Matt Harvey's once-promising career takes a detour, along with the Mets' season

MLB columnist
<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/players/9245/" data-ylk="slk:Matt Harvey">Matt Harvey</a> will have surgery to relieve symptoms of thoracic outlet syndrome. (AP)
Matt Harvey will have surgery to relieve symptoms of thoracic outlet syndrome. (AP)

The next time Matt Harvey is on a pitcher’s mound in a real game he’ll be 28 years old, which is young unless you’re Matt Harvey and your elbow has given out once, and you’re down a rib, and you’re sitting on 29 career wins, and you’re still 2½ years from free agency, and it wasn’t supposed to go like this at all.

Somebody asked a hypothetical question recently about the New York Mets and whether the five starters that would carry them for a decade at least – Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler – would ever occupy the same rotation in a meaningful way. This was about the time Harvey looked merely fallible and not broken, and Syndergaard and Matz were revealed to be operating with less-than-perfect elbows, and Wheeler was in his 21st month without throwing a big-league pitch, but deGrom’s elbow was holding up five years after ligament replacement surgery.

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And that’s probably the answer.

If you want to make Frank Jobe laugh, tell him your plans.

Harvey, about 300 innings post Tommy John surgery, has chosen to undergo surgery to relieve symptoms of thoracic outlet syndrome, an ailment that can bring pain and/or numbness in the shoulder, neck and arm. Harvey, who has not been consistently effective in 2016, told the Mets on Monday that his shoulder felt “dead” and that his fingers were so numb he could barely feel the baseball. The surgery would remove an upper rib and ease pressure on nerves in that area. He’ll miss the remainder of the season.

Phil Hughes, the Minnesota Twins pitcher, is recovering from the same surgery. Josh Beckett had the surgery, as did Chris Carpenter and Chris Young and Jaime Garcia. There are others. Some returned to their previous form, some did not, and now Harvey and the Mets (and the 2017 season) wait to learn where Harvey will fall.

This is about the place where a demanding game meets a fragile pile of anatomical parts, and where a long season meets a thinned roster, and where a thinned roster meets the trade deadline.

Wheeler is not expected to return for at least another month. Logan Verrett, a clever right-hander whose ERA in nine career starts is 4.50, is the immediate fill-in. It could work. But Sandy Alderson probably doesn’t want to find out it didn’t work after the likes of Rich Hill, Sonny Gray, Julio Teheran, Hector Santiago and Jake Odorizzi are traded, if they are traded. The Mets aren’t deep, and it’s been maybe a week since the four-alarm fires were Syndergaard’s and Matz’s elbows, so they’d be wise to acquire a reliable arm or two, a decent plan even before Harvey booked his surgery.

Noah Syndergaard has had elbow discomfort this season. (AP)
Noah Syndergaard has had elbow discomfort this season. (AP)

So these are the Mets now, at least nine months from learning if Harvey, Syndergaard, deGrom, Matz and Wheeler could stand end to end for a week or a month or a season, with three months ahead to catch and hold off the Washington Nationals, with the Miami Marlins not far behind, down a starting pitcher and with a maddening habit of not hitting for weeks at a time.

The bright side, all the other teams have issues and they all think they have it harder than the Mets do. Like the old saying goes, “Half the people don’t care about your problems and the other half are glad you got ’em.”

Regardless, the Mets’ season just changed, and so did Matt Harvey’s career path, and it wasn’t supposed to go like this.

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