The process that played out Thursday has become a dreadful routine for the Mets over the years, a theater of the doomed. Sandy Alderson stood outside the Mets’ clubhouse and updated the media on the team’s latest arm in peril, and this time it was Matt Harvey’s turn — again.
Too often, we get the worst-case scenario, and Alderson confirmed those fears Thursday by saying that yes, Harvey indeed has symptoms of thoracic outlet syndrome and now is deciding whether to undergo season-ending surgery.
Should Harvey choose to go that route, the long-term prognosis can be cloudy, because the procedure tends to involve manipulating bone, muscle, blood vessels and nerve bundles, all stuffed inside a pitcher’s shoulder. In that scenario, however, Harvey becomes an afterthought until 2017, when he would begin yet another comeback.
But if Harvey ends up being wiped from the rotation for the rest of this season, that leaves the Mets with more immediate concerns, namely a rotation with a rapidly shrinking margin for error. The usually reliable Bartolo Colon displayed that Achilles’ heel Thursday night, giving up 10 hits and six runs in 4 2⁄3 innings. But the Mets rallied with a four-homer volley, including a three-run blast by Wilmer Flores, for the 9-7 win over the Nats. After the Harvey news, it was impossible to overstate the importance.
“Confidence, I think, is the biggest thing,” Neil Walker said of the recent production. “There’s just a good flow on offense and on our team right now.”
Weeks ago, the Mets’ biggest worry was finding a replacement for David Wright. Now, incredibly, the Mets might need to explore the trade market for a starting pitcher, and Colon’s lapse Thursday night was a reminder that, at 43, he’s an outlier without assurances of excelling into September.
Alderson also scrubbed any timeline for the return of Zack Wheeler, who is so far away from contributing that he’s merely playing catch at a distance of 90 feet down in Port St. Lucie.
Before the recent setbacks in his rehab from Tommy John surgery, Wheeler, if you remember, was supposed to be joining the big-league rotation at the end of July. Seeing him in Flushing at all this season now feels as if it would be a minor upset.
“I’m confident,” Alderson said. “Not certain.”
That should be the slogan for the 2016 Mets. They had a rotation that once felt invincible, a deep collection of talented young starters who were poised to deliver another trip to the World Series. Of course, the only guarantee with any such group is that cracks inevitably will develop.
“I don’t want it to sound like woe is me, but woe is us,” Terry Collins said. “It seems like every day it’s almost scary to walk through the clubhouse doors.”
Denial, however, isn’t a very effective weapon. The Mets didn’t divulge the bone spurs of Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard until the media reported them first, and no one could say for sure how long Harvey has been pitching with the TOS symptoms, which can include pain and weakness from the shoulder down through the hand.
Maybe Harvey thought he could plow through the discomfort, as many pitchers are forced to do and as the Mets’ rotation did to make it all the way to November last year.
Matz has been cleared to pitch for as long as his pain tolerance allows. Syndergaard shrugs off his own bone spur issue, but Collins remains acutely aware of it, and the team would prefer that his All-Star appearance be rewarding but brief.
The Mets have to believe they can survive without Harvey, but if they take a similar hit to Matz or Syndergaard? It could be fatal to their NL title defense, which is why that scenario now has Alderson thinking about contingency plans on the trade front that the GM never would have imagined months earlier.
“We’re obviously always comparing what’s out there with what we have,” Alderson said. “So we’ll just have to see.”
Nobody had better pitching than the Mets. But not anymore.