For The New York Mets, Jacob deGrom’s Latest Setback Overshadows The Arrival Of Javier Baez
For a couple blissful days this week, the Mets thought they were done fretting over the three most concerning letters in the baseball alphabet.
The short-term pain of emergency starter Jerad Eickhoff getting lit up for 10 runs against the Braves Tuesday night was worth the long-term gain of the Mets finally getting to the point where their rotation was filled with five actual major league pitchers with the possibility of more on the way, either via a return from the injured list or via trade.
“Looking ahead, there’s no blind spot right now,” Mets manager Luis Rojas said Tuesday night. “There’s no TBDs. I know we’ve been talking ‘TBD tomorrow, TBD tomorrow, TBD game two (in Monday’s doubleheader).’ And right now there’s names filling the spot, days ahead, not only just the day before, the exact same day of the game.
“So it feels better that way.”
It didn’t feel better for long, as the biggest TBD of all overshadowed the big move the Mets made in the hours prior to Friday’s trade deadline.
Javier Baez will likely be in a Mets uniform tonight, but when — or if — he ever plays behind Jacob deGrom is the question that hung over the Mets before, during and after Friday’s 6-2 loss to the Reds.
DeGrom, who hasn’t pitched since July 7 and was placed on the injured list with a sore right forearm July 18, was shut down for two more weeks after an MRI showed inflammation in his right elbow following a bullpen session Thursday. The best-case scenario won’t have him pitching in a game until September.
The worst-case scenario? In the short-term, the deGrom setback served as a reminder the Mets’ trade deadline was never about Baez or any of the other big names to whom they were connected. It was all about getting back deGrom — healthy and dominant enough to man the top of an otherwise solid if unspectacular rotation.
The quintet of Tylor Megill, Taijuan Walker, Carlos Carrasco, Rich Hill and Marcus Stroman is better than the flotsam and jetsam mix the Mets have been sending out there most of this month. But are those five pitchers — plus Trevor Williams, who was acquired from the Cubs along with Baez, and maybe Noah Syndergaard, who is trying to make it back from a setback in his recovery from Tommy John surgery— enough to even help the Mets, who have led the NL East for 84 consecutive days despite going just 38-35 in that span, hold off the retooled Phillies and Braves and win the division?
Megill is the Mets’ best pitcher lately, but his next start will be the eighth of his career. With a 15.43 ERA in his last three starts, Walker, who has thrown 32 more innings this season (99 1/3) than the previous three seasons combined, might be feeling the effects of an increased workload. Carrasco made his Mets debut Friday night after being sidelined all season by a torn right hamstring. Hill is 41 years old, and as reliable as Stroman has been, he’s on pace to throw more than 180 innings after sitting out last season.
Stroman, Walker, Carrasco, Hill and Syndergaard have combined to post a 3.92 ERA over 114 2/3 postseason innings — solid enough, but none of them offer the lockdown presence of deGrom, whose ability to pitch and win two games per series presented the otherwise flawed Mets a path to a championship, a la Orel Hershiser with the 1988 Dodgers.
Once Max Scherzer made it clear he wouldn’t waive his no-trade clause to go to the Mets, there was nothing the Mets could do to try and replace deGrom atop a potential playoff rotation. Jose Berrios is intriguing and under team control through 2022, but he also cost the Blue Jays their top two prospects.
Beyond 2021, the outlook is even murkier. The human arm is not meant to do what hard-throwing pitchers do, but even by these standards, deGrom — a Tommy John patient throwing harder than ever at age 33 — is an unprecedented case study. There are no guarantees the rest will help, or that the season-long aches and pains experienced by deGrom — he also exited starts with a sore right flexor and a sore right shoulder — are not harbingers of a far more debilitating injury to come.
For now, deGrom and the Mets will invest in the hope provided by uncertainty. Maybe he’ll be back with Baez and the rest of his teammates in September and able to ramp it back up to help the Mets to the playoffs before mounting an October run that will serve as the final leg of the Hall of Fame sprint deGrom seemed to be making during a historic first half. Heres’s a reminder deGrom had a 1.08 ERA, a 0.55 WHIP and 146 strikeouts in 92 innings, which had him being mentioned in the same breath as Bob Gibson, Pedro Martinez and Nolan Ryan while barreling towards a third Cy Young Award and the accompanying ticket to Cooperstown.
Or maybe he won’t. TBD never sounded as ominous as it did Friday afternoon