Mets need to be sure Jacob deGrom is OK

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There are the reindeer games of trying to determine whether a pitcher is crossing the sticky-stuff line, and then there’s the serious business of Major League Baseball keeping its biggest stars on the field. Unfortunately for the Mets, their biggest star, Jacob deGrom, quickly jumped levels Friday night at Citi Field.

The biggest crowd here since 2019 rocked along with the industry’s best pitcher for six dominant innings against the excellent Padres while the geeks in the press box (including me) checked whether deGrom’s spin rates were in line with his season averages (they were). Then, deGrom departed after only six innings and 80 pitches, and by the time Edwin Diaz had closed out the Mets’ 3-2 victory over the impressive Padres, team officials had announced that deGrom left because of right flexor tendinitis.

In a Mets-ian twist, deGrom declared after the game that he was “not too concerned about it” and planned to make his next start, and his manager Luis Rojas backed him, saying, “I’m trusting my pitcher” and added, “The expectation is he’ll make his next start.” The skipper wouldn’t even commit to subjecting deGrom’s pitching elbow to an MRI exam.

OK. If I were a Mets fan — or a Mets executive, more to the point — I wouldn’t put my feet up and set the panic meter at DEFCON 5 (that’s the least panic, if you haven’t seen “WarGames”) quite yet. As dominant as deGrom appeared Friday, facing the minimum 18 batters as he allowed only a shift-beating, fifth-inning single by Wil Myers (who then got caught stealing), walking none and striking out 10, we’re talking about a guy who has required breaks of 10 days (between April 28 and May 9) and then 15 days (between May 9 and May 24) due to “right side tightness.” In his four starts since his return from the injured list, he hasn’t thrown more than 85 pitches, which he tossed in his June 5 victory over the Padres as he clocked seven shutout innings.

Jacob deGrom
Jacob deGrom
Corey Sipkin

The Mets can accept that relatively low output per work shift as long as deGrom doesn’t further imperil himself with each outing. And look, we’re in some uncharted territory here. I sure as heck can’t recall a club announcing that a pitcher has flexor tendinitis and following that up immediately with “I’m not concerned,” as Rojas did.

No matter how deGrom’s arm woes play out, the night served as a sobering reminder of what really mattered for the industry’s well-being. Sticky-stuff disputes represent intramural battles between pitchers and hitters and bring a cloak-and-dagger vibe to the festivities. It was fun to speculate how the Yankees’ Gerrit Cole would respond to Josh Donaldson’s public musing about his spin rate dropping, and Cole staring down Donaldson after a strikeout Wednesday night made for great theater. In the coming weeks, as Major League Baseball intensifies its scrutiny of these miscreants, we must remind ourselves this is entertainment, nothing more. Go ahead and discipline those breaking the rules. Just do it with a smirk.

The game truly suffers, though, when the great ones can’t post. And deGrom, his ERA now an insane 0.56 — exactly half of the legendary 1.12 posted by the legendary Bob Gibson in The Year of the Pitcher 1968 — must post not only to give these Mets their best chance at greatness, but also to enhance interest from all corners.

The Citi Field crowd of 26,637 had a blast, regaling deGrom with “MVP” chants after each of his two strikeouts of Padres superstar Fernando Tatis Jr., roaring when Mets Arbitrage All-Star Billy McKinney drove home Kevin Pillar for the game’s first run with a fifth-inning double, then getting even louder when deGrom singled home a pair of runs. For those of us who sat in empty ballparks last year, those regales and roars are just what the doctor ordered.

Perhaps the Mets’ doctor should order some more thorough examinations of deGrom’s elbow, just to assure the masses that their ace can go forth without worrying everyone with every start. This Mets season and this baseball season face enough worry already.

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