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Mudville: April 15, 2024 11:46 pm PDT

Chasing Velocity

Give the Mets credit. They always find a way to make life interesting. No matter who is the owner. No matter who is the manager.

Their fans get to see the dark side of the moon.

Both Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer, five Cy Young Awards between them, have both been hit with injuries five days before Opening Day.

That’s $78.8 million on the Mets shelf at the moment.

DeGrom’s injury is much more serious than Scherzer’s. Mad Max has what he calls a “hiccup’’ of hamstring tightness and that figures to knock him out of the Opening Day start April 7 in Washington.

DeGrom is down for at least two months with a stress reaction on his right scapula. He won’t throw for a month, giving the injury time to heal, and will be reevaluated at that time. If all goes well, certainly, it will take a month to gear up, so in the best of circumstances, deGrom will not be ready to pitch in a major league game until June.

Scherzer said he thought he was fully prepared to be ready for Opening Day until the hiccup hamstring, noting he had worked hard during the lockout even mentioning “really lifting with my legs heavy.’’

That’s all well and good but my followers know that AMBS is not a big proponent of lifting heavy in any shape or form for pitchers. But hamstrings happen, I get it, so Scherzer should be fine once he returns to throwing after the hamstring bounces back.

“It happens every spring and summer, but this trade may be over ripened for the fall..”

The bigger issue here is that the shortened spring training is proving to be dangerous for players, especially pitchers throughout baseball and the season hasn’t even started. And with so much emphasis on velocity combined with the shortened spring, this is a recipe for disaster.

There is a reason spring training is six weeks long usually, but Rob Manfred made sure to screw it all up this year with his lockout of the players, leaving them to their own training devices.

What Mets fans really need to be worried about is deGrom, who hasn’t pitched in a major league game since July 7. It’s interesting to note that deGrom and Chris Sale once matched up in a classic college confrontation when deGrom was at Stetson and Sale was at Florida Gulf Coast University. Sale has been battling a slew of injuries and is out with a stress fracture of a rib.

Two aces, two stress fractures in the same spring.

Years ago you rarely heard of such injuries, but years ago pitchers were not chasing velocity as hard as they are now. DeGrom raised his fastball velocity over each of the last five straight seasons and most people were going ga-ga over his 100 mph heater last June. Too much of a good thing if you ask me.

July came and deGrom was soon shut down.

Sale, deGrom and Scherzer are the greatest of competitors. They need to be watched carefully because of how hard they compete. DeGrom will turn 34 in June. Scherzer will turn 38 in July.

Every time deGrom gets injured you will hear that it is a “new’’ injury. He went through a right lat injury last season, a low grade tear in the UCL and, forearm and elbow inflammation and shoulder discomfort, and now this a stress reaction on the scapula. A lot of “new’’ injuries.

Longtime fitness and performance coach Sal Marinello, who is based in New Jersey, has had numerous conversations with me through the years that these injuries are usually connected and that is currently what is going on with deGrom. I also want to point out there was no need for deGrom to chase velocity, he had plenty to begin with and don’t forget deGrom underwent Tommy John surgery way back in 2010.

Pinpoint control is a blessing at just about any speed. That is more than enough to succeed.

DeGrom, like Scherzer, is extremely smart when it comes to pitching. He is a huge believer in long toss and is a tremendous athlete. When he does return I have no doubt he will come back even a smarter pitcher and will make the adjustments needed to stay on the mound.

Max Scherzer #21 of the New York Mets looks on in the dugout after pitching against the Miami Marlins in the Spring Training game at Roger Dean Stadium on March 21, 2022 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

I believe he will not chase velocity as much as he had in his recent 100 mph past. That was a mistake. He needs to make the subtle adjustment to even better command at the expense of velocity. It’s time, Jake. Cut back on speed and stress in your elbow, and shoulder, front and back. That is truly the next hurdle for Jacob deGrom. He needs to turn it down a notch, not ramp it up and he will be able to stay on the field and still be able to dominate hitters.

The injuries are all too frequent now.

“The scapula and rotator cuff are the structures that make up the shoulder joint and are responsible for producing the complex range of movements needed to throw,’’ Marinello said, speaking in generalities and not specific to deGrom’s injury. Marinello holds certifications from the conditioning profession’s most prestigious certifying organizations, the National Strength and Conditioning Association, and USA Weightlifting. He is an NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and Certified Personal Trainer, and a USA Weightlifting Certified Club Coach. He has been a Strength/Performance Coach at the high school level and all three levels of college.

He pointed out that this type of stress fracture is extremely rare and noted how there has been research that shows loss of velocity is precursor to injury and that deGrom suffered a partial tear in UCL last season.

“A stress fracture is as if the frame of your car was bent or your foundation cracks, that’s never good,’’ Marinello said. “Assuming deGrom did not suffer any trauma, this injury can be as a result of throwing a baseball or swinging a bat.’’

