ATLANTA -- The Mets' movements took on a funereal tone as players milled around SunTrust Park for the first time Monday afternoon, quietly talking, steeling themselves against the loss of their best pitcher. An MRI taken on Noah Syndergaard earlier Monday revealed a partially torn lat muscle; the team placed him on the 10-day disabled list with an injury that will sideline him far longer than that.
"I don't think this period is going to be measured in days," general manager Sandy Alderson said. "I think it's going to be measured in weeks."
To replace Syndergaard, the Mets will recall reliever Paul Sewald from Triple-A Las Vegas, though that move is only temporary. A source said the club will call up Rafael Montero, who owns a 9.45 ERA in six relief appearances this season, to start in Syndergaard's place Friday at Citi Field.
Thus ends a nightmarish chapter of a season that has seen the Mets lose their two best players to injury. Syndergaard initially suffered right shoulder and biceps discomfort early last week. The Mets scratched him from his start last Thursday against the Braves and offered an MRI, which Syndergaard declined. He instead threw a bullpen session and declared himself healthy, exiting Sunday's 23-5 loss to the Nationals in the second inning due to right lat pain.
Monday's MRI in Manhattan revealed the updated diagnosis.
"Let me make clear that it was my decision for Noah to pitch," Alderson said. "It was with input from a variety of sources, including Noah himself. The MRI was not dismissed out-of-hand simply because Noah said he wouldn't do it."
In a 15-minute interview, Alderson defended not only the Mets' decision to pitch Syndergaard, but their entire seven-year history of medical decisions under his watch. In addition to Syndergaard, star outfielder Yoenis Cespedes is on the disabled list with a strained left hamstring, along with several other key players. Two starting pitchers, Steven Matz and Seth Lugo, are not currently options to replace Syndergaard due to elbow injuries.
But Alderson defended the club's medical record, despite saying "I don't seem to have done anything to improve" the team's reputation in such matters.
"When I came to the Mets, that was one of the criticisms: that we had injuries, we didn't explain injuries, we were too optimistic about when players would come back," Alderson said. "Here we are seven years later and the same accusations are being made. I think it's a little overblown. … We get criticized for injuries probably disproportionally to the circumstances.
"In terms of the advice that we're getting from our medical staff, I have absolute confidence in them. Our doctors are among the two or three most-respected in all of the United States, if not the world, when it comes to orthopedics. That's really not an issue to me."
Of greater issue to Alderson is the loss of Syndergaard, who is 1-2 with a 3.29 ERA in five starts this season, with 32 strikeouts and two walks. While there is no timetable for Syndergaard's return, Matz missed more than two months with a similar injury in 2015.
During Spring Training, Syndergaard boasted that he packed on approximately 15 pounds of muscle in an effort to throw harder. The right-hander was already Major League Baseball's hardest-throwing starting pitcher in 2016, topping out at 101 mph.
"This is bad for baseball," Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. "This is one of the top three pitchers in the game. The Mets are obviously feeling it a lot more than we are. But when you're talking about one of the game's best pitchers, you want him out there every fifth day."
Beyond Montero, who should join the team on Friday, the Mets anticipate the returns of Matz and Lugo around the end of May. Though Alderson noted that many free-agent starting-pitching options would require similar timelines to be ready, thus dampening the Mets' interest in them, the team is nonetheless seeking outside help.
But the Mets understand no one pitcher can replace Syndergaard, who entered the season a favorite to compete for the National League Cy Young Award.
"You're allowed 24 hours to be upset," manager Terry Collins said. "Then you've got to move forward."
Fantasy spin | Fred Zinkie (@FredZinkieMLB)
Thor may be facing a lengthy absence, but he nonetheless should be retained in all leagues given his ability to be one of baseball's best pitchers when in top form. The right-hander will be almost impossible to replace -- what with his lifetime 2.92 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 10.4 K/9 rate -- but owners can still find solid fill-in options on waivers. Those in shallow leagues should check waivers for Francisco Liriano and Matt Moore, while deep-league managers should check on the availability of Dan Straily, Eduardo Rodriguez and Hyun-Jin Ryu.