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Nightengale: Syndergaard the Latest Pitcher Injured in a ‘System That’s Flawed’

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New York Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard. Photo: Arturo Pardavila III via Wikimedia Commons

The New York Mets want us to believe it’s simply a coincidence.

They tell us it’s just a matter of rotten luck, with a dizzying array of pitching injuries, year after year.

We’re supposed to feel sorry for them, unfair for one organization to endure all of this heartache.

Just wondering, but when does the time come for the Mets to accept responsibility?

The Mets once again were slammed with the news on Monday of a major injury to their pitching staff, this time with ace Noah Syndergaard going on the disabled list, sustaining a torn lat muscle in his right side.

He’ll be sidelined for weeks, if not months. No one quite knows for sure. All we know is that it’s another blow to the Mets’ rotation, their third starter to go down in the first month of the season, threatening to ruin any hopes of a potential World Series title by Memorial Day.

“It was the perfect storm for the Mets,’’ Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz told USA TODAY Sports. “They got all of these guys who emptied their tank. They have some of the most dynamic arms I’ve ever seen in the game, and the problem is I won’t see them as long as I want to.

“I’m not blaming the players, but they’re being rewarded in a system that’s flawed. These pitchers come up and they’re not developed. They have no base under them. They know only one speed, and it’s to go all out. And if they can’t throw as hard as they can, they don’t know how to deal with it.”

This isn’t specifically a condemnation of the Mets’ organization, but an industry-wide malady, Smoltz says, that has turned into an epidemic that’s sweeping the Major Leagues.

“The sad thing is that the people who matter the most,’’ Smoltz says, “don’t care enough to change it. They think there’s enough arms out there that they can keep picking up guys, like there’s a factory of arms behind them. So they keep rushing guys who aren’t developed.

“At some point, you’re going to run out of pitching.’’

The Mets are facing that harsh reality right now, scrambling to fill out their rotation. They may have the most electrifying pitching talent in the game — with the likes of Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Syndergaard, Steven Matz, and Zack Wheeler — but if they can’t stay healthy, you’re forced to turn to the likes of Rafael Montero, who is yielding a 9.45 ERA at Triple-A Las Vegas.

“When you talk about talent, they’re way better than we were,’’ says Smoltz, whose teams won 14 consecutive division titles, with fellow Hall of Fame starters Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. “Their stuff blows us away. It was sickening how much they can dominate

“But they can’t pitch 10 years like that. No way. And now every single one of them have had to spend time on the DL.’’

Someone has to stand up and tell Syndergaard it’s not cool to bulk up and gain 17 pounds of muscle, show up in spring training, and tell everyone that you’re going to try to throw 100 mph every pitch.

When Syndergaard can’t make his scheduled start last Thursday, complaining of biceps tendinitis, you can’t allow him to refuse an MRI, even permitting him to take the mound three days later, throwing the ball 100 mph.

When he lasts just 1 1/3 innings, clutching his arm walking off the field, and the news comes down from doctors that it’s a torn lat, you can’t stand there and act as if nothing could have prevented it.

It’s inexcusable.

GM Sandy Alderson said Monday he was told by doctors that Syndergaard’s injury was unrelated to his biceps soreness, but come on, how realistic is that? They refuse to give a timetable for his return, but it’ll be irresponsible if he returns at any time before June.

The most frightening part of all is that when Syndergaard returns to the rotation, it might be only a matter of time before he breaks down again, relying on his 100-mph fastball, instead of becoming a true pitcher.

“You have to be careful about extrapolating generalities from a particular situation,’’ Alderson told reporters Monday before the Mets’ game against the Atlanta Braves. “Noah is a big guy, he’s a big strong guy. Did that contribute to this situation? It’s conceivable.

“But I think it’s hard to speculate at this point about generally what’s happening with pitchers, and whether at some point less is more.’’

Really? Isn’t it obvious by now? Go ahead, take a look at some of the greatest, most dependable pitchers in the world. When you’re watching Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, Madison Bumgarner and Felix Hernandez on the mound, do you ever see them throwing as hard as they possibly can every single pitch?

“When you hear about a guy getting bigger, stronger and throwing harder,’’ Smoltz says, “you can’t help but think why?’’

Says Boston Red Sox pitcher Joe Kelly, 6-foot-1, 174 pounds, who also throws 99 mph: “Syndergaard looks like an NFL tight end. I look like a high-school math teacher.’’

Syndergaard happens to be 6-foot-6, 255 pounds, whose fastball last year averaged 98 mph, the fastest in baseball.

“I don’t think God made the arm to throw that hard, especially a guy like Syndergaard,’’ Baltimore Orioles starter Ubaldo Jimenez says. “Everybody throws so hard now, and that puts even more stress on your arm. For me, I pray to God that I stay healthy.’’

And for pitchers to stay healthy, well, it’s about time teams look in the mirror and examine their own training methods. Maybe ask why Smoltz can throw nearly 3,700 innings in the regular season and postseason in his brilliant career, including 2,220 innings before ever undergoing surgery.

“I think somebody has got to be brave enough in an organization,’’ Smoltz says, “to say, ‘The heck with this, we’re going to change this. We going to start investigating the way it as 10 to 15 years ago, and have the guts to get away from this analytical B.S.’

“You keep hearing a six-man rotation is next. That will only increase the injuries. They will only feel stronger, with no feel or touch. So now you have this whole machine feeding itself, seeing how hard we can throw.

“It’s insane.

“Something has to change.’’

It may be too late to save the Mets, but if nothing else, perhaps they can be the poster boys for baseball’s future.

Speed can kill, even the most talented of pitching staffs.

By Bob Nightengale

This article was republished with permission from the original publisher, USA Today. Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter and Facebook

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