NEW YORK — All indications are that Jacob deGrom is about to climb a hill for the first time since March, in what will be his most significant test since he was diagnosed with a stress reaction in his right shoulder blade at the end of spring training. If things continue to go well, on a reasonable schedule, deGrom would return to the Mets in late June or early July.
However, deGrom insists he is unaware of his schedule, and Mets officials — while offering relative transparency to other injured players — tend to talk about the two-time Cy Young Award winner’s status. All that’s clear is that deGrom is approaching and that when he does eventually return to the Mets — whether in June, July or beyond — he won’t do so with fear of injuring his shoulder again.
“You can’t go out there scared,” deGrom said Saturday in his first public statements since early April. “Do your best to prepare and get out there and play the game. I don’t think many people go out there afraid of getting hurt. You go out there and compete, and you leave everything out there. I came back from Tommy John in the minor leagues and I think that was probably the biggest hurdle.”
That weekend, deGrom threw long distances of up to 135 feet. The next logical step would be to host a bullpen session like most rehab pitchers do once they are 120 feet off flat ground. deGrom said he intends to have that discussion with team officials in the coming days, but he hasn’t committed to a timeline for dropping a hill.
Since mid-April, deGrom said his shoulder has felt normal on a daily basis. Doctors gave him clearance to start throwing in early May, and he’s since increased the intensity of that program. He will not need any further MRIs or CT scans to progress in his rehab program.
deGrom has not played a major league game since last July 7 due to the stress reaction in his shoulder and right elbow inflammation that cost him half of last season. But now?
“I feel completely normal,” he said. “I think that’s how it’s going to be, are we pushing it? We dont have? That will be the discussion for the next few days. And when we get to the hill, what’s the safest way to do it?”
deGrom intends to play it safe for several reasons. One is that he believes a quick start to spring training after seven months of inactivity contributed to his recent injury. Second, the team is doing well — so well that, despite both him and Max Scherzer suffering significant injuries, it’s built the largest divisional lead in baseball. A setback could now cost deGrom a significant amount of time. A slower ramp-up could help it stay healthy into October.
“That’s another thing — when you’re trying to decide whether or not you’re going to come back early, you’re kind of looking at the long term,” deGrom said. “The team is playing really well and you want to be there by the end of the year. It tries to walk that fine line of security and not try to do it too quickly.
During his rehab in Florida, deGrom “watched very closely” how the Mets fared without him. He moved his rehab to New York this week, which is another indication he intends to start ramping up soon. It’s just the details of his schedule that remain in question.
Pitching coach Jeremy Hefner recently said that deGrom will need three to five rehab starts with the minors, and deGrom backed that up by saying he needs to stretch to at least four innings. That’s a process that will take weeks and doesn’t set up deGrom for a comeback until late June at the earliest.
“Actually, I don’t have any [reservations]after speaking to doctors,” he said. “Normally the bone heals faster. So the last report was good and they said it was fully cured. Now it just makes sure it handles the toss and nothing pops up. But the way things have gone so far, I feel great.”