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Mets' Dom Smith Played With Partially Torn Labrum Last Season

Mets first baseman/outfielder Dom Smith played with a partially torn labrum last season. Find out what his offseason rehab looked like, and why he is confident that he can stay healthy and bounce-back in 2022.
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PORT ST. LUCIE -- When examining Dom Smith’s disappointing 2021 campaign, injuries are believed to have played a big role in his underwhelming performance. 

Despite being hampered by a right wrist strain and groin issue for a large portion of last season, Smith was able to avoid the injured list and play in a total of 145 games. 

But by playing hurt, he ultimately paid the price when one of these nagging ailments triggered an additional, and much more serious injury. 

On Thursday, Smith revealed that he suffered a partially torn labrum in his right shoulder in late-May/early-June of last season. 

“I was a little bit banged up,” Smith told Inside the Mets in front of his locker at Clover Park. “The wrist (strain) started in spring training on a check-swing. I didn’t want to miss too much time, so I just wore a little tape on my wrist, and went after it. 

"But then because my wrist was hurting, I wound up messing up my labrum due to my one hand follow through on my swing.”

After injuring his shoulder, Smith was forced to start following through with two hands, which had a negative impact on his swing. 

Smith's partial labrum tear did not require surgery, and he was able to finish out the year. But he looked like a shell of the player, who was one of the league's best hitters in the Covid-shortened 2020 campaign: .316/.377/.616 with a .993 OPS, 168 OPS+, 10 home runs and 42 RBI. Or even, the productive role player in 2019, who slashed .282/.355/.525 with a .881 OPS, 11 home runs and 25 RBI across 177 at-bats. 

The Mets were relying on Smith to be a key piece of their offense last season. But he struggled immensely, posting a .244/.304/.363 slash line with 11 home runs and 58 RBI.

And although it was evident that Smith was banged up, he isn't using injuries as an excuse for his down season. 

“I’ve seen guys from in (the clubhouse) play through so much stuff," he said. "I couldn’t come in and make excuses. If I was available, then I was going to go out and play. 

On top of his shoulder and wrist injuries, Smith also had trouble getting his legs under him at the plate last season because of his groin issue. This caused him to develop poor habits in the batter's box by overcompensating for his limitations.

"I was cheating on pitches to catch up because I didn’t have my legs," he said. "Now I feel like I’m able to recognize certain pitches. I’m not just out on my front foot flailing, or guessing. I’m happy I’m in a good spot with my legs right now.”

Smith believes his struggles can be boiled down to a combination of not being able to properly use his legs and a poor pitch selection. 

Prior to camp, Smith made it a priority to incorporate plenty of lower body drills, while also working on making better decisions at plate. But above all else, he had to spend the winter getting healthy before he could start making any adjustments. 

Getting Healthy

When the offseason began, Smith took the first month off to rejuvenate physically before beginning his rehab process.

Smith did a lot of groin strengthening exercises and plenty of stretching. And in order to rebuild strength in his shoulder and wrist, he did an extensive amount of grip holds and grip strengthening exercises. He also built up his hand and forearm strength, and worked on shoulder strengthening and mobility exercises as well. 

This has helped the first baseman/outfielder alleviate the pain that he became accustomed to tolerating a season ago. 

When asked if his labrum is fully healed, Smith replied: “(It’s) good enough.”

“I think It’s healed," he added. "You still take some swings and feel stuff, and that’s just a part of it. But It’s good enough to go. It’s a lot better than last year, I will say that.”

Smith currently receives daily treatment, and arrives to the ballpark early each day to stretch out his labrum and shoulder. He has also been working on his feet, hips and back as well to help with his mobility.

“I’m trying to take everything extremely serious, so I’m not only healthy for 162 games, but I’m actually helping the team and producing by being the player I know I can be," Smith said.

"Nothing hurts right now. Trust me, if something hurts, everybody will know." I won’t be out there playing if I’m hurt. That’s something that’s going to change from the past.”

Smith, who turns 27 in June, admitted that he has done a lot of maturing after last year's experience. Instead of ignoring his body and risking the possibility of worsening an ailment, he intends on being more conscious of recognizing when he can't play. 

"Going through that whole experience you learn stuff about yourself and the team. I’m just happy that I’m now healthy and still (with the Mets). I’m excited to see what this team can do.” 

