The ideal use of this space, given the Mets’ somewhat complicated pitching conundrum, would be to outline where the rotation stands in terms of when to expect reinforcements, such as Seth Lugo and Steven Matz.
In a perfect world, or at least one that existed before Wednesday, Terry Collins would do his best to provide such a timetable, maybe a few clues about possible rehab starts, and potential return dates. The manager isn’t under oath, of course. Nobody ever hooked him up to a polygraph test. It’s understood that predicting the severity of injuries and the amount of time necessary to recover is an inexact science.
But the Mets, through Collins, flexed their new “no-timetable” policy before Wednesday’s ugly 6-5 loss to the Padres, with the manager being aggressively vague during his routine media briefing. And it wasn’t just about the pitching. Our favorite had to do with Asdrubal Cabrera’s sprained thumb, which prompted a reporter to ask how many minor-league games the shortstop might need before rejoining the big club.
It’s a fairly standard line of questioning. And Collins typically is receptive. But not this time. He was making a point.
“I don’t know,” Collins said. “Six, seven, eight, nine, 10.”
We’re unsure of why the manager stopped before reaching the teens. Perhaps that was a hint Cabrera will need more than five but less than 11. Regardless, the Mets going mum on injury info spoke to their frustration with the subject. The terrible Padres being in town should have helped the Mets stabilize their overworked pitching staff, but they weren’t a cure-all.
Matt Harvey didn’t do much to change the conversation, despite the Mets rolling to Monday night’s 9-3 rout, and Robert Gsellman was reclaimed from the bullpen Wednesday to fill the gap left by Jacob deGrom’s blister and Zack Wheeler requiring a breather. Gsellman was lucky for the opportunity after sporting a 6.75 ERA through seven starts, a crushing disappointment after winning a rotation spot in spring training.
But Gsellman does have one big advantage: he’s healthy. Last season, the Mets used a total of 12 starting pitchers. This year, they’ve already deployed nine, and Josh Smoker is expected to be the 10th Saturday when he replaces Tommy Milone, who suddenly was put on the 10-day disabled list Wednesday with what the Mets described as a sprained left knee.
We can’t say when Milone actually hurt himself, but he certainly didn’t look well Sunday, when he surrendered eight runs and managed only four outs during the Angels’ 12-5 beatdown. Either way, Milone was an emergency stopgap measure, and the Mets presumably won’t need to give him the ball again — that is, if Lugo and Matz progress as anticipated.
As for Gsellman, the Mets got (almost) everything they could have hoped for Wednesday night, as he limited the Padres to six hits and three runs in six innings. It was only the fifth quality start for a Mets’ pitcher this month, and the first by someone not named Jacob deGrom or Zack Wheeler. Their rotation also had baseball’s worst ERA (6.54) over that same stretch, to give you an idea of just how badly things were going lately. Gsellman looked a heck of a lot better than Harvey the previous night in throwing just 84 pitches through six, and we assume Collins pulled him at such a relatively low count because he just came off a 10-day bullpen stay.
“I don’t know if this is a big start for him,” Collins said. “But it’s an important start for him.”
And for the Mets, obviously. With the rotation, they’ve been living week-to-week, and when Sandy Alderson isn’t plugging holes, Collins is exhausting his bullpen trying to pick up the slack. It’s not a sustainable business model, and the cracks are showing nightly, as they did again Wednesday as soon as Collins removed Gsellman.
Why the manager keeps going back to Neil Ramirez we’ll never understand. If not for a freakish bounce off the top of the wall, Wil Myers would have had a grand slam off Ramirez instead of a tying, two-run single in the seventh. Hunter Renfroe added the game-winning homer off Smoker to open the eighth.
That hurt. And with this bullpen, Collins should welcome questions about the team’s medical situation. They’re less painful than explaining his late-game management.