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Mets' surplus of young pitchers takes hit with deGrom, Mejia injuries

Photo: Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images

Though the Mets are threatening to finish with their sixth straight sub-.500 record, the team does have more than its share of quality young pitching. Unfortunately, keeping young pitchers healthy is no small task, and on Sunday, the Mets were offered a stinging pair of reminders in that department. Prior to their game against the Phillies, the team announced that Jacob deGrom has been scratched from Tuesday's scheduled start due to shoulder soreness, and after a gut-wrenching 7-6 defeat, closer Jenrry Mejia — who blew the save and was charged with the loss — revealed that he has been pitching through a hernia that will require surgery.

The 26-year-old deGrom has been one of the Mets' brightest spots this year. A ninth-round pick in 2010 out of Stetson University in Florida, he took a while to climb the minor league ladder, missing all of 2011 due to Tommy John surgery. He barely grazed the major top prospect lists coming into this season, maxing out at No. 10 on Baseball America's list but presenting himself as a near-term back-rotation candidate. When the team decided to move Mejia to the bullpen in mid-May, deGrom got deCall (sorry), and since then, he's been their best starter.

Through 16 starts and 100 1/3 innings, deGrom's delivered a 2.87 ERA (124 ERA+), 3.06 FIP, a 22.9-percent strikeout rate and a 75-percent quality start rate, all tops among the team's starters. He's even swung the bat well, breaking the staff's 0-for-64 drought when he collected his first hit and batting .242/.265/.273 overall. His 2.5 WAR (2.2 for pitching, 0.3 for hitting) is the high among Mets pitchers and tied for fourth on the team overall.

After a six-inning, three-run start against the Nationals on Thursday — the first time in six turns that he allowed more than two runs and the first in 11 starts in which he allowed a homer — deGrom played catch the following day but felt an unusual amount of soreness at the top of his shoulder. When the problem didn't abate on Saturday, he told the team, and his Sunday bullpen session was scrapped, though he didn't feel the matter was especially concerning. Via ESPN New York's Adam Rubin:

"I'm calm about it," he said. "I don't think it's anything serious. I can probably go out there and pitch with it right now, but I think just talking to them, at this time of the year, it's not really worth pushing it. If I can skip one [start] and be 100 percent and let it calm down, I think that's what they kind of talked about."

…"I just felt a little something after the last start and gave them a heads up. So they said let's just try to skip one and go from there… I haven't felt anything all year. I think it's a little inflamed or something. I think I'll be fine."

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DeGrom said that he hadn't experienced any physical issues this year prior to the shoulder soreness, but that he had soreness in a different area of his shoulder last year, a season he split between High-A, Double-A and Triple-A, throwing a combined 147 2/3 innings across 26 starts. In late August, he left a start after just two innings due to the aforementioned shoulder issue; that wound up being his final start of the season.

With a 10:30 AM appointment scheduled for Monday morning, the team didn't have any further information on the severity of deGrom's injury prior to their afternoon game against the Phillies, but following their 5-3 win, they announced that deGrom will go on the 15-day disabled list with rotator cuff tendinitis. Including deGrom's 38 1/3 innings at Triple-A Las Vegas, he's at 138 2/3 for the year, so barring further setbacks, this stint should keep his workload in line with general manager Sandy Alderson's previously stated cap of 185 innings for the season.

To replace deGrom for Tuesday's start (and perhaps beyond), Rafael Montero has been recalled from Las Vegas. Considered the organization's second-best pitching prospect behind Noah Syndergaard, Montero cracked some but not all of the major prospect lists prior to the season, topping out at No. 60 on that of ESPN's Keith Law but making none of the more recent midseason lists. The 23-year-old righty made four big league starts in May, two shaky and two quality; the best of them was a six-inning, 10-strikeout performance against the Diamondbacks on May 25. At Las Vegas — a pitchers' hell if there ever was one — he's put up an impressive 3.28 ERA while striking out 9.1 per nine, though he missed three weeks in June and July due to an oblique strain. That injury will help keep his innings total down; he's at 100 between the minors and majors, so he's likely to wind up in the ballpark of last year's 155 1/3 innings.

