ATLANTA — May has been a rough month for the Mets. They have been one of the worst teams in baseball since their hot start to the season and they received another blow on Tuesday when they unexpectedly announced that Noah Syndergaard, one of the team’s two reliable starting pitchers, was headed to the 10-day disabled list with a strained ligament in the index finger of his throwing hand.
With the Mets in Atlanta to face the Braves this week, Syndergaard flew back to New York to be examined by team doctors on Tuesday after reporting soreness in the finger on his right hand. A magnetic resonance imaging examination and a doctor’s evaluation diagnosed the strain.
“It started popping up after his last start and he really noticed it on his bullpen day,” Mets Manager Mickey Callaway said. He said the Mets hoped Syndergaard will miss just one start.
Syndergaard, 25, was spotted flexing the finger with an athletic trainer in the dugout during his last start, on Friday against the Milwaukee Brewers. His performance was solid: three runs, eight strikeouts and no walks over six innings. The sputtering Mets (26-25 entering Tuesday’s game in Atlanta) lost that day because of a collapse by the bullpen, which has been the main culprit of the team’s recent woes.
To fill the void created by Syndergaard, the Mets will further strain their already thin pitching depth by sticking with the struggling Jason Vargas. The team had been weighing its options with Vargas, who has a 10.62 E.R.A. in five starts, but he will now start on Wednesday against the Braves on four days of rest.
The Mets were willing to do this because Vargas threw only 67 pitches over a three-inning clunker on Saturday in Milwaukee.
“It’s something we have to do,” Vargas said. “Obviously it’s not ideal. We’d love to have Noah at 100 percent.”
Seth Lugo, one of the Mets’ best relief pitchers, will return to the rotation, where he pitched the previous two seasons, to face the Chicago Cubs on Thursday. Callaway said that is why he stretched Lugo out to two innings in Monday’s doubleheader. Lugo will be limited to four innings or 65 pitches on Thursday.
“I’ve always been a starter,” Lugo said. “I’m more comfortable with that spot. Easy for me to get back in the routine.”
Syndergaard could have kept pitching through the finger injury, but the Mets wanted him to rest. If all goes well, he is expected to wear a finger split for a few days, try a bullpen session over the weekend, and return as soon as he is eligible to come off the disabled list, early next week against the Baltimore Orioles. His 10-day stint on the disabled list was backdated to his last start.
A medical incident last year with Syndergaard was a key moment in the downfall of the Mets’ old medical staff and in their disappointing 2017 season. Syndergaard refused an M.R.I. last April after some soreness in his right biceps, and the Mets did not require him to undergo the examination. He then hurt his right latissimus in his next start and missed four and a half months of the season, raising many questions about the Mets’ medical protocols, which later changed.
Even though Syndergaard was not pitching up to his highest standards this year, he was performing well. He had a 3.06 E.R.A. and 76 strikeouts over 64⅔ innings. His walk rate doubled from last year to 4.8 percent, but was still low. His average fastball velocity was down nearly one mile per hour from last year, but still plenty at 97.4 m.p.h., and he was using all of his pitches.
Now, the Mets’ uneven rotation will be without one of its two best pitchers, and the top-heavy bullpen will be short one reliable arm.