Mets pitchers Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz


Palladino: Jason Vargas Injury Opens Way For Reunion Of Mets’ Old Band

Once-Fearsome Fivesome Set To Finally Get Turn In Rotation

Ernie Palladino
March 21, 2018 - 10:25 am

Something called a hamate bone has brought the old band back together and triggered a spate of nostalgia around Citi Field.

It’s only understandable to wax teary-eyed over what Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and Steve Matz might have done to the rest of the National League had those five enjoyed good health at the same time. They were all set to become the platinum record standards of starting pitching a couple of years ago before injuries wrecked everything.

But now, thanks to a little broken bone in Jason Vargas’ right (nonthrowing) hand that will cause him to miss at least the first regular-season go-around, the fabulous five is lined up for a KISS-like reunion tour, if only for a short while as the left-handed, free-agent pickup recovers from bone-removal surgery.

Imagine, though, if they catch on just as they were supposed to in 2016 before thoraic outlet syndrome, torn lats and Tommy John surgeries wrecked it all. They could be as big as those face-painted crazies that have as big a following today as they did in the '70s. With deGrom playing the part of Gene Simmons and Syndergaard tearing through opponents like Ace Frehley shredding the guitar strings, the five have unbounded potential.

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The only question is how long it lasts. One trip through the rotation? Half a season? Pray, the whole year?

That depends on performance. Certainly, the franchise and fans will be rooting for this bunch. They have been since Wheeler hit the bigs in 2013, two years and a Tommy John surgery before Matz showed up in 2015. But even if Wheeler was not in the mix, deGrom, Syndergaard, Harvey and Matz would have made a quartet well worth the price of a floor seat.

But that never quite came to pass. And when general manager Sandy Alderson got Vargas this offseason for an economical two years, $16 million, it seemed like it never would. Vargas would start, and Wheeler would wait in the bullpen until the schedule called for an extra arm.

Vargas’ hamate bone ended that. Not that the current rotation hasn’t done its part, either. Spring training has brought the five together as much as the injury.

DeGrom and Syndergaard have looked strong from the beginning, the former fashioning a 2.35 ERA in his 7 2/3 innings over two starts. Syndergaard, even better at 1-2, 1.35 in 20 innings over five starts, threw his 100-mph fastball right from the get-go to prove the torn lat now lies firmly in the rearview mirror.

Harvey struggled early, but has since appeared to round off the rough edges.

Matz gave up five runs in his first spring start, but he's since come around to look like the left-hander who was always supposed to hold down the fifth spot. In his last outing, he allowed two runs on five hits while striking out nine batters over six innings against the Astros, throwing with “conviction,” according to manager Mickey Callaway.

And Wheeler, perhaps fueled by his initial indignance the Vargas signing ignited in him, had put up an excellent fight for a spot in the rotation. The numbers aren’t fantastic -- 0-2, 6.75 in eight innings -- but the stuff is there. And that’s what a manager looks for in February and March.

Best of all, no health problems among those five.

No emergency issues to force Callaway toward a Seth Lugo or Robert Gsellman.

If the five stay in one piece, they will pitch together for the first time. It’s not exactly a typical reunion, since they were never really a unit at the same time in the first place. So let’s call it renewed potential. If they can produce the gold-standard pitching once promised, it might be Vargas looking in from the bullpen instead of Wheeler.

The band is ready to get back together, perhaps for good this time.

And who can’t get nostalgic over that?

Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino