Senga scratch Mets' latest spring pitching setback

March 12th, 2023

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- For a brief time, Mets camp was bucolic. With minor exceptions, all 62 players were healthy. Nothing noteworthy went wrong.

And while things could still turn back in the Mets’ favor, some worrisome cracks have appeared in the team’s pitching staff over the past week. First it was José Quintana, who prematurely departed a March 5 outing and still hasn’t received firm answers as to the nature of what’s ailing him. Five days later, the Mets discovered that reliever Brooks Raley had injured his left hamstring at the World Baseball Classic in Phoenix.

Finally, on Saturday morning, the Mets scratched Kodai Senga from starting Saturday's 10-7 loss to the Nats with what turned out to be a bout of tendinitis at the base of his right index finger. For now, the Mets are calling it a day-to-day issue for Senga, though they haven’t determined when he might pitch again.

"I’ve gone through this with other players that are adjusting to a new baseball," general manager Billy Eppler said, referring to Japanese pitchers unaccustomed to the larger, slicker American balls. "They squeeze it really tight. And if you just squeeze a baseball really tight, a lot of times, you’re not used to squeezing it that much with that much repetition."

Senga, who recently signed a five-year, $75 million contract after starring in Nippon Professional Baseball for 11 seasons, has appeared in just one Grapefruit League game to date. The team eased him into spring exhibitions because it wanted Senga to have additional time to grow accustomed to American baseballs and mounds, and Senga skipped the WBC for that same reason. His second spring outing was scheduled for Saturday against Washington.

“Probably during the season, he would have pitched,” manager Buck Showalter said. “But he doesn’t need to.”

Despite the setbacks, Showalter said, there is enough time for both Senga and Raley, who suffered a mild left hamstring strain while preparing for the WBC opener, to be ready for Opening Day. Raley stayed in Arizona to take part in WBC opening night festivities, with plans to be back in Mets camp by Tuesday. The team will draw up revised plans for the left-hander once they see him in person. The biggest downside to the whole situation, Showalter said, is that “there’s not that buffer now” should something else happen.

Of greater concern is Quintana, whose status has grown murky since the Mets diagnosed him with a stress fracture in the fifth rib on his left side. Quintana flew to New York for further tests on Monday, but the team is still waiting for multiple doctors to assess the results. It already seemed likely that Quintana would miss the start of the season because of his injury. The delay in testing has since invited speculation that something even more serious could be at play.

Asked if there’s reason to believe Quintana’s diagnosis has changed, Eppler replied: “I’m just going to wait until the information comes in.”

The good news for the Mets is that they spent all winter preparing for this. Should Quintana or even Senga miss the beginning of the season, the club has a pair of readymade replacements in David Peterson and Tylor Megill, who started a combined 28 games last season. Peterson endured his own injury scare late last week, when he departed a game after taking a comebacker off his left foot. But tests for broken bones came back negative, and Peterson has since thrown multiple times off a mound without issue. He expects to return to Grapefruit League action in the coming days.

Other depth options include Joey Lucchesi, Elieser Hernández and José Butto. And in the bullpen, the Mets are well stocked with alternatives -- albeit not from the left side.

It’s not a perfect situation for the Mets, who had been enjoying a happy, healthy camp until last weekend. But it’s also not a worst-case state of affairs. For now, the Mets are in wait-and-see mode as they hope for quick recoveries for multiple important players.