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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Mets finally get it right with Jacob deGrom after days of bizarre debate over MRI

We've been through plenty of these with the Mets, and they usually don't have a happy ending, but deGrom's MRI was "clean" according to GM Brodie Van Wagenen.

Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom reacts in the dugout

Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom reacts in the dugout in the seventh inning of the MLB baseball game between the New York Mets and the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park in Miami, Florida, USA, 01 April 2019. Photo Credit: JASON SZENES/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutter/JASON SZENES/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

In the end, Brodie Van Wagenen delivered the news everyone wanted to hear Monday by saying that Jacob deGrom’s right elbow is structurally fine and he should have no problem returning to the rotation, probably as soon as Friday.

How did the GM know?

“The MRI was good, clean,” Van Wagenen said. “No problems whatsoever.”

Now was that so hard? After days of a bizarre back-and-forth in St. Louis, a will-he-or-won’t- he debate regarding the MRI, the Mets ultimately got deGrom into the tube during Monday’s visit with the team’s medical staff.

And for a change, the outcome was good. We’ve been through plenty of these with the Mets, and they usually don’t have a happy ending. Either the team mistreated the injury from the jump or created a far more serious issue by procrastinating. Or hoping, against logic, that the condition wasn’t as bad as it inevitably turned out to be.

Two years ago, Noah Syndergaard talked his way out of an MRI and later ripped a lat muscle. Yes, an MRI ultimately confirmed the injury. Imagine that. By then, the damage was done.

When it came to be deGrom’s turn this weekend, there was no plausible excuse to skip one, as much as both the pitcher and the Mets tried to downplay his “barking” elbow. The Mets obviously knew that MRI techs -- and doctors, for that matter -- work on Easter/Passover weekend. If deGrom required immediate attention, he could get it.

What brought on the flashbacks, however, was having deGrom suddenly appear in leftfield at Busch Stadium, playing long toss, the day after everyone was freaking out. Then he did it again. The Mets -- with deGrom’s help -- kept trying to walk back the severity, but that’s not so easy in situations like these. When you string together the words “deGrom” and “elbow” and “barking” in the same sentence, hysteria inevitably follows.

Could the Mets have handled this better? Absolutely. One hundred percent. Clearly, from a communication standpoint, they still have some work to do. When Mickey Callaway was asked Monday to clarify what he initially meant by the term “barking,” he managed to inject some levity into the conversation. But only after deGrom aced a 30-pitch bullpen session at a rainy Citi Field about an hour earlier.

“Barking is an advanced medical term that I use for some stiffness or soreness,” Callaway said, sparking some laughter among the media corps. “So to diagnose barking is a tough thing. You have to have coached many pitchers to be able to do that.”

As for the official diagnosis, Van Wagenen said the doctors pretty much went along with deGrom’s claim that his inactivity due to strep throat -- which interfered with his throwing program -- was to blame for the elbow stiffening up. In our view, deGrom still acted too aggressively in plowing ahead well before Monday’s MRI, but with the Mets, it’s baby steps.

After a long history of botched medical cases -- some brushing very close to malpractice -- it’s unrealistic to expect a perfect score. The important things to note is that deGrom spoke up, the Mets put him on the IL quickly, and the MRI actually happened.

“I don’t know that there was really internal debate,” Van Wagenen said, “as much as we were listening to the player, and we were listening to the training staff, and we wanted to make sure that we were smart and prudent.”

Smart and prudent. To us, that sounds like progress. We can continue to blast the Mets for this weekend’s wild ride, for pushing the boundaries of common sense, and seemingly repeating their health-related blunders of the past . For all of deGrom’s assurances that he truly was OK, we weren’t full-on ready to believe him. No offense to deGrom, but history had made us all hardened skeptics.

That level of mistrust doesn’t just vanish overnight, with one I-told-you-so MRI result. It’s going to take more time. Van Wagenen has a lot of bad medical mojo in Flushing to reverse, but we’ll consider this deGrom revelation a good start. Only because deGrom emerged intact. For now. As far as we can tell.

“We got the answers we were hoping for,” Van Wagenen said.  “And now we can go all-systems ahead.”

No fingers crossed. No leaps of faith. Just a doctor’s exam and an MRI. It took nearly four days for the Mets to convince us that their Cy Young winner was headed back to the mound rather than a surgeon’s table.

That’s a long wait to exhale. But at least they got it right this time.

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