The Mets were able to keep people relatively calm when Steven Matz landed on the disabled list by using an ambiguous term such as “left shoulder tightness” to describe his most recent malady. Better to stay away from any scary trigger words that tend to set off sirens in the media — and dampen the public’s playoff aspirations.
That’s why we assumed Matz, 25, was on schedule to make Thursday’s start, right up until Terry Collins told us he wasn’t. And it was Matz who finally revealed Tuesday what was really troubling him, in language stripped of any sugarcoating. Only then did we hear the words “rotator cuff” and “impingement,” terms that should be enough for the Mets to seriously consider giving Matz the rest of this season off.
Obviously, that’s not what anyone wants to hear at the end of August, with the Mets only 2 1⁄2 games from the second wild card. Judging by the mediocre clubs in this dogpile, they could earn a spot in that one-game playoff, and certainly win it, with a Noah Syndergaard or Jacob deGrom on the mound that night, even in San Francisco.
But the Mets can’t risk any further damage to Matz, who already has plowed through most of this year with a large bone spur in his left elbow that is going to require surgery to repair. Plenty of pitchers deal with similar spurs or chips — often without their knowledge — but even the Mets admitted, back in June, that this condition was especially painful.
We also find it to be too much of a coincidence that Matz now has developed this rotator-cuff irritation a few months after the bone spur came to light. The Mets insisted they were told by their medical staff that Matz could not hurt himself any worse by pitching with the spur, but here he is with another injury, and now his shoulder is involved, for whatever reason.
Collins claimed that the Mets’ analytical pitching radar, which goes by the name, “TrackMan,” showed no indication that Matz had altered his mechanics to the point where pitching had become hazardous to his arm. But Matz didn’t sound as convinced.
“There’s no way of telling,” Matz said.
Speculation aside, here’s what we do know: Matz is feeling discomfort in his shoulder, so much so that he had to abandon Monday’s bullpen session before reaching the mound. He couldn’t do anything more than a few throws playing catch. And that’s after being shut down since Aug. 14, the day of his no-hit bid at Citi Field. If the shoulder couldn’t improve significantly over the course of those two weeks, that seems to indicate a more serious issue, one that’s going to need more prolonged rest.
“A few days after throwing that last game I threw, something just started barking at me,” Matz said, “and it hasn’t really subsided since.”
The doctors didn’t tell Matz he couldn’t pitch again this season, but what’s the risk for doing so? And as much as the Mets keep saying there’s no structural damage — as they did again Tuesday with Matz — that seems like semantics. The impingement Matz described is caused by tendons rubbing against bone. They first become irritated, then start to fray and possibly tear. As long as all those parts remain attached, or in one piece, it’s considered structurally sound. That’s a good thing, of course. But we’re not sure it’s always a green light, either. More of a yellow — as in, proceed with caution.
The Mets, as we’ve seen in the past, haven’t been so great at that. They delayed putting Yoenis Cespedes on the disabled list until his right quadriceps strain completely sapped his usefulness as a player — and it still hasn’t fully healed, despite his heroics. In Matz’s case, Collins has anxiously looked forward to his return, as the Mets’ rotation as been held together with bubblegum, Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman. But they need to be extra careful, even with the pressure of a playoff berth at stake.
“He’s too valuable down the road,” Collins said. “to just continue to push it and say, ‘You’re going out there anyway.’ ”
Admitting there’s a problem is the first step. The next one is the Mets realizing they’re probably going to have to finish this without Matz.