​​As for Mejia, who himself moved to the bullpen out of workload concerns after making seven starts, the 24-year-old righty has pitched to a 3.68 ERA and 3.61 FIP while striking out 9.5 per nine and notching 17 saves. Coming off a season in which he was limited to 52 innings across four levels due to elbow woes that culminated in August surgery to remove bone chips, he has battled minor foot and calf injuries this year, but apparently he and the team have known that he was pitching through a hernia for three weeks.

Mejia is taking medication to manage the stiffness and discomfort caused by the injury, and hoping to make it through the season under such a regimen before having surgery. Via Newsday's Marc Carig, manager Terry Collins says the decision is the pitcher's:

[B]ecause he has been given clearance by doctors, Collins has left it up to Mejia to decide how much discomfort he can tolerate. “If he tells me tomorrow he can’t do it, then we’ll make a decision,” Collins said.

…Mejia believes he can push through. “I want to keep going, do some treatment, and keep pitching.”

Neither Mejia nor Collins believe that the pitcher's recent struggles are related to his hernia. It's true that he may just be regressing; after allowing just two runs (one earned) from June 21 through Aug. 2, he's been touched up in three of his last four turns, taking two losses and blowing one save. Then again, this isn't an organization known for its vigilance when it comes to handling injuries, so take the assertions of both with a grain of salt. Continuing to pitch means risking the tear increasing in size; at some point, a shutdown is probably inevitable. Hopefully, Mejia can be forthright about when he's in too much discomfort, because otherwise his mechanics might be compromised, endangering his arm.

Speaking of potentially endangered arms, it's worth checking in on a few of the Mets' other prized young pitchers, starting with their ace:

Matt Harvey: The 25-year-old righty underwent Tommy John surgery last October 22, and thus far, his rehab has gone smoothly. On Aug. 1, he threw from a mound for the first time since his surgery, though even then he managed to catch some of the team's executives off guard with his 20-pitch session, which took place at Citi Field. He followed that with a more formal session at Port St. Lucie on Tuesday in front of the team's major league rehab coordinator and several staffers, and on Saturday had progressed to 29 pitches off the slope of the mound. Though Harvey has expressed a strong desire to pitch in the majors this year, Alderson has no plans to activate him, though he has allowed for the possibility of a compromise before Harvey is shut down for the winter:

The goal is for Harvey to be ready in time for the 2015 season.

Zack Wheeler: The 24-year-old righty has spent the entire season in the Mets' rotation, throwing 140 1/3 innings across 24 starts en route to a 3.53 ERA and 8.7 strikeouts per nine. His season has been an uneven one; he followed a career-best three-hit complete-game shutout on June 19 with a two-inning, six-run drubbing on June 25. But since a conversation with former Cy Young winner John Smoltz in late June, he's been on a roll, reeling off a string of seven quality starts with a 2.00 ERA and walking just 3.2 per nine (down from 4.0 prior). When he allowed three runs on Sunday, it was the first time since that June 25 pounding he had surrendered more than two.

With a combined 168 2/3 innings under his belt from last year, Wheeler has the headroom to pitch the entire season, though it wouldn't be a surprise if the team keeps him on a short leash as the finish line nears.

Noah Syndergaard: A consensus top-20 prospect at the outset of the season, Syndergaard has scuffled this season at Las Vegas, an aggressive assignment for a 21-year-old righty whose 11 starts at Double-A late last year represented his first stint above A-ball. Syndergaard has been touched for a 4.79 ERA at Vegas, though a .388 batting average on balls in play has a whole lot to do with that; his peripherals — 0.8 homers, 2.9 walks and 9.3 strikeouts per nine — are all strong.

A one-two punch of flexor pronator and acromioclavicular joint strains limited him to one start in a four-week period in May and June, but he's been in a groove lately, allowing just six runs (three earned) in 22 1/3 innings over his past four starts to lower his ERA from an unsightly 5.70. His 107 innings are just 10 2/3 shy of last year's career high, and with Las Vegas bound for the postseason, he may not be called up this year, though no formal decision as been reached. Notably, he was bypassed for Tuesday's start in place of deGrom despite being on turn.​

For all of the lumps the Mets have taken both on and off the field in recent years, their stable of young pitchers ranks among the game's most promising. With Harvey due back next season, it's possible that they could look to trade one of the other youngsters in pursuit of a big bat — Troy Tulowitzki has been mentioned recently — but to have a shot at that, they'll have to keep as many of those precious arms healthy. It's a never-ending battle.

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