All eyes were again on Port St. Lucie on Saturday afternoon as Matt Harvey threw off a mound for a third time in his continuing recovery from Tommy John surgery. But it was news on teammate—and fellow Tommy John surgery alumni—Jeremy Hefner that should give Harvey and the Mets pause.
The 28-year-old Hefner underwent the same surgical procedure on his right elbow last August 28, almost two months earlier than Harvey. Ahead of his fellow teammate in the rehab process, Hefner took the mound on August 6 for his sixth minor-league rehab start where he lasted just one inning and allowed three runs on three hits and two walks for High-A St. Lucie. Word soon filtered out that right-hander felt "soreness" in his right forearm, and though it’s unclear if it is related to his surgically repaired elbow, he was shut down and sent to New York for further examination. Hefner told ESPN New York that he won’t speculate further until he is seen by doctors.
"To say it's related/unrelated at this point would just be speculation. I'm resting right now and hopeful for more clarity next week."
Claimed off waivers from the Pirates back in 2011, Hefner made his major league debut for New York in 2012, starting 13 games among his 26 appearances. He was a regular member of the Mets' rotation in 2013, going 4-8 with a 4.34 ERA in 24 games (23 starts) before being shut down. He made his last start on August 9 of last year and ultimately underwent surgery three weeks later.
Hefner’s setback may prove nothing more than normal soreness from the recovery process from Tommy John surgery. Every player is unique in his ability to recover so each case should be handled separately, but with all due respect to Hefner, the Mets should take special note of his recovery and also view it as a barometer of sorts when handling Harvey.
The typical recovery period from Tommy John surgery is 12-to-18 months, but many latch on to the one-year mark as the ultimate finish line. Stan Conte, vice president of medical services for the Dodgers, recently told Newsday that discretion is the better part of valor when it comes to Tommy John rehabilitation.
"I don't want the perception to be that everybody comes backs at 12 months, and if they come back at 14 months, they're behind schedule. We do this all the time. Everybody quotes the same thing. It's 12 to 18 months. But nobody pays attention to the 18 months."
This is the dilemma the Mets and any other team face with players rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. While Hefner can be callously thrown into the "just another organizational arm" category, his rehab and potential setback should serve as an important reminder to the Mets and Harvey that faster is not always better.