NEW YORK — Mets Manager Terry Collins called his starting pitchers into his office last weekend to talk numbers — as in six-man rotation.
Matt Harvey has thrown 58 2-3 innings following his return from Tommy John surgery. NL Rookie of the Year Jacob DeGrom has pitched 55 2-3. And Noah Syndergaard, who made his big league debut on May 12, has tossed 47 in the majors and minors.
New York projected out the numbers over a full season and didn’t like the totals.
“If we stay with the five-man, I’m going to take you out after five innings. You guys OK with that?” Collins remembered telling the group.
When they balked, he pointed to them one at a time and said: “Next month you’re going on the DL for two weeks, and you’re going on the DL for two weeks, and you’re going to go on the DL for two weeks.”
“That didn’t go over very good, either,” he recalled. “The next option is none of you are pitching in September,” Collins said.
When they objected again, he said the Mets had decided to go with a six-man rotation when Dillon Gee comes off the disabled list in the next week or so, joining a starting staff that also includes Bartolo Colon and Jonathon Niese.
No one seems to want to emulate the Nationals, who cut Stephen Strasburg’s season short in early September 2012 following his return from elbow surgery. Washington lost to St. Louis in a five-game NL Division Series.
General Manager Sandy Alderson said pitching 200-plus innings “has never really been in the cards” and called the switch “prophylactic.”
“I wouldn’t call it temporary, but it’s certainly not permanent,” he said. “Let’s see how it goes.”
Until the 1970s, a four-man rotation was the norm. But no pitcher has thrown 300 innings in a season since Philadelphia’s Steve Carlton in 1980. No pitcher has topped 36 starts since Atlanta’s Greg Maddux and Toronto’s Roy Halladay in 2003.
“One of my closest friends is Sandy Koufax,” Collins said. “He laughs right in my face every time I talk about pitch counts and innings limits.”
Across the diamond, Phillies coach Larry Bowa found the decision both startling and understandable. Bowa came up to the major leagues in 1970, when Gaylord Perry, Ferguson Jenkins, Sam McDowell and Jim Palmer all topped 300 innings — down from nine pitchers the previous season.
“Now when somebody gets 200, they go, ‘Oh, this guy’s a horse,’” Bowa said. “Those guys had that in August. Let your four best guys go out there. It’s not like guys are throwing 140 pitches. As soon as they get to 100, bells and whistles go off. But I understand front-office people want to take care of the investments.”
And it’s not just the old-timers who would like to go back to the routines of an earlier era.
“I would like to see, especially with young pitchers, encouraging and testing the limits more to see if we could get guys going deeper in games,” said Chris Capuano, a 36-year-old left-hander on the Yankees.
“They protect younger guys a lot where you sometimes can look at the sixth inning or seventh inning as the finish line. When you go out there, your goal should really be to pitch nine innings,” he said.
Still, in an age when every twinge seems to get MRIed, the Mets’ stance could become more commonplace.
“When you have as many younger starters as they do, it’s probably a prudent thing,” Oakland Manager Bob Melvin said.
Harvey had Tommy John surgery on Oct. 22, 2013, and didn’t return until last month. DeGrom was on the DL time on the disabled list last August with right rotator cuff tendinitis. Syndergaard was on the DL at Triple-A Las Vegas from May 23 to June 5 last year with a flexor-pronator strain on the inside of his right elbow.
“There’s bigger picture involved,” deGrom said. “Just trying to keep us healthy.”
Collins and the Mets made the decision amid a rash of injuries. Johan Santana never was the same after throwing 134 pitches against St. Louis in June 2012 for the first no-hitter in Mets’ history.
Closer Bobby Parnell is still recovering from ligament-replacement surgery in April 2014 and promising pitcher Zack Wheeler had the procedure on March 25.
New York is willing to experiment with the larger rotation, even if it means playing with one fewer bench players.
“I’m trying not to have any more Tommy Johns. I’m trying not to have any more sore shoulders,” Collins said. “We looked at every scenario. We mapped it out. We burned a lot of trees with a lot of paperwork, and this is what we’ve come up with. And we’ll just see how it goes.
By Ronald Blum, AP Baseball Writer.AP Baseball Writers Janie McCauley and Howie Rumberg contributed