Conforto has right oblique strain; opener TBD

March 10th, 2020

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- An MRI in New York brought at least somewhat ominous news for Mets outfielder , who is dealing with a strained right oblique muscle. The Mets have no timeline for Conforto’s return, with general manager Brodie Van Wagenen saying it’s “too early to know” if he can be ready for Opening Day.

“We’ll see how he responds in the coming days, and then as we evaluate his game readiness next week,” Van Wagenen said. “I’m sure we’ll have more information at that point in time.”

According to Van Wagenen, Conforto felt soreness in his right side upon catching a fly ball awkwardly during Saturday’s game against the Nationals. He made note of it to the team’s training staff at the time. It felt better over the past few days, but the soreness dissipated slowly enough for the Mets to send him for an MRI. That revealed the diagnosis of a strained oblique.

Van Wagenen said Tuesday that he did not know the severity of the injury. Oblique strains can be notoriously tricky, often requiring six- to eight-week recovery periods, but players can bounce back quicker from less severe strains. In Conforto’s case, the Mets plan to reduce his baseball activities for around a week, then reexamine him.

“It’s hard to assess if this or any other injury is a major injury at this stage in the game,” Van Wagenen said. “Health is always important in camp. We’ve been very pleased with how healthy guys have been. … Knock on wood, we’ll see how everything progresses, and hopefully we can be healthy when the season starts.”

The Mets have reason to be cautious with Conforto, who profiles as their starting right fielder and potential No. 3 hitter. Last year, Conforto slugged a career-high 33 home runs in 151 games, batting .257/.363/.494.

“All I know is that we want him healthy for the season,” fellow outfielder Brandon Nimmo said. “Whatever that takes, I don’t care. I just want him playing right field when the season comes.”

If Conforto cannot do that, Nimmo would most likely shift from center to right, with Jake Marisnick becoming the starter in center. Marisnick, whom the Mets acquired in a trade with the Astros this past offseason, is a standout defender with limited offensive upside; his career OPS is just .660. Nimmo played right field for the first time this spring on Monday, saying afterward that he felt comfortable there due to years of experience.

An injured-list stint for Conforto would also open a bench spot for someone like Ryan Cordell, a non-roster center fielder whose athleticism has impressed the Mets, or a more offensive-minded option like Jarrett Parker. J.D. Davis and Dominic Smith would likely see the bulk of reps in left, unless Yoenis Céspedes proves healthy enough to play the outfield as well. With less than two weeks remaining in Grapefruit League play, Céspedes has yet to appear in a game.

For now, the Mets’ roster mix is as uncertain as Conforto’s health. All team officials can do is wait and see with one of their most important offensive players.

“It’s always very difficult to speculate what ‘ifs’ are when we’re talking about two weeks out,” Van Wagenen said. “We’ve got a lot of in-house solutions that we feel good about. Fortunately, we’ve got a lot of versatility on our roster that we can at least attempt to absorb any issues that pop up with our players.”

“We want Michael and everybody else to leave Spring Training healthy,” added Mets manager Luis Rojas. “That’s one of our goals is to prepare and leave Spring Training healthy, but right now, we’re going to find out what’s going to happen.”