By Matt Straub
“I’m not that concerned. If there was something in there, it would’ve been discovered this past winter.”
Mets manager Terry Collins spoke these words yesterday to the Bergen Record regarding Zack Wheeler’s precious right elbow. Wheeler had struggled through the winter throwing program, which required two tests on his arm before spring training even began. They were both clean, which is why the Mets weren’t concerned late last week when Wheeler complained about what the Mets deemed “elbow tendinitis”.
Their lack of concern led to quotes such as the one above, which now seem comical with the news that Wheeler has a torn UCL and, pending a second opinion, will be facing Tommy John surgery and is likely to miss all of this season and perhaps part of next. None, however, define the mess the Mets have been over the last few years better than the one Collins gave to ESPN New York Saturday, when the team decided to get some tests done.
“No. 1, there are a lot of games he pitched with his elbow bothering him,” Collins said. “So we know it’s been there. We know he’s had this issue before.”
That’s right, the Mets, who had just gone through losing their franchise pitcher, Matt Harvey, to Tommy John surgery, knew another 24-year old stud pitcher had arm issues, but kept throwing him out there. This isn’t conjecture, the manager said it out loud.
I’ve long been in the minority in the pitch count debate. I believe part of the reason there are so many injuries now is that we baby pitchers at young age (except for the disaster which is showcase baseball that encourages kids to throw until their arms fall off) and don’t let them develop any toughness. But the Mets let one of their prized young pitchers start 32 games last year and throw 185 innings with what they knew to be elbow trouble. Then, when the problems arose again this spring after being there all winter, the Mets were still going to let it go, choosing only to push his next spring start back, before changing their mind.
When your franchise is built around a potentially great young pitching staff, you need to take care of your pitchers. I don’t like lots of innings limits and such, but perhaps the Mets would have been better served to not let Wheeler pitch hurt in a lost season at 24 years old with a motion which requires a lot of stress on his arm.
For all the optimism around the Mets, the franchise has rarely done a good job of nurturing the young players which provide it. Remember Generation K? This is another example of a franchise which can’t seem to get out of its own way. I can’t say if the Mets’ treatment of Wheeler led to his injury, but they certainly didn’t do anything to help him last year.
Josh Edgin’s own Tommy John surgery will cost the Mets a strong reliever this year and leave a big hole in the bullpen. The Mets, however, have an answer in the starting rotation. Dillon Gee was set to move into a relief role, but now and be put back in the starting rotation.
Wheeler pitched pretty well last year, but was still pegged for the middle or back end of the rotation this year, making his loss easier to take than what the Mets went through with Matt Harvey. Wheeler getting the surgery now will allow him to come back earlier next year as well, making 2016 look brighter already. So in the end, the Mets are probably going to get away with bungling the care of one of their young pitchers, but they don’t deserve to.