Senga on Shelf: Mets Need to Pivot

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Is this a hex or another instance of bad luck for the New York Mets? Regardless, this is a recurring trend for the franchise with an ace to their pitching rotation going down with an injury before the first pitch is thrown in 2024. Kodai Senga is on the injured list with a moderate capsule strain in the back of his right shoulder.

Sound familiar? Last year Justin Verlander and also recurring injuries to Max Scherzer, now long gone and with contracts the Mets are paying in part to the Astros and Rangers. And can one forget the constant arm and shoulder setbacks to Jacob DeGrom, another ace that missed Opening Day in 2022. And remember the hamstring mystery of Carlos Carrasco. The Mets are accustomed to this much too often and always seem to have a contingency plan but this time the pivot has everyone guessing and asking questions.

This injury came out of nowhere. Senga was part of a revamped Mets starting rotation, he of course coming off a rookie season (12-7, 2.91 ERA, in 21 starts) where he was among the finalists for NL Rookie of the Year. There was every expectation that Senga would anchor a rotation with right-handers Luis Severino and Adrian Houser, acquired during this low spending off season along with left-hander Sean Manaea.

Recall last year first time Met left-hander Jose Quintana had a setback with a fracture to his left rib and his first start came after the All-Star break. A hex or not, regardless the Mets now have to pivot because Senga will be sidelined for a good amount of time with rest, treatment, and an injection.

What I can say at this point comfortably is that we don’t expect Opening Day, but I do expect him to make a bunch of starts this year,” said president of baseball operations David Stearns in the dugout Thursday morning at the Mets spring training complex in Port St. Lucie Florida.

He added, “He did the right thing. He told us. We were able to get it looked at, get him treatment, and hopefully we caught it early enough that this is just a speedbump.”

Stearns reiterated in his terms about a pivot, meaning the Mets do have some pitching depth to alleviate this loss. But he said at this point there would be no pivot to obtain a pitcher outside of the organization. And with free agents Jordan Montgomery and NL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell, remaining on the table that pivot to spend is not optimistic.

Not what Mets fans want to hear, then again this has been the plan of owner Steve Cohen and Stearns this offseason. The plan all along was to be competitive in 2024, build within the organizational structure of youngsters, and spend next year when an influx of coveted free agent names will be on the table.

Senga, 31, signed a five-year $75 million contract in December of 2022. He came from Japan with those accolades of throwing strikes and quickly adapted to pitching off that once a week start. He fooled hitters and questions about adapting to a Major League Baseball lineup were quickly answered. He has a following and became a popular mainstay with Mets fans at Citi Field with a “K” sign displayed in the lower outfield stands after every strikeout.

Yes, this is frustrating. The season opener in 37 days and Stearns is confronting his first bout of adversity. Senga alerted Mets coaches and medical staff about discomfort to the shoulder after a throwing session Wednesday, different from the Jacob deGrom escapades of avoiding the injured list with a persistence to remain in the rotation and not miss a start.

It is regrettable that I’m not about to be a part at the beginning of the season,” Senga said about the rotation.”But I just have to be positive and look forward to being back out there with the team.”

But in situations like this there is no timeline. Senga will have to heal and begin throwing again if and when there is clearance to do so. The Mets with a new regime will be cautious as to not making similar mistakes that hindered them with previous injuries that setback deGrom and others.

This is a setback, and the Mets will have that alternative to pivot and replace his absence in the rotation, whether it be a month or two. Whether it be more than two months. Again, as of now there is no timeline and this will be closely watched.

So what about that pivot to replace Senga? Based on a low spending spree and from Stearns’ comments, I don’t envision Montgomery or Snell. The Mets have options with their pitching depth, though not in that category of a Montgomery or Snell, both expected to find a landing spot soon. This has to be accepted like it or not.

Though, the Mets without their new ace can survive if this is not a long term injury stint. The pivot to fill this void are many, then again a frontline starter they are not. Take your pick as Stearns and the Mets will begin to make this pivot.

  • Tylor Megill (Experience with a strong showing in September)

  • Joey Lucchesi (Consistency an issue)

  • Jose Butto (Lack of Innings in 2022)

Or go with the Stearns’ philosophy of youngsters from the pool of rookies Max Kranick, Christian Scott, Dominic Hamel, but scouts say they are not Major League ready. The Mets were prepared at some point this year to bring up highly touted prospect Mike Vasil, their 8th round 2001 draft pick.

It’s a pivot Stearns has to deal with. Also a pivot that Mets fans have to accept because of that never ending injury hex to a starter or ace of their rotation.

Rich Mancuso: X (Formerly Twitter) @Ring786 Mancuso

About the Author

Rich Mancuso

Rich Mancuso is a regular contributor at NY Sports Day, covering countless New York Mets, Yankees, and MLB teams along with some of the greatest boxing matches over the years. He is an award winning sports journalist and previously worked for The Associated Press, New York Daily News, Gannett, and, in a career that spans almost 40 years.

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