Noah Syndergaard walking off the mound while clutching his hand underneath his right arm in visible discomfort is the stuff of every Mets fan's nightmare. Live by power-throwing arms, die by power-throwing arms.
Since making it to the World Series in 2015 New York has done more dying than living. Last season it was Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Jacob deGrom who wound up on the shelf, helping cost the club a chance at a second straight NL pennant. The one young flamethrower who remained healthy in 2016, Syndergaard, appeared to be the Mets’ best hope to get back to the postseason. But on Sunday, three days after having to skip a start for right biceps discomfort—and one day after he said he refused an MRI—Syndergaard left his outing against the Nationals in Washington one batter into the second inning with what the Mets are calling a possible lat strain. Suddenly the fact he had given up five runs in the first inning seemed meaningless.
It would be one thing if Syndergaard simply tweaked his arm throwing a pitch and came right out. That stuff happens—indeed, we’ve certainly come to expect a talented young pitcher to have arm trouble. But it’s quite another for Syndergaard to not only cop to arm trouble after the Mets skipped his start Thursday, but also to play doctor. Paging Dr. Syndergaard in the orthopedics wing.
“I’m pretty in tune with my body,” the 24-year-old right-hander told MLB.com on Saturday. “That’s exactly why I refused to take the MRI. I knew there was nothing happening in there.”
Sure, Noah, but you also said you couldn't lift your arm over your head. That’s not cause for concern?
The Mets certainly had reason to be concerned, but as general manager Sandy Alderson put it, “I can’t tie him down and throw him in the [MRI] tube.”
Syndergaard might be the best pitcher in baseball—he routinely flirts with 100 mph on his fastball and had pitched to 1.73 ERA and 0.89 WHIP in his first four starts this year. New York’s once enviable pitching depth was already questionable before Sunday. deGrom has a 2.84 ERA thus far, but Matt Harvey’s is at 4.25 and he has just 18 strikeouts in 29 1/3 innings. Matz is still hurt and Zack Wheeler has a 4.78 ERA in his first big league season since 2014. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Mets entered the week in last place in the NL East.
Injuries are a cruel part of baseball, especially when they befall lively young pitchers who seem to be unhittable. What’s unknown—and certainly frustrating to the Mets—is whether they will ever be able to field a healthy enough rotation to capitalize on its still vast potential.
We can question whether Syndergaard’s refusal to make an MRI was warranted (it’s hard to sympathize, since they are short, painless and helpful in determining any injuries). If he’s hurt, then it was unwise. We could question how the Mets didn’t just say: if you don't take the test, you’re not starting. We can question how the Mets handle pitchers, bottom to top. Or we can chalk it up to this: in a game with elbows bending at unnatural angles and balls being thrown at unnatural speeds, there is bound to be the sight of someone as good as Syndergaard holding his arm in pain.
The Mets’ run of dominating pitchers was helped by shrewd drafting, smart trading and surely a little bit of luck. The start of a potential downfall? Well, the luck certainly seems like it might be starting to run out.