DeGrom and Lindor Ailing, the Top Mets in Trouble

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A big hit by Michael Conforto on Sunday saved the Mets from a disastrous weekend in Pittsburgh. An outfielder who has just had his worst season of his career, Conforto blasted two runs and a homer in the ninth inning to lift the Mets 7-6 past the Pirates.

That was nice, sure, but it was like a cheap break-up gift at the end of the gloomiest party of the year. Before Sunday’s victory, there were four losses – two games and two superstars – that instilled a sudden sense of foreboding into a fun season.

The Mets took three hits on Friday and lost. Ahead of Saturday’s game, short-back Francisco Lindor hit the injury list with a Grade 2 right oblique strain that would keep him out for weeks. That night Edwin Diaz gave up a grand slam that finished in ninth place with two exits.

All that was bad enough – and then news came Sunday morning that the tightness in Jacob deGrom’s right forearm, the throwing arm, would send him to the casualties list. The Mets played little on Sunday and announced after the game that Jerad Eickhoff will start in Cincinnati on Monday. They still haven’t identified a starting player for Tuesday’s match.

“We’re going to keep waiting for the win,” said Conforto, who returned Homer from a six-run deficit on the first inning. “It’s just the culture we’ve built. Obviously there are some challenges we have to face, but up to this point, we seem to have gotten out of this ordeal. It will only bring us closer together.”

At 48-42, the Mets are leading the Eastern National League in two games against the Philadelphia Phillies (47-45), who won 10 of their 14 games in July. The Phillies aren’t a tough force, but it’s safe to say they’re in hiding just because they’re the healthiest team in the division.

Lindor was reaching just .228 with 11 home runs, but his track record suggested an upcoming second-half surge that is currently pending. Conforto said Lindor contributed even if he didn’t hit well.

“He’s just a natural leader,” Conforto said. “Regardless of how he plays, he’s an asset, so I hope he stays with us until we get to rehab.”

Then there’s deGrom, who had a great season with minor injuries. Here is the updated installment:

  • Inflammation of right latissimus dorsi, May 4 (missed onset)

  • Right side tightness, May 9 (left early exit, disabled list)

  • Right elbow flexor tendinitis, 11 June (left early onset)

  • Shoulder pain, June 16 (start early left)

  • Impingement of right forearm, 18 July (included on casualty list)

DeGrom said previous arm injuries were caused by the impact, but this was not. He said he didn’t feel fresh during his bullfighting session last Sunday, and he felt irritated in Pittsburgh on Friday.

“We took images of the elbow and forearm, and down the forearm,” DeGrom said. “So when I go to free-range baseball, I have a hard time keeping up and throwing the ball like I should. The other day, I literally felt like throwing a baseball, and then I never felt better. It continued to stay tight even when I was on top of a mound.”

He added: “I think the positive thing is that, structurally, my elbow looks good. But the frustrating part is: What is it? What did I do to cause it?”

When the hardest pitcher in baseball feels pain when hitting the ball, that is clearly cause for alarm. DeGrom was very strong at the start of 15. His 146 goals in just 92 innings are second only to Philadelphia’s Zack Wheeler with 152 in 19 in the National League. DeGrom leads majors in earned run average of 1.08. It allows for 3.9 hits and 1.1 walks in nine innings, both of which are major league lows.

Double them all and you have one of the greatest seasons in major league history. But endurance does not accompany this kind of dominance. The DeGrom is a starter that takes a closer shot with a fast ball. an average of 99.2 miles per hour. No other starter even has an average speed of 98 mph

In 2015, when he helped the Mets reach the World Series, deGrom averaged 95.7 mph with his fastball. He’s 33 now and maybe his body just can’t handle all that heat. Manager Luis Rojas said the Mets’ training staff were extremely aware of the physical harm.

“They know his routine by the book, so they have a really good sense of where Jake is,” said Rojas. “I mean, we all know this is a different Jake from five years, six years ago, right? Jake is beating harder and he’s older. Maybe he’s going to start feeling different.

“These guys are still working on everything they’ve been dealing with this year and it has nothing to do with it. So the main focus right now is isolating it because it has nothing to do with anything that happened earlier in the season, even though there are five different things. These guys are watching Jake. They’re just going to pay attention because they know the power he creates when he’s on the field.”

That power and the dominance it produces are enough to keep the Mets hopeful they can make a deep October run. But they have to get there first, and then deGrom has to be the best version of himself – and it looks like peak deGrom may be unsustainable.

“My level of frustration is very high right now,” he said, and every Mets fan nodded in sad agreement.

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