d'Arnaud takes 1st step back in fight for job

Mets catcher gets first at-bats since surgery last April

March 3rd, 2019

JUPITER, Fla. -- Upon the completion of his 10 1/2-month hiatus from big league baseball, Travis d'Arnaud stepped to the plate as the Mets' designated hitter on Sunday at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium, dug into the batter's box and swung at the first pitch he saw. From start to finish, the whole episode was over in a matter of seconds.

It was also a footnote compared to the greater goal d'Arnaud achieved in the Mets' 10-8 win over the Cardinals: simply playing in a game for the first time since Tommy John surgery.

"Emotional," was how d’Arnaud described it. "I was jittery, nervous. But once I put my foot in between the foul lines, I was pretty excited and glad to get back out there."

Unlike teammate T.J. Rivera, a fellow position player who had Tommy John surgery in Sept. 2017 and still hasn't made it back, d'Arnaud experienced no extraordinary hardships in his return from the operation. Last April, after experiencing pain during the first week of the season, he underwent an MRI that revealed a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his right elbow. For a moment, d'Arnaud stood in stunned silence in the doctor's office, unable to absorb the news.

A few days later, he chose to have surgery, which requires a rehab period of 9-12 months -- and often longer -- for position players.

That is what made his return on Sunday so significant. There was always a chance that d'Arnaud's rehab would linger until April or May, giving other catchers -- Devin Mesoraco and Tomas Nido are both in camp, and well regarded by the front office and coaching staff -- chances to steal his playing time. Kevin Plawecki may not be around anymore, but the Mets still have plenty of competition for their backup catcher job behind Wilson Ramos.

For now, d'Arnaud insists he's not worried about any of that, focused instead on the final stages of his rehab. His start on Sunday as DH marked a significant step for d'Arnaud, an offense-first catcher with a career .245/.306/.406 slash line. He's scheduled to be the DH again on Monday, then catch in a simulated or Minor League game before doing so in the Grapefruit League. The entire process should take only a few more days, at which point d'Arnaud will be, effectively, a healthy player again.

"We just want to see him," manager Mickey Callaway said, noting that d'Arnaud is on track to be ready for Opening Day. "When you're out that long, we've just got to get our eyes on him and see where he's at physically, see where he's at mentally, because that takes its toll being out so long. ... We just need to see him play."

Although d'Arnaud won’t cop to thinking about the competition his health has created, his bosses certainly are weighing it. Assuming he stays healthy, d'Arnaud remains a favorite to break camp with the Mets -- he is, after all, making $3.5 million through arbitration. But the Mets could also start the season with d'Arnaud on the injured list if they feel he needs more time. Or, they could simply decide that Mesoraco, whom they signed to a Minor League deal last month, is a better option for the 25-man roster.

All of it could wear on d'Arnaud if he kept such issues foremost in his mind, but when asked about it Sunday, he replied: "Not right now."

"I'm just happy to be playing today," d'Arnaud said. "Right now, it's about seeing the ball, hitting the ball and getting back out there behind the plate."