Bounce-Back Campaign? 

On Tuesday, Mets manager Buck Showalter lauded Smith, who he believes is primed to have a big year. 

"Dom can hit. Dom's going to have a good year," Showalter said. "He got un-Dom-like some last year. I can tell, even his body language and how engaging he is, he's in a good frame of mind right now." 

So far, Smith has gotten off to an impressive start early in camp. During Wednesday's simulated game, Smith took top free agent acquisition and future Hall of Fame pitcher Max Scherzer deep twice for two homers over the right field fence. 

“He’s a great pitcher," Smith said of Scherzer. "He has always been a great pitcher and I know from facing him in the past that he likes to get ahead. This was one of my first live batting practices since last season, so I’m trying to take as many pitches as I can to gain as much information as possible. 

"(Scherzer) challenged me; he came with a first pitch heater for a strike and came back with an even better one up in the zone, which I swung through a lot last year. I wasn’t trying to do too much and put a nice easy swing on it and that one carried out."

As for his second homer off the Mets' new co-ace? Smith had a similar game plan, which produced the same result. 

"I know (Scherzer) is going to come right after me," he said. "His stuff is nasty, so he’s going to trust it and believe in it.

“I was just looking for something that I could hit hard, and it just so happened that those pitches were up in the zone.”

As he showcased against Scherzer, a former National League foe turned teammate, Smith's blueprint for success this season is to not try to do too much at the plate. Instead, he is only going to swing at the pitches that he feels he can do damage on. 

“I put a ton of work in this offseason just to improve and get better," he said. "If anything, I’m healthy now. If I’m healthy, I’ll be able to make my certain moves that I want to make. And if I’m able to do that, then I should have a ton of success.”


Proving He's An Everyday Player

It wasn't too long ago when Smith was among the top ranked prospects in all of baseball. The Mets selected Smith in the first-round of the 2013 MLB Draft out of high school, so they've had high hopes for him for nearly a decade.

At the moment, Smith isn't projected to be an everyday player for the Mets this season. But as Showalter said earlier in the week, Smith will factor into the mix at first base, outfield and designated hitter. 

However, Smith understands that he can dictate his own playing time by performing at a high level. With Pete Alonso manning first base, and Robinson Canó slated to be the Mets' primary DH, Smith, an above average defensive first baseman, sees his ability to play the outfield as a prime opportunity for him to receive the most at-bats. 

Last season, Smith posted -5 Defensive Runs Saved and -10 Outs Above Average across 859.2 innings in left field. But he is confident that the increased speed work he has done this offseason, along with a healed groin, will help to improve his outfield defense this year.

“If I play my game, It’s going to be hard for them to put me on the bench," he said. "I’m just going to take it one day at a time, and show them that I can handle the outfield.

"I just want to continue to show Buck (Showalter) and the staff that I’m an everyday player, wherever that is."

Grateful To Remain A Met

Along with teammates Jeff McNeil and J.D. Davis, Smith's name was tied to a slew of trade rumors throughout the offseason.

But this trio has stayed put, meaning they're likely to stick with the Mets this season.

And as for having his name come up as a possible trade chip, Smith isn't phased by this type of buzz, which he has been hearing for a number of years. 

“I’ve been hearing this stuff for years now, so when I hear it, I don’t believe it," Smith said. "I probably won’t actually believe it until it happens.

"I’m happy to be here once again. It has been wild, but I don’t listen to the outside noise because I’ve been hearing this since 2018 and I’m still here."

After getting drafted by the Mets nine-years ago, Smith has spent the entirety of his career with the organization. And he is hoping to be here for good. 

"I feel like I’m going to be here for life," he said. "This is my home, this organization, this city, these fans molded me into a man. This is where I want to be forever and retire."

"It’s where my heart is and I’m thankful to the organization. To Steve (Cohen), Sandy (Alderson), the front office. They all know what I can do deep down too, so it makes me feel good about myself because they didn’t want to just give me away for pennies."

The Mets weren't just going to dump Smith on the trade market for nothing in return. Now, he sounds motivated, healthy and will have a shot at redemption in 2022. 

The Mets' lineup could probably use another bat on paper. But if Smith can bounce-back to being the impact hitter he has shown flashes of being in the past, it will be a tremendous boost for New York's offense this season.