Five weeks after Matt Harvey was diagnosed with a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow, the New York Mets announced their young ace will undergo Tommy John surgery and thus miss the entire 2014 season. Because the tear was partial, Harvey and the Mets had hoped he would be able to allow the ligament to heal and strengthen via rest and rehabilitation, a course that was prescribed by Dr. James Andrews two weeks ago. Further consultation with Andrews, however, resulted in the decision to do the surgery, after all. Andrews will perform the operation himself later this month.
Some might criticize the Mets and Harvey for delaying this decision, but the timing of his injury allowed them the luxury of doing so. The delay between diagnosis and the surgery itself will amount to less than two months, time which will easily be absorbed by the two offseasons -- this one and next -- Harvey will have to recuperate. Indeed, when the team initially diagnosed Harvey's injury, general manager Sandy Alderson said it could take up to two months for a decision to be made about the surgery. First the doctors had to wait for the swelling in Harvey's elbow to subside, which is why Harvey waited two weeks before first consulting Andrews. Then they had to see how the ligament responded to rest and rehab.
The answer to the latter is obviously "not well." Still, as Jay Jaffe pointed out after the initial consultation with Andrews did not result in the immediate decision to have the surgery, even an abbreviated course of rehab can strengthen the area surrounding the injury, and that puts the patient in better condition heading into his post-surgery rehab.
There's some small chance Harvey's recovery from surgery could go particularly well, giving him the opportunity to make a start or two at the very end of the 2014 season. More likely, he won't take a major league mound again until 2015, but by the time pitchers and catchers report that February, he will have had roughly 16 months to rehab from a surgery from which pitchers typically return in about 12 months. The hope, then, is that the Matt Harvey we see in 2015, though he will be 26, will be close to full strength and able to pick up where the 2013 model left off. Certainly this is not a happy development for anyone -- Harvey, the Mets, their fans or baseball fans in general. However, New York's target for a return to contention was not 2014 but beyond, and Harvey's injury doesn't necessarily alter that, even if it might cool fan enthusiasm, which dipped considerably this year despite his remarkable season. Ultimately, the Mets and Harvey, with one inconsequential exception, have handled what is a very unfortunate situation perfectly. One just hopes Harvey's return in 2015 goes as smoothly.