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The Mets made a point of acquiring depth in their starting rotation during the winter, certain they’d need it over 162 games. They just didn’t want to have to rely on it right from the start of the season, but the first real bad news from spring training has made that a reality.
Carlos Carrasco tore his right hamstring while doing his post-pitching running on Thursday, and the severity of the injury, as revealed by an MRI exam, means the right-hander is likely to need 6-to-8 weeks to recover, according to someone informed about the injury.
And so while the Mets had been looking toward June as a hopeful time, tentatively scheduling Noah Syndergaard’s return from Tommy John surgery for sometime that month, it won’t be such a bonus if he makes his first start before Carrasco.
Because depth or no depth, the new guy will be missed.
Marcus Stroman made that clear when he was asked after pitching five innings in Port St. Lucie for his reaction to Carrasco’s injury.
“It’s devastating,” Stroman said. “Obviously we need him in the rotation, I think, to be elite. I know how special he is.”
Stroman went on to say the Mets are as equipped as anyone to deal with an injury like this because of their depth, but he’s right not to downplay the potential effect. Carrasco may be a bit of an under-the-radar presence as a Met, coming over as the secondary piece to Francisco Lindor in the blockbuster trade in December, but several scouts I spoke to during the off-season consider him a legitimate No. 2 starter.
Noting that he pitched to a 2.91 ERA for the Cleveland Indians last season while getting the highest swing-and-miss percentage of his career, one scout said, “He looked as good last year as at any time in his career. His stuff is rock-solid.”
Scouts also made the point that, aside from the leukemia in 2019, Carrasco has been very durable. The only other time he’d missed over the last seven years, in fact, was because of a line drive that broke a bone in his right arm late in the 2017 season.
Nevertheless, he’ll be 34 this Sunday, and pitchers tend to be more vulnerable to all types of injuries as they get well into their 30s.
They don’t recover as quickly as they did in their 20s, either. In Carrasco’s case, when he’s healthy again he’ll pretty much be starting from scratch after his start to spring training was delayed by extra medical tests due to his bout with leukemia in 2019 and then a sore elbow. That makes it more difficult to predict how long before he’s back.
“He hasn’t really started to ramp up at all yet so he’ll probably need a month once the injury is healed,” said one former pitcher with ties to the Mets. “And obviously something like this is better than an arm injury, but you have to be careful because if you’re favoring the leg and it affects your delivery it’s easy to hurt the elbow or the shoulder.
“There’s no need to rush him. That’s why you have depth. You want him healthy for the long haul. And you have a guy like Stroman who can be a No. 2 when he’s at the top of his game, and he’s looked good so far this spring.”
Yes, Stroman delivered another strong outing on Thursday, allowing one run over five innings against the Nationals, giving just two hits while racking up six strikeouts.
But even if Stroman pitches well behind Jacob deGrom at the top the rotation, more will be needed from others in the rotation, starting with Taijuan Walker. And while it was looking like a battle for the No. 5 spot between David Peterson, Joey Lucchesi, and Jordan Yamamoto, the Mets will need two of them now to open the season as starters.
Peterson seemed to loom as a favorite, based on how well he pitched as a rookie last season, but the Mets are likely to limit his innings in 2021, which is one reason he could start the season in the minors.
To this point both Lucchesi and Yamamoto have pitched well enough for the Mets to consider that route with Peterson, making sure that he’s fresh for the second half of the season and beyond.
Yamamoto, the 24-year old righthander acquired in a trade with the Marlins, has pitched 8 1/3 innings and allowed only one run, showing some promise as a potential back-end starter.
And Lucchesi, the 27-year old lefty acquired in a trade from the Padres, hasn’t allowed a hit or a run in five innings of work, his only blemish being three walks to go against seven strikeouts. He’s got a funky delivery and a pitch he calls a “churve,” a combination of a curve ball and change-up that he throws at about 78 mph that he needs to go with a very average fastball.
“The Mets needed to bring in a couple of guys like that because they don’t have much prospect depth at the top of their system,” one scout said.
Getting Carrasco, however, was the move that gave the Mets’ chance of having one of the top rotations in the National League.
With his injury, however, it suddenly seemed to matter a little more that Syndergaard was throwing 96 mph during a bullpen session on Thursday, as Luis Rojas happily reported hours before the Carrasco news.
Not that any of this changes the Syndergaard timetable. Because the Mets put him on the 60-day Injured List, he can’t return before June under any circumstances, and that was the smart thing to do, rather than be tempted to rush him.
Nevertheless, with Carrasco now looking at an extended absence as well, the wait for June just might feel a lot longer.