Stro (left hip soreness) exits early in loss

June 23rd, 2021

NEW YORK -- For more than three minutes early Tuesday evening, a group gathered around Marcus Stroman on the Citi Field mound, debating the pros and cons of having him stay in the game. Stroman’s left hip was ailing -- that much was clear. But the Mets were in a difficult spot, with injuries once again piling up around him. If Stroman was feeling well enough to pitch, they could ill afford to cut his night short.

Eventually, Mets officials made the prudent decision to remove Stroman with what they later termed left hip soreness. Isn’t that the way it’s gone this year? The short-handed club went on to lose a 3-0 game to the Braves, which only hinted at the extent of its issues.

In addition to Stroman, whose timeline to return is unknown, the Mets learned Tuesday that starting pitcher Joey Lucchesi will miss the rest of this season recovering from Tommy John surgery. Carlos Carrasco isn’t anywhere close to a return, nor is Noah Syndergaard. And so the Mets, who spent most of May and June trying to survive despite injuries to three-quarters of their Opening Day lineup, now find themselves in a heap of pitching trouble.

“None of these come easy,” manager Luis Rojas said of all the injuries. “But we can’t stop, and that’s been the approach each time. We talk as a staff. We talk with the front office, and plans start unfolding just to keep moving forward.”

The latest problem revolves around Stroman, who felt he hyperextended his hip on a pitch in the second inning and struggled to get the joint loose after that. Stroman, whom the Mets did not make available to speak after the game, was scheduled to undergo additional testing on Wednesday that should determine the severity of his injury.

But the problems run far deeper than just one man. Even if Stroman and Lucchesi had both been healthy, the Mets’ current stretch of games, with three doubleheaders in seven days, would have tested their depth. Without two of their top five starters, the Mets are scrambling, trying to find enough healthy arms to cover all these innings.

They began that process earlier Tuesday, when they claimed hard-throwing starter Robert Stock off waivers from the Cubs. They continued it by making plans to call up 21st-ranked prospect Tylor Megill, who will make his MLB debut as their Wednesday starter. And even those moves won’t be enough. General manager Zack Scott acknowledged that the Mets will be in a constant search for pitching over the next five weeks, seeking both short-term plugs like Stock and Megill and potentially longer-term fixes -- the types of arms, such as Kyle Gibson, José Berríos and Luis Castillo, who will dominate rumors leading up to the July 30 Trade Deadline.

Even for the Mets, who feature one of the game’s largest payrolls and a stated willingness to blow past Major League Baseball’s $210 million luxury-tax threshold, landing a pitcher from that echelon will be difficult. After trading away so many of their top prospects under previous GM Brodie Van Wagenen, the Mets would prefer to hold onto as many of their younger building blocks as possible. But they do have some expendable pieces -- particularly second-ranked prospect Ronny Mauricio, who is blocked at shortstop for the next decade by Francisco Lindor.

“I don’t go into it with an all-in approach, that we’re pushing all our chips in the middle, because I think that can be very short-sighted,” Scott said. “But we also think we have a chance to win, so we want to make improvements wherever we can. … You don’t get rings and trophies for having the best farm system in the game.”

Because so many teams need starting pitching, the Mets aren’t likely to land a high-profile arm until much closer to the Deadline. While they wait for that market to take shape, team officials will spend the rest of June simply trying to survive. That might mean giving significant innings to pitchers like Stock, Megill or Thomas Szapucki, the club's No. 10 prospect at Triple-A Syracuse. It might mean claiming more arms off waivers or swinging small trades. It will certainly mean checking daily not just on Stroman, but also Jacob deGrom, whose presence at the top of the rotation looms larger than ever.

So perilous is the Mets’ pitching situation that even before Stroman’s injury, Scott was asked if he’s keeping tabs on “any portly 48-year-olds in Mexico” -- a not-so-subtle reference to Bartolo Colon, who recently threw a complete game in the independent Mexican League. Scott isn’t, but the joke still cut deep. The Mets, who had 17 players on the IL at one point last month, are in danger of losing far more than just their first-place standing if they cannot find enough pitching to cover the next few weeks.

“It’s hard to feel like you have to do something -- you kind of paint yourself in a corner when you do that,” Scott said. “I think we’ll just continue to explore different avenues to build up depth. It could be finding a starter. It could be going with ‘bulk guys’ to get you through some innings. There’s different ways to do it, and I think we need to explore all options.”