The topic of injuries in Flushing can be a sensitive one. From 2010 to 2017, the Mets ranked sixth in the majors in games missed because of injury. A rash of ailments during the disappointing 2017 season led to an overhaul of the team’s medical procedures and personnel.
But several notable injuries throughout the organization have been contributing factors to a ragged 10-18 May, during which the Mets were one of the worst teams in baseball and could rarely align solid pitching with solid hitting and solid defense.
A third of the way through this season, the Mets are 27-27 after a 5-1 loss to the Chicago Cubs on Thursday, when Seth Lugo fired four scoreless innings in his first start of the season only to see the bullpen falter.
“I’ll bet you nobody remembers that we’re 8-8 in the last 16 games, which, given everything that’s happened, is almost as incredible as the 11-1 start considering what we’ve lost, how we’ve lost, and the players we don’t have,” Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson said as part of a four-minute soliloquy during a news conference before Thursday’s game.
As of Thursday, the Mets’ disabled list included, among others, starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard (right index finger ligament strain), infielders Wilmer Flores (back) and Todd Frazier (hamstring), outfielders Yoenis Cespedes (hip flexor) and Juan Lagares (toe), relief pitchers Anthony Swarzak (oblique) and A.J. Ramos (shoulder).
According to statistics complied by ManGamesLost.com, the Mets ranked fifth in the majors with 384 games missed because of injury through May 24. Since then, Flores, Ramos and Syndergaard landed on the disabled list, and catcher Kevin Plawecki and relief pitcher Hansel Robles returned from it.
“Obviously not happy with the injury record,” Alderson said. “But at the same time, for the most part, the non-soft tissue injuries are the kind that unfortunately occur from time to time. What we really are focusing on is not only prevention but managing the rehabilitation to getting these players back.”
In fact, Alderson said the Mets were “a little too” cautious with injuries, in part, because of the desire to avoid a setback or recurrence, and any subsequent public criticism. He argued that some players could be pushed to return a little sooner from the multistep rehabilitation process that is standard across the sport. Not all anatomies or treatments are the same.
He pointed to second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera, 32, quite possibly the team’s most consistent hitter this season, who has successfully played through an occasionally balky knee.
“Will we lose him at some point? Maybe,” Alderson said. “Right now, we want to keep putting a winning team on the field.”
Alderson said he was “a little surprised” that Cespedes’s recovery from his right hip flexor strain had taken this long, but explained that it was a “somewhat chronic” injury. Cespedes has been out since May 14.
Cespedes, 32, has a history of leg injuries throughout his career. He changed his off-season training program to incorporate more running and stretching to hopefully avoid injuries. He has been running and taking batting practice, but is not ready to play in minor league rehabilitation games, as Swarzak and Frazier are doing now. Those two could rejoin the Mets next week.
“Some people are more susceptible to injury than others,” Alderson said.
He then seemed to hint at some buyer’s remorse regarding Cespedes, who is in the second year of his four-year, $110 million contract extension.
“And maybe you could say, ‘Gee, susceptible to injury, should that have entered into some decision in the past?’” Alderson said. “And the answer to that would be ‘yes’ in all probability.”
Alderson said he was pleased with the team’s new medical and training staff. He said the injuries sustained by starting pitcher Steven Matz (a mild strain of the left middle finger), Syndergaard and Lagares were either not preventable or simply the result of the impact of playing the sport. He said the injuries the Mets wanted to prevent were the soft tissue ones sustained by Swarzak, Cespedes and Frazier, who is on the disabled list for the first time in his career.
Alderson said he weighed the varying possible courses provided by doctors for Syndergaard and decided to place him on the disabled list instead of allowing him to pitch on Wednesday.
“I definitely could have,” Syndergaard said. “But when I voiced what was going on, the training staff did a great job of making sure to take all the precautionary measures to make sure something catastrophic didn’t happen.”
Last season, Syndergaard refused a magnetic resonance imaging examination on his sore right biceps, tore his right latissimus in his next start and missed the next four and a half months. Some of the Mets’ medical procedures changed after that.
Earlier in May, the Mets opted for caution with their best pitcher, Jacob deGrom, and his hyperextended elbow. He returned in 10 days and has pitched excellently.
Matz may return soon. He did not land on the disabled list after mildly straining the middle finger on his throwing hand during his start on Tuesday. But after consulting with the team’s hand specialist, Matz felt well enough to play catch on Thursday afternoon. He hoped to make his next start, but that decision may come later this weekend.
“I’m real happy with the way it improved the past two days,” he said.