Matt Harvey's Uncertain Future Is Blow Mets Are Well-Armed to Weather

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistJuly 7, 2016

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 04: Pitcher Matt Harvey #33 of the New York Mets walks off the field against the Miami Marlins after the second inning during a game at Citi Field on July 4, 2016 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The New York Mets' Matt Harvey landed on the disabled list Wednesday with shoulder discomfort, and there's simply no positive way to spin that.

We're talking about one of the game's top pitchers when he's right. And we're talking about a Mets team that's fighting to stay in the National League playoff money one season after advancing to the World Series.

There is a glass-half-full take here, however, if you dig deep enough.

First, the news on Harvey: The right-hander is headed to the 15-day DL with the "suspicion" he may have thoracic outlet syndrome, per Newsday's David Lennon. In case you don't have your "Obscure Upper Body Injury of the Month" calendar handy, that's a shoulder ailment that can lead to season-ending surgery, as it did for the Minnesota Twins' Phil Hughes in June. 

We're getting ahead of ourselves, of course. Harvey doesn't even have an official diagnosis yet, let alone a prognosis. But these are ominous signs for the guy who came back strong from Tommy John surgery in 2015, posting a 2.71 ERA and blowing past his doctor-recommended 180-inning limit with 216 frames between the regular season and playoffs.

It's also foreboding for the Mets, who were counting on their young, stud-stuffed rotation to carry them once again.

Even if Harvey is out for an extended period, however, this isn't a death knell for New York.

Harvey will see a specialist on Thursday to help diagnose his shoulder issue.
Harvey will see a specialist on Thursday to help diagnose his shoulder issue.Rich Schultz/Getty Images

They've got newly minted All-Star Noah Syndergaard, an ace by any measure with his triple-digit heat, 2.41 ERA and 123 strikeouts in 101 innings.

Jacob deGrom (2.61 ERA with 91 strikeouts in 93 innings) and rookie left-hander Steven Matz (3.34 ERA and 85 strikeouts in 89 innings) round out a stellar top three.

Then there's ageless wonder Bartolo Colon, whose 7-4 record, 2.87 ERA and Twitter-busting homer belie the 43 years he's spent as an inhabitant of planet Earth.

Logan Verrett, who sports a 4.01 ERA and has walked 22 in 49.1 innings, is expected to take Harvey's turn Saturday against the division-leading Washington Nationals, per CBSSports.com

Long term, however, the Mets are counting on the return of right-hander Zack Wheeler, who hit a bump in his recovery from Tommy John surgery but resumed throwing without issue on June 27, per ESPN.com's Adam Rubin

A first-round San Francisco Giants pick in 2009, the 26-year-old Wheeler boasts 271 strikeouts in 285.1 innings with the Mets between 2013 and 2014.

Injury comebacks are never guaranteed, but there's reason to believe Wheeler can provide New York with another top-shelf arm just as the race for October is heating up.

Right-hander Zack Wheeler could return to the rotation soon after undergoing Tommy John surgery in March 2015.
Right-hander Zack Wheeler could return to the rotation soon after undergoing Tommy John surgery in March 2015.Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

At the very least, he should be able to outperform Harvey, who wasn't exactly setting the league ablaze.

With a 4-10 record and 4.86 ERA through 17 starts, Harvey looked more like a fifth starter clinging to his job than the Cy Young-contending Dark Knight Gotham was expecting. Even if you allow for a little bad luckas his 3.49 FIP suggestsno one who watched Harvey pitch this season would claim he was anything close to a No. 1.

"It's mostly a mechanical thing," Harvey said on June 23, per Rubin. "Obviously it's been a struggle mechanically pretty much all year."

Maybe the shoulder issue, whatever it turns out to be, explains some of that. Maybe it also explains the velocity dip that saw Harvey's average fastball fall from 95.2 mph in 2015 to 94.4 mph.

This DL stint is frown-inducing no matter what, as Matt Vaccaro of the New York Post outlined:

Despite their recent offensive surge, these Mets were built on the backs of their starting pitchers. That always included Harvey as an anchor, and even when he struggled, it included the belief that once Harvey shook off his malaise, he would return to the form he once knew, would be what the team expected he should be.

Remember, though he may have been supplanted by Noah Syndergaard now, Harvey began this season as the team's ace. You don’t just shake off losing your ace, even if he's been resoundingly vulnerable to date, even as the team has had to adapt around his struggles. 

Fair enough. Honestly, though, the Mets' bigger concern remains the offense, which has indeed shown flashes lately but still ranks in the bottom third of MLB in runs, batting average and OPS. If the Mets add anything at the trade deadline, it should be a bat.

New York obviously hopes the Harvey news is less than dire and he returns to action approximating his old self.

But even in a worst-case scenario, there's hope, thanks to the Syndergaard/deGrom/Matz trifecta, the potential of a Wheeler return and a dash of Colon.

The Nats are formidable, and the path to an NL wild-card slot is crowded, with the Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and even the pesky Miami Marlins all in the hunt.

And yet, while there's no positive way to spin an injury to a franchise pitcher, there's also no reason to panic in Queens—at least not yet.

All statistics current as of July 6 and courtesy of MLB.com and FanGraphs.

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