Jul 13

Mets Must Overhaul Pitching Protocols

 

UPDATED

The only one of the Mets starters not currently waving a health red flag is the one whose roots are not in the organization – Bartolo Colon. To be fair, Colon had health issues earlier in his career and a PED history, but he’s clean now and save a ball hit off his thumb has been fine.

Colon, at 43, has been a source of stability on the mound since joining the Mets, but his greatest contribution might be the suggestion to Noah Syndergaard, whose 23-year-old arm suddenly lost its steam, to back off his between-starts throwing.

HARVEY: Symbolizes Mets' pitching problems. (Getty)

HARVEY: Symbolizes Mets’ pitching problems. (Getty)

When Syndergaard told Bob Klapisch, one the most knowledgeable baseball writers I know, his arm felt “like there are parachutes attached to it,”  there was the image of swimming against the current.

Syndergaard is pitching through a bone spur in his elbow. Syndergaard experienced a sudden five-mph., drop off his fastball in his last start against the Nationals, similar to turning an oscillating fan from high to medium. Every pitch was a change-up.

Matt Harvey, who at 27, is out for the season following shoulder surgery; the second time in four years the knife cut him out of the rotation. Jacob deGrom was given a chance to be on the National League All-Star team but told manager Terry Collins he was too tired. The word he used was “beat.”

He’s only 28.

Then there’s Steven Matz. He had Tommy John surgery before he was 25, and like Syndergaard is pitching with a painful bone spur.

Finally, there’s Zack Wheeler, who at 26, also experienced Tommy John surgery. He was supposed to come off the disabled list in late June and send Colon to the bullpen. Then it was July, then after the All-Star break. Now, it is mid-August.

I’m waiting for the announcement he will not pitch this year.

Realistically, nobody expected all these guys to blossom into 20-game winners at once. However, also realistically, nobody expected them all to break down all at once, which is closer to happening than one might think.

Is this a coincidence or something deeper?

I would love to see the Mets get back to the World Series. However, I would rather they not make the playoffs, even have a losing season, if it meant seeing each of these guys healthy. For that to happen, the Mets need a serious and comprehensive plan. And remember, wishing is not a plan.

The first step is to recognize how they’ve handled things in the past. The second step is to recognize it hasn’t worked.

I’ve been on the record and will not back off saying they mishandled Harvey from the outset of his arm problems in 2013. It should be noted Harvey back then, and today contributes to his own problems.

Syndergaard won’t pitch until the Mets are in Chicago next week. They’ll ease him back in the rotation, which is a wise decision. Not so wise is their inexplicable decision not to schedule a new MRI. The Mets are going on a previous set taken several weeks before the Washington meltdown.

Just stupid.

GM Sandy Alderson said of Syndergaard and Matz their bone spurs is a matter of pain tolerance. More than once they’ve said the pitchers – the keys to the Mets’ future – couldn’t risk further injury.

Wrong answer.

There are no guarantees when it comes to injuries. The only guarantee is if you continually do something wrong and it doesn’t work, it won’t get better.

The Mets have the possibility to have a great pitching staff, but that’s all it is now – potential. It will remain potential unless the Mets do a complete overhaul in how they handle their pitchers.

From throwing between starts, to pitch counts, to days off, to dealing with pain and discomfort, to a myriad of other things, there must be a complete change. There should be uniformity in policy and procedure from the rookie league to Citi Field.

I don’t know if these Mets will develop into a staff for the ages or fizzle out like the Oakland staff under Billy Martin. Both could happen.

Something is wrong and priority one for the Mets is to find out what it is and fix it.

I don’t care about what happens this year, it’s probably too late, anyway. I care about what happens in the years to come.

 

Jul 08

Harvey Made Right Call On Surgery

Mets’ pitcher Matt Harvey unquestionably made the right decision to undergo surgery for treatment of the thorasic outlet syndrome in his pitching shoulder. It was the best option for his pitching and financial future, and to the Mets for the remainder of this season and beyond.

Dr. Robert Thompson is expected to perform the procedure next week in St. Louis. The surgery, which would entail removing one of his ribs, is designed to relieve pressure on the nerves and blood vessels in the space between the neck and shoulder. The increased pressure caused numbness in his arm and fingers.

HARVEY: Made right choice (Getty)

HARVEY: Made right choice (Getty)

Harvey’s options were surgery or a nerve-blocking injection, the latter being a temporary solution with surgery eventually required.

Harvey’s agent, Scott Boras, whose comments last year on the pitcher’s innings limit created a stir, strongly advocated the surgery to ESPN: “The doctors clearly recommended that he have this done, mainly so that he can be ready for ’17.’

