It would be premature to say the bottom to the Mets’ relentless injury epidemic was reached after Thursday night’s 6-4 loss to the Marlins, when Terry Collins sat in front of multiple TV cameras and a roomful of reporters, apparently unaware that Jacob deGrom had sought out trainer Ray Ramirez immediately after his removal.
Instead, let’s just call what happened a new low, because we’re not convinced that something else isn’t waiting around the corner at Citi Field, a yet-to-be-revealed affliction that can’t be categorized under the comforting catch-all diagnosis of “no structural damage.”
The Mets wield that three-word phrase as their fail-safe, and why not? It’s certainly better than the alternative: a compromised disc, ligament or tendon that needs to be surgically repaired. But there are plenty of other painful conditions that can keep players off the field, and problems such as “inflammation” and “irritation” often are symptoms of larger, underlying issues.
To go back to Collins for a minute, when deGrom left the mound, the manager didn’t need to know right away that something was bothering him. There was a game going on, and deGrom no longer was a factor in Thursday night’s outcome. Collins had to concern himself with the players available from that point forward in trying to beat the Marlins.
But to have the manager step up to a microphone more than 10 minutes after the game and not have him briefed with the latest deGrom-Ramirez info — a situation that already had been discussed during the SNY broadcast — was another example of the injury-related disconnect that keeps popping up around the Mets.
It was the first postgame question, and Collins appeared to be blindsided. “Ah . . . I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. “They didn’t say anything to me.”
Even if Collins had been privy to deGrom’s chat with the trainer, he certainly was under no obligation to fully describe the pitcher’s condition to the media. Teams in every professional sport parcel out injury information in their own way, with some more forthcoming than others. But what we’ve seen from the Mets this season isn’t all that different from past years, when communication — between players, the manager and the front office — broke down regarding health problems.
Just this past week, Neil Walker mentioned that the severity of his herniated disc had been “misconstrued” when it was presented as an ailment that he potentially could endure for the remainder of the season before having surgery. Walker said Thursday that he heard opinions from three different doctors and that all of them agreed it was better to get the disc repaired immediately rather than risk further injury by continuing to play on a restricted basis.
Earlier that same day, Alderson told MLB.com that reports of Walker’s back problem threatening his season were “overblown” and that the second baseman “can play” through it.
The Mets’ GM wasn’t necessarily wrong. Alderson just didn’t seem to be on the same page as Walker, who painted a much different picture when he spoke to reporters a few hours later.
Maybe the Mets were guilty of being too optimistic. This wasn’t a new issue for Walker, who also was treated for the disc inflammation in 2012 and missed time in June before it occurred again in late August, derailing him as one of the Mets’ most potent offensive threats. Or perhaps the Mets merely figured he would do everything humanly possible to stay in this wild-card chase rather than make his long-term health the priority.
Walker insisted that his pending free agency did not factor into his choice. “The more I tried to push through it, the more I realized that I was hurting both the team and myself,” he said. “I had to be honest with what was going on here. This was a very difficult decision. I want nothing more than to be on the field. It’s very disappointing in my eyes.”
Walker will be the second Met this season to undergo surgery to fix a herniated disc, joining David Wright, who had the season-ending procedure in June. Wright already was dealing with spinal stenosis and also suffered a stress fracture in his lower back in 2011. That year, Wright played nearly a month with the fracture before it finally was diagnosed.
This season, Lucas Duda has been on the disabled list since May 23 with a stress fracture in his back.
The Mets are holding their breath on two other key players, as Yoenis Cespedes and Asdrubal Cabrera seem to be one misstep away from an early winter.
Cespedes is doing his best to protect a balky right quadriceps muscle that already landed him on the DL once, and later than it should have, as Alderson said.
Cabrera has been productive despite a dangerously sore left knee — even closing August by earning NL Player of the Week honors — but acknowledged Tuesday that he wouldn’t be playing if the Mets weren’t fighting for the second wild-card spot.
