Hobbled deGrom plans to make final starts

Cy Young Award candidate departs after 2 innings with right hamstring spasm

September 17th, 2020

Upon leaving the pitcher’s mound after the second inning Wednesday at Citizens Bank Park,  took a seat in the dugout next to head trainer Brian Chicklo. He conferred for a time with Chicklo and Mets pitching coach Jeremy Hefner, then deGrom slammed a rolled-up water bottle to the ground in frustration.

Entering the night as perhaps a favorite to win his third straight National League Cy Young Award, deGrom instead gave up three runs in two innings, leaving early due to a right hamstring spasm. But the news was not all grim. deGrom considers the injury minor, and he still expects to make two more starts the rest of the way. And New York managed to overcome his absence at Citizens Bank Park, storming from behind to win a 5-4 game over the Phillies.

“That’s big,” deGrom said. “That’s definitely disappointing on my part, but what those guys did … is impressive. We’ve got to do that this year to the end of every game and to the end of the season to try to get in the playoffs.”

Uncharacteristically imperfect from the start, deGrom did not strike out a batter his first time through the lineup -- something that had not happened previously this season. His defense also did him no favors throughout a three-run rally in the second, though things changed after deGrom left the game. Entering in emergency relief, Michael Wacha kept the Mets afloat with four innings of one-run ball. The team drew closer on a J.D. Davis two-run homer off Zack Wheeler in the sixth, then tied things on a Davis RBI double two innings later.

In the ninth, Andrés Giménez hit an RBI single to put the Mets ahead for the first time all night, and Edwin Díaz struck out three to lock down a crucial save.

“Obviously, Jake going out was a big hit,” Davis said. “There wasn’t necessarily a sense of urgency, but a calmness.”

For a Mets team needing to win nearly every game down the stretch, the comeback was crucial, though the loss of deGrom -- however temporary -- could not be ignored. For now, more questions than answers remain.

What exactly happened to deGrom?
Call it a twinge, a pull, a cramp -- the nomenclature hardly matters. Officially, the Mets called it a right hamstring spasm.

deGrom said he first began experiencing it before his start against the Blue Jays in Buffalo, N.Y., on Friday, but he ignored the issue and it eventually disappeared. By the second inning Wednesday, deGrom could no longer overlook the discomfort, which affected him as he pushed off his right leg. When he came off the mound, deGrom alerted Chicklo, who made the decision with Hefner and manager Luis Rojas to remove deGrom from the game.

“The back of my leg felt like it was starting to grab a little bit,” deGrom said. “It kept doing it. Once they were aware of it -- I didn’t tell them about Buffalo until today -- they said, 'Hey, there’s no reason to try to push through this and hurt something.'”

Are any tests forthcoming?
Rojas indicated that deGrom will go through various tests in the coming days, though he did not offer details. The Mets will most likely send deGrom for an MRI to determine the presence or severity of any strain. If that comes back clean, it will be up to New York's training staff to monitor deGrom as he progresses through a throwing program.

How will this affect deGrom’s schedule?
That depends entirely upon how his hamstring improves over the next few days. A healthy deGrom would have been scheduled to make his final two starts on Monday and Sept. 26 against the Rays and Nationals, respectively. The Mets have only one day of wiggle room to push that back and still give deGrom two starts on regular rest. If he is healthy, he’ll still start twice.

“I feel like I can,” deGrom said. “I think it’s something that we’ll be able to manage.”

On the flip side, neither deGrom nor Rojas dismissed the idea that the Mets could bring back their ace early after he threw only 40 pitches against the Phillies. But that seems unlikely, as there would be virtually no benefit to doing so; even if deGrom pitched this weekend, he would still only be able to make two more starts.

What are the club's options if deGrom needs more time?
Steven Matz was probably going to re-enter the Mets’ rotation anyway, and he appears primed to do so this weekend. If deGrom must skip a start entirely, Wacha could fill the Mets’ rotation void on that day. The team’s other starters are Seth Lugo, Rick Porcello and David Peterson.

How does this impact the NL Cy Young race?
The most significant impact may have already occurred. In allowing three earned runs in two innings to the Phillies, deGrom saw his ERA jump from 1.67 to 2.09. He’s no longer the league leader in that category, trailing Trevor Bauer (1.71), Corbin Burnes (1.98) and Yu Darvish (2.00). He’s second in pitcher WAR to Darvish, second in strikeouts to Bauer and tied for 13th in innings.

In short, deGrom is still a legitimate candidate, but no longer the favorite.

Right now, the NL Cy Young Award appears to be a three-pitcher race among deGrom, Bauer and Darvish, with Bauer probably carrying an edge into his next rotation turn. If healthy, all three pitchers should make two more starts. But health is now a concern for deGrom -- and of far greater concern than a historic third straight plaque, however alluring that might be.