JUPITER, Fla. — Even before the Mets uncovered details about the stress reaction in Jacob deGrom’s right shoulder, which will cost him his Opening Day start and most likely the first two months of the season, a somber mood hung over the clubhouse in Port St. Lucie. There was an edge to the room; everybody wanted to know what was wrong with deGrom.
When the results of deGrom’s MRI became public hours later, Mets officials alternated between expressing disappointment in the situation and confidence that they can move on successfully enough without him.
“Everybody has adversity,” general manager Billy Eppler said. “Everybody does. Every team, all the time. So you deal with these things. Would we have loved to have had Jake out there on Opening Day? Yes, absolutely. But we understand that this is what teams go through. So that’s what we’ll do. We’ll manage it and move forward.”
deGrom underwent an MRI on Friday morning, a day after he alerted Mets trainers to tightness in the back of his right shoulder. That test showed a stress reaction in his scapula, which caused inflammation in the area. deGrom will refrain from throwing for up to four weeks, after which point the club will re-evaluate his progress.
While the Mets noted in a statement that deGrom could theoretically begin throwing before the four-week period expires, Eppler clarified that he will almost certainly sit out a full month. If all goes well and a follow-up MRI comes back clean, deGrom will still likely need another month to ramp up at that point. Thus, the beginning of June is a realistic best-case scenario for his return.
“He’s disappointed,” Eppler said. “We’re disappointed. Everybody’s sharing the disappointment right now. Nobody’s immune to that.”
In the short term, Max Scherzer is the obvious candidate to fill in for deGrom on Opening Day, though neither Eppler nor manager Buck Showalter would commit to that assignment. Scherzer has been dealing with a hamstring issue, a source confirmed, but it is mild enough that he’s still scheduled to throw seven innings in an intrasquad game Saturday. So long as he emerges from that outing without issue and is willing to forego the extra day of rest he would have received before his season debut, Scherzer should be fine for Opening Day. If the Mets choose to go another direction, they could manipulate their rotation to have any of their healthy starters pitch.
As for deGrom’s rotation spot, Tylor Megill, David Peterson and Trevor Williams are the primary candidates to replace him. Of that group, Megill has impressed the most this spring, catching Showalter’s eye with his size, his stuff, and his spring results: 6 2/3 shutout innings to date.
The Mets do not, according to Eppler, intend to acquire another starter from outside the organization.
“[deGrom] is really good at what he does, and we won’t have that for a period of time, but now an opportunity presents itself for somebody to step forward,” Showalter said.
No matter whom the Mets swap in for deGrom, they understand they can never truly replace a two-time Cy Young Award winner who has produced a 1.94 ERA in 91 starts since the beginning of the 2018 season. The trouble for him has simply been staying healthy. Injuries are nothing new to deGrom, who missed the entire second half of last season due to inflammation in his right elbow and forearm, and who has endured back, elbow and shoulder scares throughout the past two years. He pitched only 27 times during those seasons.
According to Showalter, deGrom felt fine during a routine game of wrestling Thursday until his last couple of throws. He likewise looked strong over his first two Grapefruit League starts, allowing one run in five innings with 10 strikeouts. deGrom had also made some concessions in the name of staying healthy, lifting slightly heavier weights this winter and dialing back his velocity a few ticks in spring. But the revamped workout program was unable to keep deGrom on the field.
According to Dr. James Gladstone, the chief of sports medicine at Mt. Sinai Health System, nothing is more important for stress reactions than rest.
“It’s more or less an overuse injury,” Gladstone said, describing it as bruising along the bone where the muscle attaches to it. “I think a lot of times, particularly in pitchers, it may be mechanics. Something’s off, and it causes a person to throw a little differently than they have been in the past.”
Gladstone estimated that a full recovery could take up to six weeks. The Mets hope that deGrom can heal sooner, but they won’t rush things.
“We’re going to do everything we can to support him in every which way we can,” Eppler said. “Jake’s a resilient person. With time, things heal. And so this is another situation where in some time, we’ll have him healed and we’ll get him back on the hill.”
In the interim, the Mets will cope — a process that began with their messaging following deGrom’s latest diagnosis.
“The sky is not falling,” Showalter cautioned as a group of reporters left his office. “It’s just raining.”