They were almost in the clear, but the New York Mets starting rotation could make it through spring training before the injury bug bit.
Southpaw starter Jason Vargas, who signed a two-year, $16 million deal with the club this winter, suffered a non-displaced fracture in his non-pitching hand over the weekend. He will undergo surgery on Tuesday and can begin throwing as soon as five days after the procedure. However, it will take four-to-six weeks for the hand to fully recover, meaning the Mets will be without the 35-year-old for the opening weeks of the 2018 season.
For Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz, there's a silver lining to New York's latest injury scare as both young arms will be featured in the team's starting rotation, at least for the beginning of the regular season.
With the Mets bringing on Vargas back in February, there was bound to be an odd man out of the rotation considering the veteran would be joining Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey, who are locks for starting gigs.
Wheeler was originally slated as the favorite to lose his starting job, but both he and Matz have struggled during spring training, which made the competition for the final spot a little more interesting.
The right-handed Wheeler is 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA in eight innings of work this spring while Matz is 0-3 with a 10.80 ERA in 10 innings.
Matz's lone saving grace was that he was a lefty, which made him a favorite to keep a starting role despite his struggles as it would allow the Mets to roll out a pair of southpaws to break up the onslaught of hard-throwing right-handers in Syndergaard, deGrom and Harvey.
Now Matz's job is secure as he is the only left-hander available for the Mets with Vargas is temporarily shelved. Wheeler will likely round things out as the No. 5 option.
While it's not what the Mets might have wanted now, it gives the organization its first chance to a rotation of Syndergaard, deGrom, Harvey, Matz and Wheeler all pitching at the same time. The promise of these five arms working together as the centerpiece of the franchise has been a dream for fans and the organization alike for the past three years, but injuries have kept at least one of these arms away from the rotation during that span.
"We've always wanted to do it, ever since we all got up to the big leagues. Even before that," Wheeler told the media (h/t Newsday's Tim Healey). "It's a big deal to us. I'm sure the fans want to see it. It would be a lot of fun."