When Luis Rojas revealed Wednesday that Jacob deGrom and his ailing back were heading toward an MRI, yes, standard translation applied for magnetic resonance imaging.
But in baseball 2020, it also stood for major revelation imminent.
The initial read was catastrophe dodged. The imaging test did not reveal abnormalities that concern the Mets, who consider their ace day-to-day. Though in 2020, just how many days day-to-day is has never been more pertinent.
In a 60-game season — disclaimer: if there is a 60-game season — each game this year represents 2.7 in a 162-game season. So each start this year is the near equivalent of starting an entire three-game series. Thus, deGrom’s starts grow from important to imperative for the Mets. The oddsmaker William Hill has the top four teams in the NL East at 4/1 or better to win the division. Thus, any time Corey Oswalt or David Peterson or a bullpen game would be deployed if deGrom were unavailable, the margin for error to win the division slims.
“Absolutely, it is a short season,” said Luis Rojas, when asked if he is even more sensitive to injuries this year than ever before.
Rojas spoke to reporters before the deGrom results became widely known, so he added little since somehow he also said he had not talked to his most important player in the 18 hours since deGrom left the game after one inning Tuesday evening. Rojas did not offer what contingency plans would look like if deGrom could not make a start because “day-to-day” covered too many absent days of preparation.
DeGrom endured back tightness in spring training 2018, missed an exhibition start and ended up starting Game 2 of the regular season rather than the opener. In a six-month season it did not matter. DeGrom still won the first of his consecutive Cy Youngs.
But even one start now has so much greater value. Forgive some more math: DeGrom started 32 games each of his Cy Young seasons in 2018-19. Missing one of those is 3.1 percent of his outings. Missing one in a 12-start season is 8.3 percent. Plus the pitcher who replaced deGrom for the 2018 opener, Noah Syndergaard, will not pitch this year following Tommy John surgery, which only makes deGrom more indispensable.
Rojas said he did not notice anything awry with deGrom in the one inning Tuesday, mentioning that the righty hit triple-digit miles per hour with his fastball. At that moment, the Mets were having such a positive camp even without the No. 2 starter presence of Syndergaard. Yoenis Cespedes was looking as if he is ready to impact games again, and even Jed Lowrie is hinting he may play.
And no one wants to be insensitive in these moments when the country is still strangled by a pandemic, but the two teams that finished ahead of the Mets in the NL East and both made the playoffs in 2019, the Braves and champion Nationals, have been walloped by coronavirus. Both have operated spring training 2.0 without their respective best hitters, Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman and Washington’s Juan Soto (who has been missing from camp without explanation).
The Braves, who have won the division the past two years, also are without two key free-agent signees, starter Cole Hamels (triceps tendinitis) and reliever Will Smith due to coronavirus. Nick Markakis decided not to play this year and the Braves were in the midst of trying to finalize a deal with Yasiel Puig to try to make up for some of the lost Freeman/Markakis offense.
The Nationals begin their season a week from Thursday against the Yankees and Gerrit Cole. Five of the nine positional regulars who beat Cole’s Astros in the World Series last October are gone: Anthony Rendon to free agency, Ryan Zimmerman deciding not to play this year (which also covers backup catcher Welington Castillo and No. 5 starter Joe Ross) and Soto, Howie Kendrick and Victor Robles, who all have yet to attend spring training 2.0.
The Phillies, also a potential NL East contender, have not endured these kinds of losses and gained in Joe Girardi a quality manager who will maximize what is present and bring urgency to the moment. But man for man, the Phillies are not as good as the Mets. At least the Mets who have deGrom.
But when a two-week injury is 25 percent of a season, the need to stay healthy has never been greater. Who wins that battle in a shorter season immensely improves their chance to win the NL East.
So for the Mets, it appears the results of deGrom’s test were an MRI — a most rosy item.
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