NEW YORK -- A few minutes before 4 p.m. ET on Thursday, Jacob deGrom emerged from the Mets’ bullpen to play a light game of catch in the Citi Field outfield. An MRI administered earlier in the day had revealed the image, in manager Luis Rojas’ words, of “a normal shoulder from a pitcher.” It was enough for the Mets to clear deGrom to throw, despite having left Wednesday’s start after three innings due to right shoulder soreness.
Mets officials did not reveal an official diagnosis for deGrom, except to say that the prognosis was good. Nor did the team place deGrom on the 10-day injured list, leaving open the possibility that he could return to the mound as soon as Monday. But Rojas also preached patience, admitting that the Mets do not know what is causing deGrom’s discomfort. Asked what the downside would be of shutting deGrom down for a brief period, Rojas responded: “That’s just not the approach right now.”
“We don’t feel immediately that that’s what we’re going to do,” Rojas said, adding that the situation would be different if the Mets believed his shoulder issue was related to his previous injuries. “We just want to approach this day by day. That’s my take right now.”
The Mets did not make deGrom available to speak on his prognosis, though he discussed the injury -- and downplayed it -- extensively following Wednesday’s start, during which he struck out eight in the Mets' 6-3 win over the Cubs. That left Rojas to face more than 20 minutes of questions the following afternoon regarding the plan for deGrom. For now, the Mets intend to have deGrom continue to test his right arm to see if the pain resurfaces, or if he can potentially make his next start.
Asked multiple times if the Mets were being too cavalier with their best pitcher, Rojas shrugged off the notion. The Mets do have a long history of letting players play through discomfort, oftentimes causing further injury. And while the Mets’ current leaders cannot be blamed for the decisions of past regimes, this group recently allowed second baseman Jeff McNeil to play despite a bout of left hamstring discomfort. He wound up straining the muscle and missing more than a month.
As in that situation, the Mets are relying on deGrom’s honesty; to that end, Rojas acknowledged that the two-time Cy Young Award winner was resistant to going on the IL. But deGrom is also in no way overruling the wishes of Mets doctors, staffers or coaches, who were all in agreement that he is fine to throw.
“I think Jake has done a good job just by telling us what he’s felt the different times, and just being cautious,” Rojas said. “This is another one.”
More troubling is the fact that the Mets do not know why deGrom continues to suffer from minor ailments this season, including bouts of back stiffness, right lat and side tightness, right flexor tendinitis and now right shoulder soreness. As far as team doctors can tell, the issues are not related. But the kinetic chain is nonetheless complicated for pitchers.
“We don’t know what’s caused it specifically,” Rojas said, referencing the opinions of both Mets doctors and an independent doctor who read deGrom’s MRI for a second opinion. “What we know is that they’re not connected. One thing’s not leading to the other.”
So now the Mets will wait and see. Certainly, they could use deGrom’s help, and not just because he owns a Major League-leading 0.54 ERA with 111 strikeouts over 67 innings. The Mets are scheduled to play three doubleheaders over a seven-day stretch beginning Saturday, which has the potential to throw their pitching into chaos. Even with a healthy deGrom, the team will likely need to make multiple roster moves to weather that stretch. Proceeding without deGrom would only further complicate matters.
But the Mets also entered Thursday’s play sporting the largest division lead in the Majors, leaving margin for error should they be without deGrom for a week or two.
They still can choose to take a safer approach, but as of Thursday afternoon, team officials saw little reason to do so.
“Today is actually encouraging that he’s playing catch,” Rojas said, lauding the team’s medical staff in its work with deGrom. “The treatment that they do today, the treatment that they do tomorrow, all the steps that we take toward keeping Jake happy, I’m pretty sure that they’re the best at that.”