TODAY'S PAPER
Broken Clouds 53° Good Evening
Broken Clouds 53° Good Evening
SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Mets once-superhero rotation becomes fragile

New York Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom talks with

New York Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom talks with pitcher Noah Syndergaard after the third inning of a game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park, Monday, June 27, 2016, in Washington. Syndergaard was relieved after the third inning. Photo Credit: AP/ Alex Brandon

WASHINGTON

The Mets snowed us for a while with the clean MRIs and repeated claims of “no structural damage” each time a pitcher emerged from that clanging metal tube.

But they can’t fool themselves. When members of your rotation are showing up at the doctor’s office more often than pharmaceutical reps, it’s a serious problem. And repeatedly saying that Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz are merely dealing with “discomfort” no longer is an acceptable medical diagnosis.

Something has to be causing Syndergaard and Matz to feel pain in their elbows, and more credible reasons eventually surfaced yesterday, when it was revealed that both are coping with bone spurs. The Mets finally admitted Matz’s true diagnosis midway through Monday night’s 11-4 loss to the Nationals. The team would not confirm that Syndergaard is battling the same issue, but a source did Monday night after the righthander lasted only three innings and allowed five runs.

Syndergaard and Terry Collins both denied the existence of a bone spur when asked directly. But it seemed like too much of a coincidence that Syndergaard’s worst performance in recent memory occurred in the start that immediately followed Wednesday’s elbow scare.

Just as team officials had stressed that Matz’s repaired ligament is fine, hence the “all clear” on the structural front, the Mets made the same claim with Syndergaard, and he played along late Monday night — despite the fact that he did acknowledge being treated with anti-inflammatory meds and Collins expressed concern that his elbow “might flare up again” if nudged too hard in the game. “My arm feels great,” Syndergaard said. “There’s nothing structurally. Sometimes a little wear and tear. But my arm feels really good.”

We understand that the Mets have a lot riding on these two pitchers. Last year’s NL title was built on the arms in this rotation. But injuries eventually are going to become public knowledge. There’s no point living in denial, even when the reality bites.

A bone spur, though not a crippling injury, is hardly a benign occurrence. This one is irritating enough that Matz might require surgery, an option that will be on the table today when Sandy Alderson shows up in D.C. to discuss the pitcher’s immediate future. Syndergaard also might need a procedure, but it did not appear to be as pressing as Matz’s situation.

The Mets could decide to give it one more try with Matz on Wednesday against the Nationals. Collins suggested this now is a matter of pain tolerance, but do the Mets really want to be pushing these guys to grit their way through elbow maladies?

“We’ve got to have confidence when we send him out there,” Collins said. “You can’t pay attention to other parts of the game because you’re always worried about what’s wrong.”

After yesterday’s visit to team orthopedist David Altchek, that’s two MRI trips for Matz in only five weeks. Even if he believes he can pitch with this elbow stiffness — recent evidence suggests otherwise — just knowing the spur is there has the potential to be a mental obstacle.

“I want to compete to the best of my ability,” Matz said. “It’s just something I have to figure out.”

If this was only a Matz problem, the Mets could get past it. He’s just one starter. But the entire rotation, aside from the 43-year-old Bartolo Colon, has looked vulnerable this season. And the last thing the Mets needed was for Syndergaard to crater immediately after the Matz downer.

So what’s next? Another brunch date with the MRI machine back in New York? This rotation’s talent is eclipsed only by its nerve-wracking frailty. And no matter how much the Mets try to pretend otherwise, this troubling conversation isn’t going away.

New York Sports