Mets left bludgeoned after merciless week of injuries
- Matt Harvey has arm fatigue, Noah Syndergaard won't be back anytime soon and Neil Walker hits the DL. Just another Thursday in Queens.
In a week where the first-place Yankees lost CC Sabathia for the next several weeks due to a hamstring strain, the Mets have managed to come up with even worse news. Matt Harvey's latest injury, a stress reaction in his scapula, is the one that will grab the headlines, but Neil Walker's hamstring strain could prove more costly, not only hindering the team’s effort to climb back into contention for a playoff spot but affecting their return in case they sell off pending free agents in advance of the July 31 deadline. And just in case you thought that the team was due to catch a break, prior to Thursday’s game, the Mets announced that Noah Syndergaard won't be back anytime soon, then saw Juan Lagares depart what turned out to be an 8-3 loss to the Nationals with a fractured thumb.
Harvey lasted just four innings in his start against the Cubs on Wednesday night, yielding three homers and four runs. He was unable to summon anything close to his usual fastball velocity, averaging just 91.8 mph according to Brooks Baseball, 2.4 MPH below his previous average this year and 5.2 mph below his 2013 average of 97.0, his career high. Afterward, the 28-year-old righty, who was limited to 17 starts and a 4.86 ERA last season before undergoing surgery to correct thoracic outlet syndrome, complained of arm fatigue. “My arm was just not working, at all," he said. "In past games, it’s taken time to get loose and get warm, and obviously since the surgery that’s kind of been the issue. But tonight it felt like it got loose then progressively just felt really tired.”
After undergoing MRI and CT scans on Thursday, Harvey was diagnosed with a stress reaction, a precursor to a stress fracture that has affected pitchers Brandon McCarthy and Michael Wacha multiple times apiece in recent years. He received an injection of platelet-rich plasma and is expected to miss "several weeks," according to a team press release.
Alas, the reality is that Harvey wasn't helping much, even since cleaning up his act following his early May suspension for violating team rules. Through 13 starts this year, he had been rocked for a 5.25 ERA and 6.17 FIP, with both gaudy numbers products of his inflated home run and walk rates (2.0 and 4.5 per nine, respectively). Prior to Wednesday, he had held opponents to a .329 slugging percentage over his previous four starts, but that's picking out the rare, arbitrary-endpoint positive in a sea of negatives. He's been every bit as bad since the suspension as he was before. Including last season, he owns a 5.02 ERA over his last 30 starts, having compiled just 0.1 WAR.
The bigger blow was the left hamstring strain suffered by Walker, who crumpled to the ground after running to first following a sacrifice bunt in the third inning of Wednesday night's 9-4 win. The 31-year-old second baseman, who also received a PRP injection and a vague "several weeks" timeline, is hitting .270/.352/.468 for a 117 OPS+ with nine home runs. Not only has he been a vital part of the Mets' offense—both numbers rank fourth on the team—but as a pending free agent, he's a player who could be an attractive trade target if the Mets are out of contention at the end of July.
Both injuries came amid what had already been a bloody week. On Tuesday, shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera landed on the DL for the second time in a month due to a left thumb sprain; he initially tore a ligament diving for a ball on May 6 but did not go on the DL until 10 days later. Hitting .244/.321/.392 for a 90 OPS+ with six home runs and -9 Defensive Runs Saved, he was hardly lighting the league on fire, but that's still better than fill-in Jose Reyes (.187/.265/.290 with -4 DRS in just 28 games at shortstop). T.J. Rivera (.271/.322/.411) will see the bulk of the work at the keystone, while hot-hitting Wilmer Flores (.313/.335/.483) holds down third base in the absence of David Wright, who not only hasn't played since late February but hasn't been cleared to resume his throwing program after being shut down in March due to shoulder impingement.
The injuries of Cabrera and Walker have increased the chorus calling for the promotion of top prospect Amed Rosario, a 21-year-old shortstop who came into the year ranked as high as number three on the major prospect lists and is currently hitting .333/.374/.496 with seven homers and 12 steals at Triple A Las Vegas. That the team expects Cabrera to miss just 10 days—insert skepticism here, given the Mets' track record in underestimating injury-related absences—figures prominently in the decision to leave Rosario in the minors. Said general manager Sandy Alderson on Thursday, "We view Rosario as a possible long-term answer for us. … We want to make sure when Rosario, or any of our top prospects come up, we don't want them to go back."
Beyond the makeshift infield, Yoenis Cespedes has been limited to three starts and two pinch-hitting appearance since returning from a 37-game absence due to a left hamstring strain. The centerpiece of the offense (hitting .307/.391/.653 with seven homers), he was slowed by soreness in his left heel, but was back in the lineup on Thursday. Lagares, who was hitting .275/.323/.418, broke his left thumb while diving for Anthony Rendon's single and was replaced by Curtis Granderson. Lagares injured that same thumb last year while diving for a ball, tearing a ligament and needing surgery.
Meanwhile, Alderson told reporters that Syndergaard, who's been out since April 30 due to a strained latissimus dorsi, three days after declining to undergo an MRI, isn't healing as quickly as expected. He won't resume throwing for another four weeks, which means he won’t be back before August.
If there's good news in Queens, it's that both Steven Matz and Seth Lugo turned in strong performances in their 2017 debuts this past weekend. Matz, who had been sidelined by a flexor tendon strain, and Lugo, who suffered a slight strain in his ulnar collateral ligament, each yielded one run in seven innings in starts against the Braves. The Mets dearly hope they can prop up a rotation where Jacob deGrom, Zack Wheeler and Robert Gsellman have all been worse than league average, with ERAs of 4.33 (deGrom's) or higher.
While the Mets are in second place in the NL East, at 30-35 they’re 9 1/2 games behind the Nationals and 10 back in the wild card race. It won't be easy to climb back into contention with so many important pieces missing, so perhaps they should consider immersing Jay Bruce, Lucas Duda and Addison Reed—players who, like Walker, are pending free agents who should draw interest from contenders—in styrofoam peanuts to protect them from injuries. But with this team’s luck, somebody might be gouged by one, or poked in the eye. Those things are pretty sharp, you know.