NEW YORK — All evidence suggests that Jacob deGrom is close to stepping atop a mound for the first time since March, which will represent his most significant test since being diagnosed with a stress reaction in his right scapula at the end of Spring Training . If things continue to progress well, a reasonable timeline would have deGrom returning to the Mets by late June or early July.
deGrom, however, insists that he’s unaware of his timeline, and Mets officials — while offering relative transparency with other injured players — tend to talk around the two-time Cy Young Award winner’s status. All that’s clear is that DeGrom is getting close, and that when he ultimately does return to the Mets — whether in June, in July or beyond — he won’t do so with any apprehension of reinjuring his shoulder.
“You can’t go out there in fear,” deGrom said Saturday in his first public comments since early April. “Do your best to prepare and go out there and play the game. I don’t think many guys go out there and are scared of getting hurt. You go out there and compete, and you leave it all out there. I’ve come back from Tommy John in the Minor Leagues, and I think that was probably the biggest hurdle.”
This weekend, deGrom long tossed at distances up to 135 feet. The next logical step would be to throw a bullpen session, as most rehabbing pitchers do once they clear 120 feet off flat ground. deGrom said he intends to have that discussion with team officials in the coming days, but he did not commit to a timeline for throwing off a mound.
Since mid-April, deGrom said, his shoulder has felt normal during everyday activities. Doctors cleared him to begin throwing in early May, and he has since ramped up the intensity of that program. He will not require any more MRIs or CT scans to advance in his rehab program.
deGrom has not pitched in a Major League game since last July 7, due to the stress reaction in his shoulder and the right elbow inflammation that cost him half of last season. But now?
“I feel completely normal,” he said. “So I think that’s where it’s going to be like, do we push it? Do we not? That will be the discussion over the next few days. And when we get on the mound, what is the safest way to go about this?”
deGrom intends to err on the side of caution for several reasons. One is that he believes a quick Spring Training ramp-up following seven months of inactivity contributed to his latest injury. Two is that the team is performing well — so well, in fact, that it has built the largest division lead in baseball despite significant injuries to him and Max Scherzer. A setback now could cost deGrom significant time. A slower ramp-up could help him stay healthy into October.
“That’s another thing — when you’re trying to decide whether to come back too early or not, you kind of look at the long-term,” deGrom said. “The team’s been playing really good, and you want to be there through the end of the year. It’s trying to walk that fine line of being safe and not trying to do it too quick.”
While rehabbing in Florida, deGrom “watched very closely” how the Mets have fared without him. He moved his rehab to New York this week, which is another indication that he intends to begin ramping up soon. It’s merely the details of his timeline that remain in question.
Pitching coach Jeremy Hefner recently said that deGrom will require three to five rehab starts in the Minors, and deGrom corroborated that by saying he’ll need to stretch out to at least four innings. That’s a process that will take weeks, putting deGrom in line for a late June comeback at the earliest.
“I don’t really have any [reservations], after talking to doctors,” he said. “Normally, bone heals stronger. So the last report was good, and they said it was completely healed. Now, it’s just making sure it handles the throwing and nothing pops up. But the way it’s gone so far, I feel great.”