I don’t believe it.
I refuse to buy into the notion that Jacob deGrom, after departing each of his last two starts with two different arm injuries, will take the mound again Monday against the Braves at Citi Field and act as though everything is fine. As though the third time will be the charm.
There’s no way the Mets would do something so crazy, so potentially reckless, with their prized asset.
The bizarre deGrom saga took its latest turn Thursday when the 32-year-old, who lasted only three (perfect) innings in his start Wednesday before leaving with a sore right shoulder, underwent an MRI exam that revealed “a normal shoulder that a pitcher would have,” as per Mets manager Luis Rojas. A pair of esteemed orthopedists, Mets medical director Dr. David Altcheck and Dodgers head team physician Neal ElAttrache, signed off on that diagnosis, and deGrom, whose start last Friday got cut short after six innings due to a case of flexor tendinitis, played catch Thursday before the Mets concluded their series with the Cubs at Citi Field. He reported that his arm felt as it usually does the day following a start.
Asked whether deGrom was on track to make his next start, Rojas demurred, saying, “We’ll take it day by day and see how things are going to be.”
That sounds like a team, resting comfortably in first place, slow-playing a deactivation of deGrom that the pitcher himself, sporting an insane 0.54 ERA in 11 starts totaling 67 innings, doesn’t want.
“Today, we don’t feel that he’s an IL,” Rojas said, “and he doesn’t feel that he’s an IL stint.”
Notice the mention of “today.” And Rojas’ word choices when I asked him what the downside would be of resting deGrom for as little as a week: “That’s just not the approach right now. We don’t feel immediately that’s what we’re going to do.”
As you know, if the Mets decide to place deGrom on the injured list, they can backdate the term to the first day he didn’t pitch, which currently stands as Thursday. So from that perspective, the Mets can provide their ace some runway. There is the trade-off of not being able to call up an arm to replace him, yet the Mets’ five-game National League East advantage over the Phillies heading into Thursday’s action provides them with a cushion. Of course, the same logic could be used to simply sideline deGrom right now, immediately and not sweat the short-term repercussions.
It could be that deGrom’s amazing four-seam fastball velocity, enjoying an increase for the fifth straight season, is causing the engine that is deGrom’s body to shake, shimmy and shudder, if not crack up; he already spent time on the IL this season with tightness in his right side. Perhaps deGrom’s celebrated offensive excellence bears some responsibility. After all, the shoulder acted up only in the third inning Wednesday, after deGrom’s second-inning single gave him his sixth RBI of the season and raised his OPS to .885. Rojas accepted both of those theories as possibilities.
There are considerable unknowns here beyond the surface encouragement of no red flags in the MRI. Can it be considered “known” that even a quick break can only help deGrom combat whatever is going on with him? It’s darn close.
DeGrom’s Mets teammate Brandon Nimmo, who has been out since May 3 with a bum left index finger, said on Thursday, as he discussed deGrom, “Sometimes the little things get you, and sometimes they don’t.”
Seemingly little things have teamed to create an uneasy aura around the normally invincible deGrom. The Mets surely won’t disrespect what we’ve all seen, no matter how good his test results look behind the scenes.
If day-to-day ranks above “full speed ahead,” then taking a break gets the gold. The Mets began this deGrom cycle in the middle. They’re one step away from reaching common sense. They’ll get there, won’t they? If they don’t, boy, will they be setting themselves up for some serious scrutiny.