After five months, Steven Matz has an answer. Unfortunately for the Long Island lefty and the Mets, it’s the answer they have found all too often. Matz was diagnosed with irritation in the ulnar nerve of his left elbow; he will need season-ending surgery.
Matz began the season on the disabled list with elbow discomfort, which the Mets said was irritation and his doctors said was a flexor tendon strain. They were never able to find the source of the discomfort that plagued him in between starts and forced him to struggle to finish off his pitches.
“It’s definitely nice to have an answer,” Matz said after the doctors went to a last resort of giving him a shot of nerve-numbing agent on Monday. “The doctor told me if you feel relief from this, it was kind of something we can put our finger on. When I got up after the injection, my elbow felt fine, so I knew that’s what it was.
“It’s definitely a relief to have an answer.”
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Yet it took an extraordinary long time to get those answers.
Matz was shut down the final week of spring training with elbow discomfort. After an MRI showed no structural damage to the elbow, he was given a platelet-rich plasma injection and told to rest. The discomfort never went away.
After coming off the DL June 10, Matz started his season going 2-1 with a 2.12 ERA in his first five starts. Since July 9, however, Matz has gone 1-7 with a 10.19 ERA over his last eight starts. Teams have a .385 batting average against him and he’s allowed seven home runs, walked 10 and struck out 26 over 32.2 innings pitched.
“I just kind of showed them where it hurt back in spring they gave a PRP injection and rest,” Matz said, explaining he did not have numbness or other usual symptoms of this condition. As the discomfort continued, he continued searching for answers. “Just from talking to other guys thought maybe this could be possible, but, I wasn’t sure. I just figured I’d had surgery this offseason and was something I had to work through.”
Matz said he had no issue with the way the Mets handled his injury. Now, he has his answers, but the Mets are left with so many more questions.
Like, who will step into Matz’s spot in the rotation for the rest of the season?
Tommy Milone, the lefty the Mets signed in May when Noah Syndergaard went down to injury, will make Matz’s scheduled start on Tuesday against the Diamondbacks. Milone, who just came off the disabled list for a knee injury, had been activated with the idea of pitching in Sunday’s doubleheader in Washington. Righthander Seth Lugo, who just began throwing on Monday after a shoulder issue put him on the DL, is the leading candidate to pitch Sunday.
The Mets know this surgery is not major and can expect Matz back in time for spring training.
It is the same procedure that Jacob deGrom had last September. Matz said after talking to deGrom he was optimistic about a fairly easy recovery and rehab.
But this still leaves the Mets with questions about Matz and their staff heading into 2018.
In three seasons in the majors, Matz has yet to have a year without spending significant time on the disabled list. In 2015, he missed nearly two months with a partially torn lat muscle. Last year, he pitched through discomfort with a bone spur in his left elbow then was shut down early with a shoulder issue and eventually had surgery to remove the bone spurs. Since he debuted in 2015, Matz has made 41 regular-season starts.
Matz is the fifth starting pitcher currently on the disabled list. After coming into the season with seven starters, the Mets have just one, deGrom, still pitching from that group.
This just reiterates that they have to build a team that can stand without relying so heavily on their starters. “I know one thing there is no guarantees ever that you are going to start the season, especially with young power pitching, these guys are going to be healthy through the season,” Collins said. “We came into the season thinking we were prepared for it. We had seven guys.”
But after two seasons undermined by injuries to their starting staff, we all know the answer is that with the Mets, seven starters just isn’t going to be enough.
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