NEW YORK -- The Mets spent much of this winter bulking up their depth. They added to their lineup, pushing former regular contributors into supporting roles. They beefed up their bullpen, creating competition at the back end. They even signed a starting pitcher, adding to their already admirable depth in that area.
But the one thing Mets officials knew they could not insure themselves against was an injury to one of their top two pitchers. Noah Syndergaard's five-month absence proved that last season, becoming a key factor in the Mets' summer-long troubles.
On Wednesday, on the night they fell out of first place for the first time in nearly a month, the Mets fretted in similar fashion over Jacob deGrom.
Departing New York's 7-0 loss to the Braves after four innings due to a hyperextended right elbow, deGrom carried with him a chunk of the Mets' short-term hopes. If he misses significant time, the team will have to rely on the back end of its rotation, on its lineup and on its bullpen, all of which have spent the past three weeks in various stages of disarray.
"Whenever somebody comes out of the game early, you hope and pray it's just something little," Todd Frazier said. "He's a big part of our team. It takes energy out of you a little bit, but at the same time, we're professionals, and we've got to go out there and play."
The Mets did so on Wednesday, but without much success. It took only two innings for the relief corps to falter, beginning with Paul Sewald, who allowed three hits -- including Freddie Freeman's RBI single -- in the sixth. Sewald gave up two more runs on Ender Inciarte's homer in the seventh before Robert Gsellman allowed four more in the eighth to provide the final margin.
New York's offense, meanwhile, plated two or fewer runs for the third time in four games. This time its foil was left-hander Sean Newcomb, who struck out eight Mets over seven innings.
"Today I was just pounding the zone," Newcomb said. "I was pretty locked in."
FROM THE TRAINER'S ROOM
Wincing in pain on a swing in the third inning, deGrom returned to the field to deliver a scoreless top of the fourth but departed after alerting manager Mickey Callaway of his injury in the bottom of the inning. The initial diagnosis was a hyperextended right elbow; the Mets expect to learn the results of an MRI by Thursday morning.
"That it wasn't a result from mechanics or an actual pitch kind of gives you a glimmer of hope," Callaway said.
Left-handed hitters entered the night 0-for-20 against Gsellman, easily the Mets' most effective crossover pitcher. But Freeman, Nick Markakis, Johan Camargo and Ryan Flaherty then proceeded to go 4-for-4 against him from the left side, with a single, a double and two home runs in the eighth. Another lefty, Preston Tucker, finally grounded out to snap the streak and end the inning.
HE SAID IT
Although he credited Newcomb for his aggression in the zone, Frazier criticized home-plate umpire Lance Barrett for what he felt was an outsize strike zone. The issue was not with Barrett alone, Frazier said, but with most of the umpires he has seen in the past week.
Over the weekend in San Diego, Frazier said, he met with an umpire to discuss the issue.
According to Statcast™, Barrett called two pitches strikes that data suggested were not in the strike zone against Frazier on Wednesday, while other umpires were off the mark five times against him in his previous four games.
"I'm just starting to get frustrated with these umpires a little bit," Frazier said. "It's one of those things where I have to say something. … Something has to be done. The more we talk about it, the more frustrating it's getting. I'm not making excuses. We lost fair and square. The kid pitched a hell of a game. But these umpires have got to get better, bottom line."
Hoping to rebound from a poor season debut in San Diego, Jason Vargas will return to the mound in the Mets' 1:10 p.m. ET series finale against the Braves on Thursday. Returning from surgery to remove a broken bone from his glove hand, Vargas allowed nine runs and couldn't escape the fourth inning of his debut. He'll oppose right-hander Julio Teheran.