“A lat strain is usually a precursor to a blowout,’’ Marinello said. “What’s happening is that these stabilizing muscles are being taxed beyond what they are supposed to be doing.’’

Simply put, there is too much, too much.

Marinello also believes and has told me often that in many cases today’s baseball player overtrains.

“They never really rest,’’ he said. “In the old days training camp was to get guys back (in shape) now they take two weeks off and they are training all winter and they come into camp and their bodies are breaking down because they just don’t rest.’’

Train, train, train is not always the way. The body needs a break.

Jacob deGrom #48 of the New York Mets throws a pitch during the third inning of the Spring Training game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Clover Park on March 27, 2022 in Port St. Lucie, Florida. (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images)

“A lot of these injuries could be the result of swinging the bat hard all the time as well as trying to throw 99 miles per hour all the time,’’ Marinello said, mentioning oblique injuries as well. “I remember as a kid, you would hear Tom Seaver would throw a 95 mph fastball in the seventh or eighth inning, where they never said that in the early innings because he was building up to that, he would pick his spots and change velocity. Now they are always throwing hard so you are going to wear out.’’

Dial it back, not dial it up.

It’s also interesting to note that deGrom made only 15 starts last season as he pitched to a captivating 1.08 ERA with 104 strikeouts over 92 innings while Sale managed just nine starts last season and compiled a 3.16 ERA for the Red Sox in only 42 2-3 innings with 52 Ks. Sale’s latest injury occurred during his own workouts before camp opened late.

The Mets are involved in trade talks with the Padres for pitcher Chris Paddack, Ken Rosenthal reported on Saturday. Giving up Dom Smith would be a lot to give and then taking on Eric Hosmer would be a lot to take on as well. But this is the way the GM game is played nowadays. The GM makes bad signings, in this case it is A.J. Preller in San Diego, and then he passes off those moves to a team that is not afraid to take on money like Steve Cohen’s Mets who are heading toward a $300 million payroll.

It happens every spring and summer, but this trade may be over ripened for the fall.

Chris Bassitt will be the Game 3 starter most likely because that is the way the Mets have set up their rotation all spring with Carlos Carrasco set to pitch the fourth game of the season and Taijuan Walker the fifth game. If Scherzer can’t go in the opener and at this point I see no reason why the Mets should risk such a gamble against the pitiful Nationals, plug in the opener and Game 2 with the depth the Mets have in the starting rotation in the likes of Tylor Megill, David Peterson or Trevor Williams. And if a trade is completed for Chris Paddack you could always drop him into the opening day start or Game 2.

So much effort in spring training is to set up the rotation a certain way and Jeremy Hefner and Buck Showalter have done just that. Unless the Scherzer injury gets worse, there is no reason to re-do the rotation because of hiccup hamstring issue.

Chris Paddack #59 of the San Diego Padres poses for a portrait during photo day at the Peoria Sports Complex on March 17, 2022 in Peoria, Arizona. (Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images)

The bottom line is the Mets can’t afford to fool around with their pitching, which was a great strength until deGrom’s latest injury. The play here right now is to make a trade. The Mets are playing good baseball this spring according to the scouts who have been keeping a close watch on the team.

“I really like their lineup,’’ one major league scout told BallNine. “I really like Starling Marte, he plays the game the right way. (Brandon) Nimmo looks good. Mark Canha has a very launch angle swing approach that I don’t really care for but he has a good on-base percentage. I really like Chris Bassitt. Bassitt reminds me a little of Kevin Appier. He’s got a lot of arms and legs and a lot of deception in his delivery and he gets his fastball downhill up to about 94, but he has a hammer curve ball. I really like that. That’s a great pitch to have now because not only can he get his fastball down, when he goes up, it’s got carry at 94 and they can’t catch up to it. The fastball plays really well off of that curve ball … They still need another lefty in the bullpen.’’

The scout also is impressed with how Jeff McNeil is swinging the bat this spring and that will be a big lift at second base. He added that he likes what he has seen of Tylor Megill and McGill would be a solid fill-in candidate. Megill figured to take deGrom’s spot in the rotation.

Buck Showalter has the Mets working overtime on fundamentals and that is another plus for a team that lost its way over the last few years. The Buck Factor, he is in charge where on a lot of teams the players run the team, is a huge plus.

“You need to push the players, you have to raise the bar, not lower it,’’ the scout said.

Yes, the deGrom injury is terrible news for the Mets but adversity is the name of the game when you are a Mets fan. Once his scapula heals and deGrom gets back to pitching, he should make the adjustments that need to be made to make sure he remains healthy. And the biggest adjustment is stop chasing 100 miles per hour. There is no need for that stress on his arm and his body since last July when everyone was going crazy over his 100 mph heater. Slow down. DeGrom still figures to opt out after the season and for that strategy to best work for him, he has to put his body in the best position to work.

It’s a no brainer, stop chasing velocity. It’s more important for the Mets to chase wins this season and keep the Braves from winning their fifth straight NL East title.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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