Mets’ Harvey Faces Possible Tommy John Surgery for Ligament Tear

New York Mets pitcher Matt Harvey has a partially torn ligament in his right elbow that may require reconstructive surgery that would probably force him to miss most, if not all, of next season.

Harvey, a 24-year-old right-hander, has been bothered by forearm tenderness and yesterday underwent tests that revealed a torn ulnar collateral ligament. Harvey, who was the starting pitcher for the National League in last month’s All-Star Game at the Mets’ Citi Field, will be placed on the disabled list and will probably miss the rest of the Major League Baseball season.

Whether Harvey will need the ligament transplant procedure known as Tommy John surgery will be determined when the swelling in his arm reduces over the next few weeks, Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson said. That decision could take months, Alderson said, and with Tommy John surgery requiring about a year of recovery time, such an operation would almost certainly leave the Mets without their ace in 2014.

“These injuries are often progressive, and so it is conceivable that surgery will be necessary,” Alderson said at a news conference. “We just need to take the time to see how those facts resolve themselves.”

Losing Harvey, who has emerged as one of the most dominating young pitchers in baseball, for an extended period next season would be a devastating blow to the Mets, who had planned to limit him to about 200 innings this year. Harvey has a 9-5 record with a 2.27 earned-run average and a National League-leading 191 strikeouts in 178 1/3 innings.

‘Terrible News’

“It’s horrible,” Mets pitcher Zack Wheeler said of Harvey’s injury after last night’s 2-1 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies. “No pitcher ever wants to go through that and no pitcher wants to hear about it. It’s terrible news. It’s tough, but hopefully he’ll come back and be a lot stronger.”

Harvey told the Mets’ medical staff that he experienced more discomfort in his forearm than in the past after allowing a career-high 13 hits over 6 2/3 innings during his last start, against the Detroit Tigers three days ago.

“Nothing is shooting in my elbow at all,” Harvey said yesterday. “That’s not the issue. When I heard the news, I was pretty shocked. I’m still very optimistic. I’m going to do everything I can so I don’t have to get surgery.”

Michael Hausman, chief of hand and elbow surgery and vice-chairman of the Department of Orthopaedics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, said the UCL is the primary stabilizing ligament on the inner elbow.

‘Surgical Reconstruction’

“If there’s any real structural damage, and it can no longer perform its stabilizing function, the person is going to have difficulty throwing hard,” Hausman, who isn’t treating Harvey, said in a telephone interview. “The treatment for that is surgical reconstruction.”

Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmerman of the Washington Nationals and Adam Wainwright of the St. Louis Cardinals are among the current All-Star major-league pitchers who have undergone Tommy John surgery, in which the UCL is replaced with a tendon from another part of the patient’s body. It’s named after the former MLB pitcher who first underwent the procedure in 1974. Hausman said about 70 percent to 80 percent of athletes who have the procedure are able to return to their pre-injury level of function. Strasburg was able to return to the Nationals one full year after his surgery.

Alderson said Harvey has received preventive elbow treatment since spring training, and had experienced forearm soreness for “some time.”

Harvey threw 2,944 pitches this season compared with a total of 2,906 last year, according to Bloomberg Sports data. He eclipsed the 100-pitch mark in 18 of his 26 starts for the Mets, who have slipped out of playoff contention at 58-71.

“This is not a career-ending injury under any stretch of the imagination,” Alderson said. “There’s plenty of time for us to see how he responds near-term, but there will always be the open question of, given a partial tear, how long that ligament will hold up.”