“The rehab on this is six months. Now, if there was a small window of a season, you might be able to take a shot. It’s actually Botox, which relaxes the muscles. That’s not a long-term solution. `The only way this is going to be treated appropriately –  and obviously, we don’t want to do anything to affect next year – is to get this surgically taken care of.”

That’s the understandable driving force behind the decision. This was chosen to set up Harvey for his turn at free agency. Had he chosen the injection and gotten through the season, that would be great. But, if it only lasted a few months and he had the surgery later this year, or in the offseason, or next year, all or most of 2017, could be lost. That would leave Harvey with one year to make an impression on his future suitors when he hits the free agent market after the 2018 season.

And, nobody knows how he’ll pitch coming off surgery. If you’re Harvey – not to mention the Mets or any team that would go after him – you want two years to make an impression. That’s why Harvey’s decision is a no-brainer. But, how does losing Harvey help the Mets the rest of this year?

Knowing the Mets won’t have him in the second half enables GM Sandy Alderson to freely pursue another arm before the July 31 trade deadline, even if it jacks up the asking price. That’s preferable to waiting through at least two Harvey starts before hitting the market late, which would increase the price even more.

This also allows manager Terry Collins to determine his rotation now and eliminates the inevitable questioning and excuse making after each of his starts. And, who would want to see Harvey go down for surgery in a September pennant-race game or the playoffs?

Harvey hasn’t pitched well, going 4-10 with a 4.86 ERA in 17 starts, and this ailment is an obvious explanation. Harvey frequently complained about not having his mechanics, but not having feelings in his arm and fingers could explain a change in mechanics.

However, left unanswered is why Harvey hadn’t complained about a lack of feeling before his disastrous start on Monday. Boras’ answer to that question explains both the good, and bad, about Harvey.

His bulldog approach on the mound, for example, his eight innings in Game 5 of the World Series, is to be applauded. It’s the spirit that defines an ace. That’s the good.

But, here’s the bad, as delivered by Boras.

“He’s felt this way since spring training, but he wanted to gut it out, try to do it, until finally, he’s going, ‘Look, I’m just feeling like I don’t feel the baseball the same.’ Once we heard that, I was like, ‘Maybe we have a TOS situation,’ and got him over to Dr. Thompson.”

Sounds plausible, but it underscores the increasingly, maddening, “I’ll do what I feel like” aspect that has defined Harvey’s short career. It also raises the inevitable question of what could have happened had this been discovered a month or two earlier.

If he had surgery in May or June perhaps he could have come back in late August, or September, or even the playoffs.

We’ll never know.

Jul 07

Mets’ Harvey Facing No-Brainer Surgery

For the second time within four years, Mets pitcher Matt Harvey is facing season-ending surgery. However, it should be remembered surgery to treat thoracic outlet syndrome in his right shoulder should not be interpreted to mean it is career ending.

One day after being placed on the 15-day disabled list, Harvey was examined today in St. Louis by Dr. Robert Thompson. This syndrome is when nerves and blood vessels are compressed because of a closure in a passageway through the base of the neck and armpit.

HARVEY: Faces tough choice.  (AP)

HARVEY: Faces tough choice. (AP)

GM Sandy Alderson told reporters today at Cit Field the pressure could be caused by several ways, including muscle build up, contact with the bone and repetitive movement caused by pitching. Alderson said Harvey’s options are two-fold: 1) season-ending surgery which could take four months to recover, and, 2) a nerve-block injection, which is temporary.

Alderson said surgery is likely unavoidable, which makes this a no-brainer of a decision.

“I do believe that surgery is probably inevitable and more a question of timing than anything else,” Alderson said. “So obviously to the extent that we’re backed up for a period of time, it begins potentially to encroach on 2017 as well.”

Alderson said pretty much the same thing in 2013 about Tommy John surgery. Harvey balked, but eventually relented to the obvious choice. Had he chosen surgery immediately, he might have had more time in rehab and consequently the innings limit might have become less of an issue.

Should Harvey choose the injection and makes it through the season, there’s no telling how it would impact his performance. However, if he takes the injection and eventually requires surgery, it could cost him all of 2017. And, with him becoming a free-agent after the 2018 season, that doesn’t leave much time for him to make a positive impression on potential suitors.

Harvey is in his second year following Tommy John, which can sometimes be the most difficult as proven by his 4-10 record and a 4.86 ERA in 17 starts. In Monday’s game he gave up 11 hits in 3.2 innings and avoided defeat by a late rally by the Mets.

After the game, manager Terry Collins said Harvey complained he couldn’t feel the ball.

“Obviously it was happening during the game,” Collins said. “He didn’t say anything until after the game.”

Why Harvey didn’t say anything is anybody’s guess, but falls into line with how he’s handled things in the past. I don’t know what option Harvey will choose about surgery, but based on the information already given, it would be the prudent choice both for his health, comeback and financial future.

