Mets’ Harvey Opts for Rehab Program Over Immediate Elbow Surgery

Matt Harvey decided to forgo immediate surgery on his right elbow, opting instead for a program to strengthen a partially torn ligament with the goal of pitching for the New York Mets in 2014.

Harvey, who was shut down for the season last month because of tenderness in his forearm, said yesterday that he’ll begin a six-to-eight week throwing program that extends into the offseason. He made the decision a day after meeting with orthopedic surgeon James Andrews for a second opinion on whether to undergo rehabilitation or have an operation on the torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow.

A determination on whether the 24-year-old Harvey, who emerged as one of Major League Baseball’s most dominating young pitchers, ultimately needs surgery will be made during or after his throwing regimen.

“If reoccurring symptoms come from that, obviously the road that needs to be taken is surgery,” Harvey said yesterday during a news conference at Citi Field in New York.

The Mets haven’t had a winning season since 2008 and Harvey is projected to pair with 23-year-old Zack Wheeler atop the team’s starting rotation as it rebuilds. The team now has to wait several months to see if Harvey will be a part of the plans for the 2014 season.

Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson said Harvey’s injury won’t significantly affect the club’s offseason strategy.

“Hopefully Matt is part of that rotation next year, but if he’s not, I don’t see us working hard to fill his spot from outside the organization,” Alderson said yesterday before the Mets’ 8-5 loss to the San Francisco Giants.

Pitching Depth

“The one thing we have is a great deal of starting pitching depth, some of it untested at the minor-league level,” Alderson added. “But we have a lot of confidence in the quality and quantity of our starting pitching.”

Harvey, the National League’s starting pitcher in this year’s All-Star Game, had a 9-5 record with a 2.27 earned-run average this season. He led the NL with 191 strikeouts in 178 1/3 innings when he was shut down.

Harvey told the Mets’ medical staff that he had increased discomfort in his forearm following his last start, against the Detroit Tigers on Aug. 24. Harvey said he had no shooting pain in his elbow and was shocked to learn the ligament was torn.

“I’ve never had pain in my elbow area where the UCL is and for me it felt like: Why jump into surgery in a situation where I’ve never had the tingling, the numbness, the shooting pain that are usually the symptoms of needing that surgery?” Harvey said yesterday. “For me, if a rehab and strengthening process is the way to go, that’s what I wanted to do.”

Elbow Stability

Harvey said the tests he underwent with Andrews showed no significant instability in his elbow.

Andrews specializes in the operation, known as Tommy John surgery, in which the UCL -- the primary stabilizing ligament in the inner elbow -- is replaced with a tendon from another part of the patient’s body.

The procedure is named after the former major league pitcher who first had the surgery in 1974. Tommy John surgery requires about a year of recovery time, so having the operation immediately might have allowed Harvey to return for the final month of next season in a best-case scenario. If it’s determined he needs surgery after the throwing program, he should be back at full strength by the 2015 season.

“The one thing that’s important to keep in mind is that we don’t believe, even with two months invested in this program, that it will affect 2015 if surgery is ultimately necessary,” Alderson said.

Two-time Cy Young Award-winner Roy Halladay of the Philadelphia Phillies is among the pitchers to avoid surgery after a UCL injury, opting instead for a rehab program. Harvey talked with Halladay last month.

“History shows that if you have a UCL tear, you need to replace it,” Harvey said. “But I think both doctors came to the conclusion of going through a rehab process, picking throwing back up, and going from there. In my mind, if I can rehab and make everything strong, that’s what I want to do.”

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.