Comeback Season: Michael Conforto’s Return From Injury Merits Close Attention

In the midst of a horrific season, Michael Conforto’s emergence as a bona fide star hitter was a huge development. Conforto was a highly touted prospect and had exhibited flashes of greatness, including two home runs in a World Series game. But, as is the case with many young hitters, he was prone to very rough patches that would drag down those numbers. This time last year, the expectation was for him to be the odd man out in an outfield group that included Yoenis Cespedes, Jay Bruce, and Curtis Granderson.

Instead, as August was concluding, Conforto appeared poised to put the finishing touches on a breakout season. In a lineup lacking much talent for most of the year, he bashed 27 home runs. He had attained the consistency that had proved so evasive in his first full season in 2016. It was a terrible season, but at least the Mets had a franchise hitter to build around.

This one pleasant narrative was put to bed with a freakish and painful injury on a simple swing in an afternoon game against the Diamondbacks. By the time an onlooking fan refreshed his Facebook feed, their best story of the season was writhing in pain following the most basic of plays.

This swing was the symbol of the 2017 Mets. The challenges that come with his return may prove to define the 2018 Mets and beyond.

The conversation that surrounds the infamous injury issues that have plagued the Mets always circle back to their young starting pitchers. Everything the Mets have built has been predicated off their health. When their arms collapsed in 2017, so did the team. And when the team did, coaches and members of the training staff lost their jobs.

Sandy Alderson wasn’t shy this off-season, using transparency to attempt to appease a fanbase that (rightfully) questions the commitment of ownership to spend some cash.

One of the main parts of his off-season agenda of optimism has been to highlight the resources Mets management has devoted to attempt to eliminate the proliferation of an injury bug that has been as much of a mainstay in the Mets clubhouse as Jay Horwitz.

Out is head trainer Ray Ramirez, who, fair or unfair, has been the face of the endless rash of injuries the Mets have sustained. The new head trainer, Brian Chicklo, will be reporting to Jim Cavallini, who is the first to serve in the Mets’ newly minted position of Director of Performance And Sports Science.

Sandy Alderson has been on the circuit promoting the new processes in place that the Mets hope will mitigate, and possibly even prevent, injuries to those on their roster. Obviously, much of the evaluation of this program will focus around the health of the very talented and very fragile pitching staff. However, Conforto’s injury provides a unique set of circumstances that requires the utmost attention throughout the course of the season.

In addition to dislocating his shoulder, there was also a tear in his posterior shoulder capsule. Dr. Armin Tehrany, who is a shoulder specialist and founder of Manhattan Orthopedic Care, had some ominous quotes shortly after the injury:

“Moving forward regarding prevention, that’s difficult because the motion that led to the tear, which is a swinging motion, is one that he’s going to continue to do,” Tehrany said. “Because he’s continuing to do it, we always have to know that there’s a significant chance that he can eventually damage it again the same way he did the first time.”

While Dr. Tehrany’s quote doesn’t sound promising, contemporary sports medical science has allowed for many surprising and impressive comebacks across all sports.

The Mets will need to be cautious and attentive in trying to restore Conforto to the levels he had reached in 2017. Communication between Conforto, the coaches, and training staff will be paramount as the Mets will need to be careful in not pushing him back too strongly in his first year back from shoulder surgery. Even in the midst of a hot streak or an important series against the Nationals, he will need days off to not increase the risk of re-injury.

Alderson has stated that they are targeting for his return in May, which seems appropriate given the nature of the injury. So much of Conforto’s road back depends on luck, but if the Mets manage to keep him healthy and enable him to perform in 2018, that would certainly help validate Alderson’s work in overhauling the Mets’ much maligned training and medical practices.

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