With Noah Syndergaard, it has felt inevitable that he will eventually need Tommy John surgery.
Worries about his health have hung over him like the dark clouds that were over Citi Field on Friday night.
The 23-year old flamethrowing Mets ace has kept an intense fitness regimen to keep his body in shape, with a focus on his elbow.
Syndergaard has done his best to avoid the fate of his teammates, Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Steven Matz, who all underwent Tommy John surgery at some point in their development. Harvey had it in 2014 after his first full season in the majors, while deGrom and Matz had it in the minor leagues.
The question that loomed over Syndergaard was, how could he avoid something that seems inevitable for every young pitcher in 2016 Major League Baseball?
Those concerns became apparent two weeks ago when Syndergaard experienced elbow discomfort after his start against Kansas City on June 22. He visited with a doctor, and the tests on his elbow came back negative.
Five days later, he took the mound like always, and while he got through the first couple innings alright. The Mets gave him a 4-0 lead to work with it, and he coughed it up, allowing seven runs in the third, and that would be his last inning of work.
Everything seemed back to normal for Syndergaard last Sunday when he responded by going seven innings, and allowing just one run on seven hits against the Cubs.
Friday for the Mets began with the news that Harvey is having season-ending surgery, erasing any hope of him coming back to his old form as the pennant race heats up.
With Harvey out, Syndergaard – who has proven to be the Mets’ ace – was poised to carry them the rest of the way.
Fresh off being named to the All-star team on Tuesday, he entered Friday night’s battle with Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals with a 9-3 record and a 2.41 ERA.
Syndergaard retired the first four Nationals to open up the game, including strikeouts of Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper.
From then on, it was a struggle, just as it had been in Washington 11 days ago. Clint Robinson hit a two-run home run in the second, and an inning later, Daniel Murphy had an RBI double to make it 3-0.
Syndergaard settled down to cruise through the fourth, and then opened the fifth by retiring Strasburg and Ben Revere on ground outs to second.
Facing a 2-2 count with Werth, Mets manager Terry Collins and the trainer came out to check on Sydnergaard, and he didn’t even throw a warm-up pitch before calling it a night with what the Mets called “arm fatigue.”
“He just said his arm went dead,” Collins said afterwards. “He’s got tired arm, and juts wouldn’t go away. I went out only because, all of a sudden, first pitch of that one inning was 91. I looked at (pitching coach) Dan (Warthen) and said ‘what was that?’ and he said ‘slider.’ I said ‘okay,’ next pitch same thing, and I said ‘what was that?’ There was no break, he said ‘apparently, a change-up.’ Rene (Rivera) went to the mound, I said I don’t like the looks of this, so I went out there. And he just said, ‘I’ve lost it.’ So, he just says his arm’s tired, so we took him out.”
Collins stressed that Syndergaard told him that this did not have to do with the elbow issues he recently experienced.
“I’m sure they’ll do due diligence tomorrow, and take him in,” said Collins of the next steps for Syndergaard. “He said there’s no pain, he just told me, he said, ‘Terry, it doesn’t hurt, my elbow did not bother me, it just left,’ but I’m sure they’ll have him examined.”
As of this moment, I would say no, but I am not trained to make those calls,” Collins said of how long Syndergaard could be out. “He tells me, with his arm, there’s nothing wrong, it’s just tired, and he needs some rest.”
Collins did concede that this will keep Syndergaard out of the All-Star Game.
Two weeks ago, when the focus turned to Syndergaard’s health, it appeared that Harvey was his old self after a strong month of June.
Harvey took a big step back on Monday when he allowed six runs on 11 hits in just 3 2/3 innings against Miami. Initial reaction was that he just had an off day, that health was not an issue.
Harvey was placed on the disabled list on Wednesday with a shoulder issue, and on Friday morning, he decided to have surgery to correct a Thoracic Outlet Syndrome injury.
“Terry and I met with Matt today and although we all feel badly for him, we expressed our support in this decision and know he will work as hard as possible to get back on the field for the 2017 season,” Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson said in a statement.
“Well, I mean, he knows what’s best,” Collins said of Harvey. “We certainly support him. We’re disappointed that that’s what happened. You have to look down the road and look big picture – 2017, hopefully, he’ll be ready to go.”
“He’s optimistic, he’s disappointed, he didn’t make any excuses for anything,” Collins said of Harvey’s mindset. “He didn’t, which is Matt Harvey, he’s never going to say that, he just said ‘I was disappointed in the way I pitched and hope this cures me and we can get back on track.’ He was disappointed, but at the same time relieved that now we have an answer.”
There always was the hope that Harvey could get back to his top form this season, and that is now gone. In Harvey’s place is Verrett, who may not be the long-term option to stay in the rotation.
With Harvey set to undergo another major surgery, and now Syndergaard hurt, the focus turns to how the Mets have handled their young pitching staff.
“I think what we’ve done in the last two years with our young guys, a lot of organizations wouldn’t have,” Collins said of the Mets’ procedures for dealing with their young arms. “We know how the Nats, they shut (Stephen) Strasburg down and everybody tries to take care of their young guys. We watch the pitch counts, we watch the innings, we watch a lot of things.
“There’s no way you can do anything that’s going to keep them from having bone spurs. TOS (thoracic outlet syndrome), I have yet to have a doctor tell me ‘look, here’s what you need to do to to keep your pitchers from having TOS’ – never had one doctor, and I’ve been around the greatest orthopedic surgeons in the world, not once have I heard a suggestion on how to keep my pitchers from having that.
“I would have to say, no, they’re going to go pitch, and we’ll just monitor the workload, and hopefully we won’t have to go through too many more of these. But, by the way, we will, it’s just the nature of pitching.”
Collins makes it sounds inevitable that his pitchers will be perpetually dealing with injuries.
The question,inevitably, becomes how often will Mets fans see Harvey, Syndergaard, deGrom, and Matz healthy at the same time?