PHILADELPHIA — Jacob deGrom, the Mets’ best pitcher, returned on Sunday from a short stint on the 10-day disabled list for a hyperextended throwing elbow. He didn’t make it to the second inning.
DeGrom almost pitched last Monday, before the Mets, who overhauled their medical practices in the off-season after another injury-plagued season, decided to be more cautious. That attitude guided the Mets (19-18) again on Sunday, when they pulled deGrom after just one laborious inning of a 4-2 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies.
“I was kind of surprised, honestly,” deGrom said. “I definitely would’ve liked to go back out there. The reasoning, I understand, but who wants to pitch one inning as a starter?”
While the Mets have been cautious with deGrom, they have allowed their most powerful hitter, left fielder Yoenis Cespedes, to play through right quadriceps discomfort. In the sixth inning, he smashed a solo home run, but he moved gingerly after beating out an infield hit and after catching a ball in the outfield.
In the end, the Mets lost because of a seventh-inning, three-run home run by pinch-hitter Nick Williams, a left-handed hitter, off Paul Sewald, a right-handed relief pitcher in his second inning of work. The Mets had Jerry Blevins, a left-hander, warming up the bullpen, and he ultimately did not appear in the game. It was the Mets’ ninth loss in 11 games.
“We had to get Blevins going in case we were in dire need and Paul looked like he was struggling,” Mets Manager Mickey Callaway said. “I didn’t feel like that was the case.”
Rain delayed Sunday’s game an hour. A combination of deGrom’s uneven command and the pesky Phillies hitters pushed his first-inning pitch count to 45. He walked the first three batters to load the bases, and the Phillies fouled off 20 pitches.
DeGrom did not allow a hit or run, and escaped with two strikeouts and a putout at home plate. After that, Callaway turned the game over to the bullpen, which will have four days off in eight days.
Normally, the Mets announce what injury led to a player’s early exit during a game. Perhaps fearing the potential reaction over the uncertainty, the Mets announced that deGrom was not removed because of an injury but rather as a precaution, citing the high pitch count. Later, Callaway pointed to the recent disabled list stint.
“We didn’t feel good sending him back out,” Callaway said. “We can’t do that to anybody. That’s a lot of pitches for one inning.”
There was undoubtedly going to be some rust for deGrom, who last pitched in a game on May 2, when he hyperextended his right elbow when he struck out at the plate.
Examinations on deGrom’s elbow, which has previously undergone two surgeries, showed no new damage, and he was cleared to make his next start. But the Mets switched gears last weekend because they deemed it not worth the risk and wanted their best pitcher to throw a long bullpen session. Command, and not health, was his undoing on Sunday.
DeGrom said he would have liked to hone his command in a second inning, but admitted throwing 45 pitches in one inning “might be harder” than 100 in an entire start.
After dealing with many injuries over the previous three seasons, the Mets beefed up their medical operation. Injuries are unavoidable in a 162-game season, and the Mets have had several already: third baseman Todd Frazier (hamstring strain); relief pitchers Anthony Swarzak (oblique strain) and Hansel Robles (knee sprain); and catchers Travis d’Arnaud (Tommy John surgery) and Kevin Plawecki (fractured hand).
The Mets said they have been proactive in some cases: with deGrom and with Frazier, who went on the disabled list soon after minor hamstring discomfort worsened last week. But Cespedes, who has a history of leg injuries, has started all but one game since his quadriceps discomfort first emerged on May 6.
Callaway said over the weekend that Cespedes has wanted to play and estimated that he was playing at “probably 85 percent” health. He said players play through minor aches and pains often, but he said the Mets believed it was necessary to have Cespedes’s potent bat in a sputtering lineup.
John Ricco, the Mets’ assistant general manager, said the team discussed the issue with the medical staff and Cespedes, and did not believe he warranted a trip to the disabled list.
“We’re not throwing caution to the wind here,” Ricco said. “We’re examining that and talking through it. We feel that we have confidence in that performance staff and we’re going to make rational decisions. Are we going to be right 100 percent of the time? No. But we have to make decisions based on the information we have.”