WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- One by one they arrived in the Majors, their potential plain to see: Matt Harvey, the first-round Draft pick; Jacob deGrom, the unheralded prospect; Zack Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard, the prized returns on trades; Steven Matz, the local prodigy.
One by one, they succumbed to injuries, foiling the Mets' plans to maintain a young, cheap, dominant rotation throughout this decade: Tommy John surgeries for Harvey and Wheeler, a lat tear for Syndergaard, multiple operations for Matz. Only deGrom's body remained mostly intact.
For years, the Mets craved a single rotation turn featuring all five of those pitchers. It might never have happened if not for Jason Vargas' decision to undergo surgery this week on his fractured right hand. Although Vargas will not miss much time, his absence makes it likely that the Mets will open the season with a rotation of Syndergaard, deGrom, Harvey, Wheeler and Matz.
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"It's been something that everybody's wanted for a long time now, but it hasn't come together just because everybody's been hurt at separate times," Wheeler said. "Even if it is one time or so, it's going to be fun to get all five guys going in a row and see what we've got."
Until a line drive struck Vargas on Friday, there wasn't an obvious path for the dream to materialize. With Vargas in camp and Harvey pitching well, the Mets had whittled their rotation competition to two pitchers, Matz and Wheeler, for one spot. The loser appeared ticketed for Triple-A Las Vegas.
That all changed when Vargas opted for surgery. Although the injury is not to his pitching hand, he will refrain from throwing until next week. That should be enough to knock Vargas out for his first regular-season rotation turn, despite the left-hander saying he won't know for sure until he sees "how the sutures heal up, and how the soft tissue heals up underneath the skin." Even once that happens, Vargas may pitch with a modified glove, as he did during a bullpen session Monday.
"We're hoping for the best and we're just going to go from there," Vargas said.
Because the Mets have made injury prevention a focal point of camp, they won't push Vargas until he is ready, opening the door for Wheeler and Matz. While neither has pitched brilliantly this spring, Matz struck out nine -- including five in a row -- in six innings of two-run ball Monday against the Astros. If Matz's rotation status was uncertain before Vargas' injury, it isn't anymore.
"When you go through adversity, it builds character," Matz said. "All the stuff we went through will make us better pitchers -- and better people -- in the end."
Wheeler had also worked his way into prime rotation consideration even before Vargas' injury, before allowing five runs in his last outing clouded his status. The Mets asked Wheeler to throw a simulated inning Monday, prepping him to shift into his teammate's rotation spot Thursday against the Nationals.
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It could be a temporary job for Wheeler, with Vargas on the mend. It could be the only time Syndergaard, deGrom, Harvey, Wheeler and Matz all pitch together in the same rotation.
They'll savor it for what it's worth -- even if, to some, it doesn't mean much.
"I'm past that," said general manager Sandy Alderson, who acquired two of the five pitchers. "It's about winning games and being competitive."