“I don’t think so,” Cabrera said. “But we’re in this situation right now.”
And then, of course, there is the Mets’ prized rotation, a group that now claims the 43-year-old Bartolo Colon as its healthiest member.
The only two starters officially knocked out are Matt Harvey, lost to thoracic outlet syndrome in mid-July, and Zack Wheeler, who has suffered a series of setbacks from his 2015 Tommy John surgery.
The next category of Mets starters, however, sit uncomfortably in limbo, with indefinite timelines attached to their own particular problems.
The luckiest, so far, appears to be Noah Syndergaard, who continues to function at ace-caliber level despite the bone spur lodged in his right elbow. The prognosis for deGrom and Steven Matz, however, seems to be more troubling. Like Syndergaard, who first denied the existence of the bone spur when asked by the media, deGrom denied he was hurting after Thursday night’s subpar performance, even with reporters quizzing him about the Ramirez summit.
About 20 hours later, the Mets released a statement saying deGrom felt “soreness in his right forearm” but that a precautionary MRI — the team’s wording — indicated no structural damage. He’s likely to miss his next start.
“Honestly, I’m not really that concerned about it,” said deGrom, who is 0-3 with a 9.82 ERA in his last three starts, with teams ripping him for a 1.222 OPS. “The ligament and everything looks good.”
If so, that’s the only reason to be encouraged about deGrom, whose projected outlook places him in a similar boat with Matz, who has not thrown a pitch for the Mets since his Aug. 18 no-hit bid lasted 7 1⁄3 innings against the Padres.
Matz was put on the DL with left shoulder tightness, which he then told us had been identified by an MRI as rotator-cuff irritation caused by an impingement. The Mets were forced to scratch Matz from his anticipated Thursday start — replacing him with deGrom — after he couldn’t throw his scheduled Monday bullpen session.
By the way, Matz already is pitching with a sizable bone spur of his own, one large enough to require surgery at season’s end — if he makes it that far.
In many cases, pitchers go the entire year with spurs or bone chips inside different body parts, and they never surface publicly until the cleanup procedure after the season. It’s possible the Mets have become so protective of their young rotation — and understandably so — that there is a hyper-elevated state of anxiety surrounding them.
On one hand, they don’t want to keep rushing these youngsters into MRI tubes because, more often than not, based on the nature of pitching, something is bound to show up — even if it might be OK to compete with.. On the other, it’s also a smart idea to figure out what’s wrong with a player as soon as possible in order to help him heal promptly.
And therein lies the conflict, trying to balance the unrelenting demands of pushing, pushing, pushing for a playoff spot with the human frailties that can trip up a team’s best-laid plans.
The Mets have had difficulty navigating that tightrope this season, as many clubs do, but we’ve just been more in tune to the frequency in Flushing.
The avalanche of injuries this year has been compared to the 2009 landslide, when the Mets —after two September collapses — were buried by having 13 players on the DL, including six former All-Stars headlined by Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado and Johan Santana.
In many of those ’09 cases, like this season, the initial severity was downplayed to the extreme. Then-manager Jerry Manuel could have written the script for Collins all these years later in trying to make sense of a Mets roster that always seemed to be cracking beneath everyone’s feet while cruelly toying with people’s misguided expectations.
“I don’t want to say it was bad luck,” Manuel said back then. “In all of those circumstances, the worst-case scenario happened. Hopefully, we have paid our debt for years to come. I don’t care what kind of manager you got, those guys have to be on the field in order for you to have any success. That’s just the way it is.”
Manuel’s ’09 Mets wilted from those merciless body blows, finishing 70-92 despite a $150-million payroll, and he was kept on for the following season before being replaced by Collins in 2011. Now the ’16 Mets are trying to stay afloat with a number of holes — possibly a few more threatening than has been portrayed — and there exists a sense of uneasiness about this wild-card pursuit, mostly because everyone’s nerves have been rattled raw by persistent health concerns.
And if Mets history has taught us anything, expect more of the same, just when you least expect it.