Welcome back to The Rotation! Here are five topics in the world of Major League Baseball worth bantering about this week.
1. Sorting through the Mets' injury mess
This season, the Mets hoped that their rotation and Yoenis Cespedes could stay healthy. But, as the calendar turns to May, that hasn't happened. Undoubtedly, there's bad luck involved here, but curious injury management may have worsened the situation.
Noah Syndergaard refused to undergo an MRI for the biceps issue that scratched him from a start last Thursday, as is his right. But the Mets also had the right to take extra precaution with Syndergaard, even though he got through a bullpen session unscathed. Instead, he took the mound Sunday as the Mets went for the sweep of the Nationals, and the results were pretty much in the worst-case scenario realm. Syndergaard was battered for five runs in the first inning and left in the second after grabbing at his lat muscle in what turned out to be a 23-5 loss. An MRI on Monday morning revealed a partial lat tear and there is no timetable yet for his return.
There have been other head-scratching decisions.
Matt Harvey -- the guy who in 2015 threw more innings than any other pitcher in his first year back from Tommy John and the guy who had season-ending thoracic outlet syndrome last year -- has been asked to start a day earlier than planned twice already this season. And when Cespedes tweaked his hamstring on April 20, the Mets played short-handed for three games (over five days), rather than taking advantage of the new 10-day DL that allows players to recover from "tweener" injuries without missing two full weeks.
Cespedes took batting practice on April 26 and looked like this:
Cespedes could barely stand for BP yesterday, but TC naturally thought it was a good idea to play him anyway pic.twitter.com/e4XMwX6R7Y- Mets Citi (@metsciti) April 27, 2017
He started the next two games and, sure enough, left the second prematurely when he aggravated the injury. The Mets put him on the DL the next day. Last season, the Mets played short-handed while trying to wait out a Cespedes quad injury that eventually landed him on the DL anyway.
Again, injuries often come down to luck, or lack thereof. But injury management is a skill. It would behoove the Mets to take a hard look at their strategy with battered bodies.
"It would be easy to dismiss this as that's the way baseball goes," general manager Sandy Alderson told reporters over the weekend. "You do have to sort through the injuries and think about the kinds of things you are doing preventively to make sure they are minimized."
2. Eaton parked
Syndergaard's Sunday struggles helped the Nats' "absolutely dumb" lineup (in a good way, per Bryce Harper) put together an absolutely dumb day. It was their league-leading sixth game in April in which they posted a double-digit run total.
But will the offensive outpourings keep coming with Adam Eaton on the shelf for the rest of the season? Just a week ago, the Nats looked like a club capable of running away with the National League East and perhaps going on their first-ever deep October run. Now they've suffered one of the most significant injury setbacks of this young season.
Eaton's torn ACL, meniscus tear and high ankle sprain remove the guy with the .297/.393/.462 slash from the leadoff equation. It's unfair to use this as more fodder to critique the bombshell trade that brought Eaton to Washington, because, to the best of our knowledge, the White Sox did not disclose that Eaton would injure himself running to first in the 24th game of the season (and Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, remember, are far from sure things).
But this does mean we'll see more of Trea Turner in the leadoff spot and more of Michael A. Taylor, in general. The toolsy Taylor is a player who not long ago seemed on the verge of a big-league breakout because of his speed and developing opposite-field power. But he had a mostly miserable showing at the plate with sporadic playing time the last few seasons and this will be his latest, greatest shot at showing he can stick. He's off to a really encouraging start: 5-for-9 with a double since the Eaton injury.
If it doesn't work internally, one trade option that might wind up making sense for the Nats is pending free agent Lorenzo Cain of the fast-fading Royals. Of course, the Nats are widely expected to be on the lookout for relief help, so perhaps they can go all-in on a deal that involves both Cain and Kelvin Herrera, who is already a rumored target.
3. Shoulder the load
The Giants can only hope that whenever Madison Bumgarner makes it back from his self-inflicted shoulder sprain, his health and his stuff are as effective as what we're seeing from Dallas Keuchel right now.
Keuchel pitched through shoulder soreness all of last season before waking up the morning after an August start with intense pain that limited his ability to play catch. He finally "fessed up to the Astros" training staff, was shut down for the rest of the season and was carefully eased through spring camp. But thanks to more careful management, Keuchel has been one of the game's great stories in the first month of the season. After another terrific outing against the A's on Sunday, he's now sporting a 1.21 ERA and 0.81 WHIP in 44 2/3 innings.
"Overhand throwing is one of the most violent things to do on your body, outside of killing yourself in football and stuff like that," Keuchel said. "People don't realize how some minor things can really build up and make something major out of it."
The shoulder is an especially finicky area, which is why people in the game are genuinely curious to see not just how Bumgarner's shoulder responds whenever he picks up a baseball again. He's not expected back with the big-league club for at least three months total -- or after the All-Star break.
4. Not written, not right
The Orioles and Red Sox meet again this week, in a four-game series that begins Monday at Fenway Park. And naturally, everybody will be curious to see if there are any lingering tensions and if there's any further retaliatory action after the recent Manny Machado/Dustin Pedroia/Matt Barnes saga.
Of course, because said saga was so high-profile and the umpires are bound to be on high-alert, it would pretty stupid for anybody to escalate this any further. Then again, it was already pretty stupid of Barnes to throw at Machado's head for the obviously accidental infraction two days earlier in which his spikes popped up in a slide and took out Pedroia at second. Barnes, who received a four-game suspension, and the Red Sox tried to say it was an inside pitch that got away, but catcher Christian Vazquez's setup on the outer half of the plate gave that away as an obvious lie.
Throwing at Machado after that play might have been a day-late application of the "unwritten rules," but it seems the only unwritten rule actually worth writing down is this one: Don't throw at a dude's dome.
"If that rule has to be written," said Astros reliever Tony Sipp, "then we've got some messed-up players."
Best guess is that what happened the last time these two clubs met gets put in the past. But rest assured there will be other instances this year in which we're debating the unwritten rules and whether more should be done to punish players when barbaric justice is issued (the players' union and the clubs created the current process, which operates completely off precedent). Hopefully common sense wins out more often than not.
"When somebody has a baseball and they're throwing it at somebody," said Indians manager Terry Francona, "there's a lot of responsibility you feel for not just if a guy gets hit but if there ends up being a fight and somebody hurts a shoulder or something. That's on you."
5. Avi club
White Sox outfielder Avisail Garcia had a magic month going before he left Sunday's game with groin tightness. His .368/.409/.621 slash has been an early revelation and, perhaps, a late justification for all the optimism associated with Garcia way back in 2013, when the Sox acquired him from the Tigers as part of the three-way trade that sent Jake Peavy to Boston.
Is Garcia for real? Well, it's kind of hard to be bullish in your belief. Unlike, say, Eric Thames, there's nothing in the discipline department that explains Garcia's sudden surge. His 22-percent strikeout rate is only a marginal improvement on his career mark (23.7) and his walk rate (5.5) is worse (6.2). His home-run-to-fly ball ratio (25 percent) is 10 percent higher than his career average and, because Statcast™ shows only a moderate rise in average launch angle, it's not a number worth trusting just yet.
It is, however, good to see Garcia off to a strong start for a team that needs all the trade chips it can get.
* * *
Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor, MLB.com columnist and MLB Network contributor. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.