NEW YORK -- For Jacob deGrom, the actions were subtle: a quiet conversation with pitching coach Jeremy Hefner, a premature handshake with manager Luis Rojas, a walk down the clubhouse tunnel in the bottom of the sixth. Immediately, it was easy to consider the worst. For deGrom, a season of sheer brilliance has been mottled only by a series of minor health scares that have caused him to miss several starts.
Perhaps this was one more.
While the Mets did announce after their 3-2 win over the Padres that deGrom had departed due to right flexor tendinitis, the two-time Cy Young Award winner quickly shoved aside any thought of it being a serious issue. Not only is deGrom unconcerned by the discomfort in his arm, but he intends to make his next start as scheduled Wednesday against the Cubs.
“I’m pretty optimistic that I’ll be out there in five days,” deGrom said.
Added Rojas: “He expects to make his next start. I expect him to make his next start.”
The most jarring part of deGrom’s injury scare was how quickly it changed the narrative of his evening, following six of his most dazzling innings to date. Perfect through four, deGrom did not allow his first hit until Wil Myers grounded a ball past a shifted infield defense with one out in the fifth. He erased that runner on a caught stealing and had still faced the minimum through six innings, with 10 strikeouts, which made him the fastest player to fan 100 batters in a season in Major League history.
Before the game, general manager Zack Scott said the Mets intended to keep stretching deGrom’s pitch counts now that he is further removed from an IL stint that briefly sidelined him in May. This seemed like a prime opportunity, with a three-run lead and only 80 pitches on his ledger.
But deGrom, who is keenly aware of his own body and mechanics, and routinely honest when anything is amiss, told Hefner at that point that he was feeling discomfort. In truth, deGrom hadn’t felt quite right throughout the week; the upper part of his right forearm had bothered him a bit, though not to the extent that he believed it might cost him a start. He woke up on Friday feeling just fine.
“How it was trending this week was a plus,” deGrom said. “I felt it a little more right after I pitched, and then the day of my side [session], it felt better. When I woke up today, it felt great. … I woke up, felt good -- could feel it a tiny bit in the bullpen, but not like when I was throwing my side. So I liked the way it was trending and didn’t feel like it was a concern.”
Back in the Mets’ clubhouse, members of the team’s performance staff stretched and prodded at deGrom’s arm to rule out any thought of ligament damage. There was none. deGrom said he routinely checks his own ligaments for abnormalities as part of his normal routine. He likewise came away satisfied with what he felt, and the Mets don’t anticipate sending him for an MRI. So long as all continues to go well, deGrom will start next week against the Cubs at Citi Field, echoing his quick recoveries earlier this season from bouts of lat inflammation and right side tightness.
Although forearm issues such as flexor tendon strains can often lead to more serious elbow problems, deGrom -- who underwent Tommy John surgery as a prospect in 2010 -- has no reason to believe this is that type of problem.
“Having dealt with elbow issues,” deGrom said, “I’m pretty familiar with how that feels.”
And so the Mets will soldier forward in what has been a remarkably resilient season for them. Following deGrom’s departure, they ran into trouble when reliever Miguel Castro -- who also departed due to a minor injury, and who also came away unworried -- allowed a two-run homer to Jake Cronenworth. But Seth Lugo retired a pair of batters with the potential tying run on base, and Edwin Díaz converted a four-out save to preserve deGrom’s win.
In nearly all other respects, the victory belonged to deGrom, who singled home two runs off Blake Snell in the fifth. That gave him more RBIs (five) than earned runs allowed (four) on the season, which no other pitcher has accomplished over a 10-start stretch since RBI became an official stat in 1920. deGrom also lowered his ERA to 0.56, which is not only the lowest in Major League history through a pitcher’s first 10 starts, but exactly half of Bob Gibson’s famous final ERA in 1968 (1.12).
Those types of statistics, harkening back to previous decades and generations, have become routine for deGrom. The Mets simply hope that his forearm woes won’t prevent him from continuing to add history to those pages.
“It’s obviously not easy to hear about,” outfielder Billy McKinney said. “Hopefully, he’ll be back as soon as possible, because he’s such a great guy, and obviously what he does on the field is unbelievable.”