In 2016, the Mets had high hopes of riding their pitching staff back to the World Series. With a starting five of Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Bartolo Colon with Zack Wheeler expected to return in June, the team had every reason to be optimistic.
The 43-year-old Bartolo Colon has been the only pitcher to not miss a start. With most of their pitching staff on the shelf, the Mets are still making an amazing run at the playoffs.
Injuries happen, but have any other teams pitching staffs been decimated by injuries at this level? If the car is not working, it is time to look under the hood.
Harvey’s injury is the most concerning. Thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) is a compression of blood vessels and/or nerves between the collarbone and the first rib, which can deaden an arm. Harvey underwent surgery for TOS, in which he had a rib removed. The expected recovery period is six months.
In 17 starts, Harvey had an uncharacteristic 4-10 record with a 4.86 ERA. In watching Harvey pitch this year, it was apparent that something was not right with him. His pitching woes were due to his injury. Why did it take a half season to determine that he was injured? The Mets should have been much more proactive in examining Harvey before he completed 17 starts. This is Harvey’s second major injury and only time will tell if he will regain his stature as a top ace. Pitchers with this type of an injury have had mixed results on coming back from it. TOS was the injury that finally ended the careers of Josh Beckett and Chris Carpenter. Jaime Garcia and Chris Young both returned from the injury. So the jury is out.
Matz has bone spurs in his elbow and a tight shoulder with a partial tear. deGrom is out with inflammation in his forearm, which is causing discomfort in his elbow. Syndergaard has had a great year, but has been troubled by bone spurs and arm fatigue.
So, after we open the hood, what are we finding? Colon is the only starting pitcher who does not throw between starts. It was reported that Colon suggested that Syndergaard back off throwing between starts.
Syndergaard and Matz were both kept in the rotation to pitch through their bone spurs. The problem with any human being who is in pain is that one adjusts to pain by altering the mechanics of the body to alleviate pain. Where could this be more damaging than with a major league pitcher? Change mechanics even slightly and one risks injury.
Throwinginjuries.com describes possible causes of bone spurs as follows: “However, like the ulnar nerve problems, sometimes the root of the problem is looseness of the UCL. If the looseness of the UCL causes more play in the elbow joint, the bones collide more forcefully and the bone spurs grow rapidly. It is almost as if the body is trying to stabilize the elbow by growing more bone! So, if a pitcher has bone spurs in the elbow, the UCL must be evaluated. If the problem is stemming from the UCL, it must be reconstructed and the spurs removed. If the ligament is okay, then the spurs can be removed with a much faster recovery. Note that if a pitcher has bone spurs in the elbow this is sometimes a warning sign that problems with the UCL may be coming.”
“Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard will continue pitching through discomfort caused by bone spurs in their elbows”, general manager Sandy Alderson said after a meeting in June. Why would Alderson take this position and potentially jeopardize the careers of both young pitchers?
The Mets need to completely reevaluate training and pitching regimens. Ray Ramirez has been the Mets trainer since 2004. Harvey, deGrom, Syndergaard and Matz are all hard throwing pitchers. As the game evolves and changes, regimens should be adjusted as well. Starting pitchers are pitching fewer and fewer innings every year. In a blog, CJ Nitkowski posed the thought of teams going to a six man rotation. Is this the answer? The answer may be complicated. What can’t be ignored are the red flags. Harvey, deGrom, Syndergaard and Matz all had red flags. The red lights were flashing and it appears that the Mets may have ignored the flashing lights. Ramirez received a masters degree in sports medicine from Long Island University in 1986. After all of these years, has Ramirez changed the pitching regimen or is he doing exactly what he has done 20 to 30 years ago? Ramirez has had his share of notoriety. In 2009, several Mets including Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado, J.J. Putz, John Maine and Johan Santana all had season ending injuries.
For a team that has seen four of its young starters go down to injury, it sure appears as a distinct possibility that the Mets have mishandled the pitching staff.
The Mets may limp into the post season, but a bright shining spot light should be put on the Mets training staff in order to seriously evaluate current practices in order to prevent additional injuries and ruin the careers of promising young pitchers.