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Sims: A Look At Matt Harvey’s Arizona Fall League Paradox

Will The Mets' Ace Be Ready To Go For Opening Day 2014?
Matt Harvey (Photo by Steve Mitchell/Getty Images)

Matt Harvey (Photo by Steve Mitchell/Getty Images)

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By Abby Sims
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Mets ace Matt Harvey has been out since the end of August with a partial ligament tear in his right elbow.

He might pitch in the Arizona Fall League, according to general manager Sandy Alderson, to see if he can avoid Tommy John surgery. That is if it is determined he is actually eligible to compete, having possibly exceeded the maximum timeframe allotted for those already in the majors.

It is an interesting proposition and one that I’d like to take a moment to dissect. Having thoroughly assessed both Harvey’s injury and his recovery to date, the Mets’ medical staff may have two very different reasons for encouraging Harvey to pitch sooner rather than later.

On an optimistic note, one reason is that they have some level of confidence in the pitcher being able to succeed. There is an obvious caveat however — Harvey must first progress beyond this initial phase of rehab and successfully complete a throwing program. That ultimately means pitching without pain while sustaining good command and velocity before he attempts to pitch competitively. The outcome of rehab remains a question mark at this time.

The second reason, one that would be somewhat confounding, may be that while Harvey is still hoping to avoid surgery, his medical advisors are attempting to sway him toward getting it over with. Playing in the Arizona Fall League might do the trick. Without the benefit of talking with the medical staff or firsthand knowledge of the degree of Harvey’s tear, I took a look at the pros and cons of surgery now versus rehab in a previous post, and broke down the nature of the injury and repercussions of playing while still healing in another column. The bottom line, though, is that the sooner Harvey tests the elbow by pitching competitively, the more likely it is to fail — perhaps not immediately, but given a little time.

It is a paradox. Since he is opting out of surgery, at least for now, Harvey’s success in restoring the strength of the healing ligament (while he continues to strengthen the muscles in his arm) will be maximized the longer he avoids placing excessive demands on the region. That would mean no Arizona Fall League. The dilemma if he doesn’t go? Should Harvey’s elbow break down once he finally does return to the mound in the spring, surgery would have been delayed sufficiently to jeopardize at least the early part of 2015.

If he plays in Arizona and finds that the ligament is still an issue, Harvey would have the surgery in time to most certainly be healthy and ready for the 2015 season. Since a ligament takes about a year to heal fully, and at three months is only at about 80 percent strength, pitching in Arizona is a risk. It may be one that pushes Harvey toward a surgery that I have voted for from the outset.

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