deGrom plays catch ... what's next for ace?

August 25th, 2021

NEW YORK -- What was once a familiar sight at Citi Field became so again on Wednesday, when played catch for the first time since July.

Dressed in shorts, workout tights and a sleeveless shirt, deGrom let loose only a few throws at what appeared to be minimal effort. It was his first time throwing a baseball since the Mets shut him down due to elbow inflammation in July. Subsequent MRIs revealed enough inflammation for the Mets to keep deGrom shut down, until testing on Wednesday morning came back completely clean.

Now, deGrom will begin the process of ramping up -- flat-ground sessions, bullpen sessions, perhaps live BPs and eventually Minor League rehab games. The Mets are not placing a timetable on that process, but for most starting pitchers, it tends to take the better part of a month. That makes it uncertain if deGrom will have enough time to return to the Mets this season.

“It would be huge to have him at the end,” manager Luis Rojas said. “If we start playing better baseball, especially with our offense, if it starts clicking -- to see Jake late in the season, probably at a perfect point of the season where we’re closing the gap or facing our division rivals, it would be ideal.”

The Mets, however, are eager to see deGrom pitch again for reasons beyond simply competitive ones. They would rather go into the offseason with a clear idea of deGrom’s status than not get a read on the situation until February. That means ramping up deGrom even if they continue falling out of the playoff race.

“I would agree that it’s late in the calendar, but I don’t agree that it’s necessarily a shutdown [situation],” general manager Zack Scott said Tuesday. “I mean, you shut down a guy because there’s real, physical reasons to do that. That may present itself as we start a ramp-up, but whether he pitches in a big league game or not, it’s important for us to know where he’s at, at the end of the season.”

A day later, Scott added in a text message that there is “absolutely no reason why we can’t start ramping him up toward 100 percent.”

In the third season of his six-year, $137.5 million contract, deGrom began the year as brilliantly as any pitcher in baseball history, going 7-2 with a 1.08 ERA and 146 strikeouts over 92 innings. But minor injuries plagued him along the way, from right side and lat tightness to elbow and shoulder woes. Finally, just after the All-Star break, deGrom felt elbow tightness during a bullpen session and agreed to a shutdown.

The two-time National League Cy Young Award winner did not throw again until Wednesday, playing catch off flat ground before taking grounders at shortstop and shagging fly balls in a facsimile of his usual routine. deGrom did not venture into areas occupied by media members who could ask him about his progress, and the team did not make him available for comment.

While the Mets still don’t know exactly what has caused the inflammation in deGrom’s elbow, their doctors -- along with renowned third-party orthopedic surgeon Dr. Neal ElAttrache -- determined through multiple MRIs that there is no structural damage in the area. As such, Mets officials say there is no longer any reason for them to hold deGrom off from throwing.

“We’ve got to see how he progresses playing catch,” Rojas said. “If there’s a flag at some point, we’re probably going to be smart about it. We’ll just see how we are with him, how the progression is, how he’s responding. But this is great news that we got from the doctor today that he’s throwing.”

Date set for Thor
Noah Syndergaard will begin a Minor League rehab assignment on Thursday at High-A Brooklyn. It will be Syndergaard’s first game action since May, when he cut short a rehab start due to right elbow tightness. The Mets intend for Syndergaard, who underwent Tommy John surgery in March 2020, to return to the club in September as a reliever.

Lindor rests
A day after returning from a 5 1/2-week stint on the injured list, shortstop Francisco Lindor was once again out of the Mets’ lineup on Wednesday night. Rojas said the Mets’ performance staff recommended a rest day for Lindor, calling it “part of his progression” because he returned without going on a Minor League rehab assignment.

“I feel good,” Lindor said after Tuesday’s game. “We’ll base it on the trainers, on Rojas, on what the team needs and how I feel.”