10:23pm: Manager Luis Rojas acknowledged after tonight’s game that surgery is a possibility for Lucchesi but said the left-hander will receive a second opinion before making a final decision (Twitter link via Newsday’s Laura Albanese).
7:34pm: Mets left-hander Joey Lucchesi, who went on the injured list this weekend, underwent an MRI and was diagnosed with a “significant” tear in his left elbow’s ulnar collateral ligament, reports Steve Gelbs of SNY (Twitter link). The Mets haven’t formally announced an update, but any UCL tear obviously comes with the possibility of Tommy John surgery. He’ll seek a second opinion before making any decisions.
In further Mets injury news, the team announced prior to the second game of today’s doubleheader that Jeurys Familia has been placed on the injured list due to a right hip impingement. That injury comes just hours after the Mets placed righty Robert Gsellman on the 10-day injured list due to a lat strain that will reportedly sideline him for up to eight weeks. Right-hander Yennsy Diaz is up from Triple-A Syracuse to take Familia’s spot on the roster. The team has not yet provided a timeline on Familia’s injury.
Lucchesi, 28, has given the Mets 38 1/3 innings of 4.46 ERA ball with a 3.40 FIP, a 26.1 percent strikeout rate and a 7.0 percent walk rate. That’s solid production from any pitcher, let alone one who was viewed as a depth option and perhaps the sixth or seventh starting pitcher on the team’s depth chart when Spring Training commenced. That performance has certainly justified the Mets’ decision to part with catching prospect Endy Rodriguez to acquire Lucchesi from the Padres as part of the three-team, Joe Musgrove trade with the Pirates. Now, however, there are considerable doubts as to just when Lucchesi will throw his next pitch.
If Lucchesi indeed requires Tommy John surgery, the procedure is coming late enough in the 2021 season that it’ll jeopardize the majority, if not the entirety, of his 2022 season.. Tommy John procedures typically come with recovery periods in the range of 12 to 16 months, and as the Mets’ own Noah Syndergaard illustrates, a straightforward year-long recovery period is not necessarily a given.
A Tommy John procedure would put the Mets in a tough spot with Lucchesi. He’ll be arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter now that he’ll close out the current season on the 60-day injured list. Any raise will be suppressed by his current injury status, of course, but they’d still need to determine whether to dedicate a 40-man spot to him all winter and pay him a raise for the 2022 season despite the possibility that he won’t pitch at all. In that scenario, they’d again be faced with the decision of whether to again dedicate an offseason 40-man spot and likely match that salary in 2023 — most arb-eligible players who miss a whole season are re-upped at the same rate for the following year — or cut bait via a non-tender.
Obviously, the hope for the Mets, Lucchesi and their fans is that he’ll somehow be able to avoid surgery and return to the mound without going under the knife. However, the report of a “significant” tear indicates that even if surgery is avoided for now, Lucchesi is likely looking at a notable shutdown.
The loss of Lucchesi in the near-term is a blow to a Mets club that has been hit hard by injuries up and down the roster. Carlos Carrasco has still yet to pitch in 2021, owing to a hamstring tear a brief elbow issue in Spring Training, while Syndergaard’s return has been pushed back by at least six weeks due to inflammation in his surgically repaired elbow. Righty Jordan Yamamoto, meanwhile, is on the 60-day injured list due to shoulder woes.
With those injuries having taken their toll, the Mets turned to former Phillies righty Jerad Eickhoff to start the nightcap of today’s twin bill. Other options on the 40-man roster include recent waiver claim Nick Tropeano and 25-year-old prospect Thomas Szapucki, who has yet to make his MLB debut.
The Mets entered the season with a fairly impressive bit of pitching depth, but that depth has obviously been tested early and often. Given the news on Lucchesi, the setbacks in the recoveries of Syndergaard and Carrasco, and the minor injury troubles that Jacob deGrom and Taijuan Walker have faced, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see the Mets target rotation help on the summer trade market.
Turning to Familia, his injury places a temporary hold on what was shaping up to be a solid rebound effort. While the right-hander’s 14.3 percent walk rate has been far too high, Familiar has nevertheless pitched to a 3.63 ERA with a 23 percent strikeout rate in 22 1/3 frames. He’s also generated plenty of weak contact and induced grounders at a characteristically high 58.5 percent clip, which has helped to offset the penchant for free passes. It may not be the dominant form he displayed from 2014-18, but it’s nevertheless been a nice season for the righty.
The bullpen has been one area where the Mets haven’t been bitten too hard by the injury bug, but back-to-back losses of Gsellman and Familia now threaten to begin testing the depth on that side of the pitching staff as well. The Mets are undoubtedly thankful that deGrom was able to breeze through five innings today after his own recent injury scare, but it’s still been a rough day for the pitching staff as a whole — one that could very well accelerate the team’s efforts to add from outside the organization.