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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Too early for Mets to reach for the panic button

New York Mets manager Terry Collins and Mets

New York Mets manager Terry Collins and Mets trainer Brian Chicklo check on Mets starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard during the fifth inning of a game against the Washington Nationals at Citi Field on Friday, July 8, 2016. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

On the Panic City scale, where should we put the current alert level for the Mets? If 1 is mild concern and 10 is apocalyptic meltdown, let’s go with somewhere in the 3-4 range. Enough to keep Sandy Alderson busy up to the trade deadline, but no reason to believe this season rapidly will disintegrate before our eyes.

Let’s face it. The three days leading up to the All-Star break were abysmal for the Mets. Dropping three straight to the Nationals. Losing Matt Harvey for the season. Watching Noah Syndergaard and Yoenis Cespedes exit the same Friday game with injuries.

And what should have been a proud few days for the franchise in San Diego turned out to be just the opposite. Cespedes, though elected a starter, didn’t attend the All-Star festivities, Syndergaard couldn’t pitch and Terry Collins declined to use Jeurys Familia or Bartolo Colon, making the Mets the only NL team to not have a player appear in the game.

Rarely does an All-Star experience go that sour. But aside from costing the Mets home-field advantage in the World Series — a significant thing if they repeat as NL champs — there was no permanent damage done.

Think of it this way. Is it really the worst possible outcome that neither Syndergaard, Colon nor Familia had to pitch in a game that has zero bearing on the Mets’ second-half fortunes? With the Mets’ crummy luck on the injury front, we say no. And Collins, realistically, should be thrilled that they were only spectators.

The manager is worried about his pitching staff after a taxing first half, and not only because Syndergaard and Steven Matz are dealing with bone spurs. The Mets anticipated a hangover effect after pushing them into November last season, and the rotation’s workload will have to be monitored closely during the next 2 1⁄2 months. Maybe not as theatrically as the innings limits of a year ago, but the worry is legitimate.

“With Harvey down now, these young guys, they’re getting beat up mentally,” Collins said this week. “Because they’re not stupid. They know how important they are. So I’m just glad everybody’s going to have a little chance to rest.”

The Mets also tried to maximize the health benefit by resetting the rotation after the break, with Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom being pushed to the back. By waiting on Syndergaard, however, that extends the suspense over what might be happening inside his right arm. Merely playing catch during his stay in San Diego doesn’t alleviate the fears created when his arm suddenly went dead last Friday at Citi Field.

Syndergaard and the Mets insist there’s no reason to freak out. But until he starts Tuesday against the Cubs, how are we supposed to believe that?

Collins, in trying to explain Syndergaard’s shutdown, only added to the mystery.

“I don’t know if it was just physical [fatigue] or all of a sudden the mental strain this kid is under,” Collins said.

If something more serious happens to Syndergaard, the Mets are through for 2016.

Alderson plans to explore the starting pitching market during the next few weeks, as slim as it may be, in an attempt to find a better Harvey replacement than his current in-house options. Bullpen help is more likely, however, which could help ease the innings burden on the starters.

With so much hinging on the rotation’s health lately, the offense has been an afterthought. But the Jose Reyes signing already has provided a boost, and Wilmer Flores heating up will give Collins some helpful flexibility if he needs to sit James Loney or even Neil Walker, who is batting .207 with a .564 OPS in his last 25 games. Michael Conforto, hitting .340 for Las Vegas, should be back before too long as well.

After the All-Star break, patience is in short supply, and the Mets trail the Nationals by six games as they begin the second half Friday night in Philadelphia. Being tied with the Marlins for the second wild card is not a great spot for a team picked as a World Series favorite, but there’s no cause for full-blown panic.

Not yet, anyway.


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