As for the Mets, they will be forced to scramble, but with how he’s pitching so far, will they really be missing that much?

Jun 28

Mets Messing With Matz

I recently read something pretty funny about Mets pitcher Steven Matz. Actually, not so much funny as it was maddening. Matz, scratched from Wednesday’s start in Washington because of pain in his elbow caused by a bone spur, will now go Thursday against the Cubs.

That’s not the funny part. The punchline is the Mets say they have been assured by team doctors Matz can’t hurt himself any further, at least not to his elbow. How can that be? Are these some kind of special doctors who can see into the future?

MATZ: Doctors can't guarantee anything.  (Getty)

MATZ: Doctors can’t guarantee anything. (Getty)

There are no guarantees in life, especially when it comes to health and medicine. No doctor can project the future with an injury like this. Perhaps the weekend warrior or country club tennis player, can get by being treated with anti-inflammatories, rest or a cortisone injection.

However, Matz is a baseball pitcher, and what he does requires an incredible amount of tension and torque on the elbow.

According to the Mayo Clinic’s definition, a bone spur is when bony projections develop on the surface of the bone. They can cause swelling, pain and depending what rubs against it, tearing of tissue or tendons or ligaments. Reports are Matz’s MRI showed the spurs aren’t in an area where they can imminently rub against a ligament. But, who is to say that can’t change with a violent twist of the elbow?

GM Sandy Alderson described Matz’s condition as a matter of pain tolerance, which is comforting if you’re not named Steven Matz.

“At this point, it’s a function of whether he can tolerate the discomfort while continuing to pitch,” Alderson told reporters. “What we will do is monitor that level of discomfort.”

However, history is full of examples of pitchers who overcompensate for one injury by creating another. Pain in one’s elbow can cause a pitcher to subtly alter his mechanics to where it might impact his shoulder or elsewhere in the elbow.

No doctor can guarantee Matz won’t change his mechanics. Perhaps, the change is so slight nobody will notice, and Matz might not feel anything. At first.

Maybe Matz can give us a John Wayne and pitch through this initially, but it could prohibit him from effectively throwing his breaking balls or prevent him from dialing up his fastball.

There have already been reports Matz might require surgery this winter, so this is far from being nothing. And, considering the Mets’ history in handling injuries, from the Alderson administration to Omar MInaya’s to Steve Phillips, I’m not buying this “it can’t get worse,” theory. There have been too many cases of things going wrong.

Matz won’t pitch Wednesday, but pushing him back one day hardly will make much of a difference. Matz’s career has already been sidetracked by Tommy John surgery, so it’s beyond me why he’d even fool around with this.

Jun 20

Not A Fan Of Demoting Conforto

It’s a good thing the Mets are off Monday because playing games doesn’t seem to be good idea. Citi Field is quiet today, except for the buzz in manager Terry Collins‘ office, where he is presumably huddling with GM Sandy Alderson and his coaching staff about what to do next. At the top of the list is the decision whether to demote Michael Conforto in Triple-A Las Vegas to work on the swing that deserted him.

CONFORTO: Not of fan of demoting him. (AP)

CONFORTO: Not of fan of demoting him. (AP)

Most likely the corresponding move would be promoting Brandon Nimmo. As much as I’d like to see Nimmo – much the way I wanted to see Conforto last year – I’m not a big proponent about this move. Not yet, anyway.

I realize that’s contradictory considering I advocated sending down Matt Harvey and Ike Davis. However, these circumstances are different. With Davis, he resisted changing or his style, and had been with the Mets long enough for them to believe nothing would change. With Harvey, he was coming off

Davis resisted changing his style and had been with the Mets long enough for them to believe nothing would change. Harvey was coming off Tommy John surgery and injuries are always more complex.

Conforto doesn’t fit into any of these boxes. For one, he’s been bothered by a sore wrist, but nothing to where he needs to go on the disabled list. If he is hurt, then why is he playing? Also, reports are unlike Davis he’s very coachable and is tenure with the Mets has been short.

Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle all went down to the minors, so nobody should be immune. However, I don’t see where a Conforto for Nimmo swap is a good thing. If Conforto goes down and regains his stroke and is brought up in two weeks, what becomes of Nimmo? Theoretically, they would simply send him back down, but how does that help anybody?

If Nimmo is hitting, wouldn’t they want to keep him up here? If so, where would he play? He certainly wouldn’t replace Yoenis Cespedes or Curtis Granderson, and as is the case with most young players the Mets wouldn’t want him to ride the bench.

Conforto isn’t hitting, but neither is anybody else. I would keep Conforto on the major league level and give him an opportunity to work things out with the Mets.