with their $137.5-million ace. That Friday’s decision to scratch him from his next start, place him on the injured list and book a Monday appointment with a Manhattan MRI tube was done out of an abundance of caution.

Despite the DefCon 1 panic it caused back in the Big Apple, it’s within the realm of possibility that the Mets went overboard in trying to protect deGrom. As soon as they heard “barking” from his right elbow, the smart move was to immediately shut him down, then call the doctors back home.

It was the responsible thing to do.

Maybe, this one time, the Mets were going to use common sense rather than listen to a player dictate his own course of treatment. This time, they were going to take the ball away, run a battery of tests and be absolutely, positively certain he was 100 percent OK before sending him back out to the field.

This time, it was going to be different.

So after all that, the due diligence, the play-it-safe medical protocol, what in the name of Tommy John was deGrom doing playing catch Saturday morning at Busch Stadium? What happened to the barking? The MRI? The common sense?

“After getting some treatment [Friday] and getting things moving around, it started feeling a little better,” deGrom said. “Decided to throw [Saturday] and actually felt good with how it went.”

At best, this was highly unconventional behavior. Only a few hours earlier, the sky was falling in Metsville. Everyone was digging bunkers for the season-on-the-brink hysteria, asking all the rational, super-sane questions, such as, “What will the Mets roster look like when deGrom returns from TJ surgery in 2021?”

And yet, there was deGrom, standing in the leftfield grass, slinging a baseball 120 feet in a long-toss exercise, part of his typical between-start regimen. Then answering questions afterward like everyone just imagined Friday’s events, or they woke up from some Mets-induced nightmare.

According to deGrom, the discomfort in his elbow was caused by the disruption of his throwing routine, which was due to him battling strep throat all week. Definitely plausible, I guess, as deGrom should be in tune with the moods of his valuable right arm. He’s already had TJ surgery (2010) followed by a nerve-relocation procedure in 2016, along with an IL-stint last May for a hyper-extended elbow. By this stage of his career, at age 30, you could assume that deGrom knows when he’s right or not. As for Saturday’s session, deGrom described it as feeling “completely normal” and doubted he would even need the MRI.

“I thought the whole time that I was going to be fine,” deGrom said. “I think it was just being smart about it. It’s April right now. We got a lot of season left. Just making sure that everything was fine and not being careless about it and going out there and trying to pitch when I was feeling a little something.”

Listening to deGrom, you want to believe it’s all good. Crisis averted. That it’s safe to stop hyperventilating. But we’ve been down this road before, and too many times, it’s gone straight over a cliff. Just two years ago, Noah Syndergaard was diagnosed with biceps tendinitis — a relatively minor condition on its own — and lobbied then-GM Sandy Alderson to stay out of an MRI tube. As a result, Alderson did not push for more extensive tests, and in his next start, Syndergaard abruptly walked off the mound with a torn lat muscle that effectively ended his ’17 season.

Going back a bit further, there was Johan Santana, whose questionable handling during the final month of the 2010 season ended with him having surgery to repair a torn shoulder capsule. Santana, like deGrom, was another $137.5-million ace, and concern arose when he had to come out of a game at Turner Field after throwing only 65 pitches.

After some initial clubhouse confusion, the official diagnosis was a strained pectoral muscle, even though Santana indicated the tightness was more in his shoulder. Regardless, the Mets didn’t send him home for an MRI, opting instead to let him throw a bullpen session three days later at the team’s next stop in Chicago, at Wrigley Field.

Santana, a bulldog, gritted his way through that test. Nine days later, he was on a surgeon’s table. Situations like these can be difficult for teams because they want to be talked into believing their Cy Young winner or All-Star is good to go. In the past, that policy hasn’t worked out too well for the Mets. Catastrophe usually followed.

But maybe this time is different. Maybe deGrom’s elbow problem really isn’t a problem at all, as he tried to tell us Saturday.

Still. Don’t push it. See the doctors. Get the MRI. And when deGrom is cleared, then we can say he was the exception.    

Let’s hope so.

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