Back From Rehab, Can Travis d’Arnaud Find a Place With the Mets?

Back From Rehab, Can Travis d’Arnaud Find a Place With the Mets?


WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — When Nationals catcher Raudy Read connected with a pitch in a game against the Mets on Field 2 Thursday morning, he watched it rocket out to left field. He believed it was a home run, and he trotted all the way to second base before realizing the ball had actually tailed foul. When he returned to home plate, teammates laughed. Mets catcher Travis d’Arnaud welcomed him.

“Did you know it was foul?” d’Arnaud said.

“Nobody told me it was foul,” Read said.

“You need some water?” d’Arnaud said. “We’ll wait for you.”

D’Arnaud knew what it felt like to have others waiting on him. Nearly a year since he tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and had Tommy John surgery, it was his first time catching a live game this spring.

His employers were anxious to see him throw. Behind the backstop, in a grandstand composed of five aluminum bleachers, the Mets owner Fred Wilpon sat in the top row. General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen, the assistant G.M. Allard Baird and several team scouts eyed d’Arnaud’s every move.

It was just a B game, or a glorified practice game, but regular Mets starters like Brandon Nimmo were also in the lineup. No runners tested d’Arnaud’s arm on the bases, but he made three throws down to second with ease between innings. He also collected two hits in three innings of work.

It was the latest milestone for d’Arnaud in a long journey back, one that he hopes will lead to a position on the 25-man roster for Opening Day.

“It felt so good to be finally back out there,” d’Arnaud said. “To work with pitchers again, it was a lot of fun.”

[Read more: For the Mets, It Could Get Crowded Behind Home Plate]

D’Arnaud was no stranger to rehabilitation. Since his major league debut in 2013, his injuries have included: a concussion, a broken hand, a rotator cuff strain, a hyperextended elbow and this off-season’s elbow operation. For his most recent recovery, he did not start throwing again until August, and hitting did not start until December. He returned to the Grapefruit League lineup last week as a designated hitter for a pair of games, but he has yet to make the next step of catching in a regular stadium game rather than a side field.

He was anxious in his first at-bats of the spring last weekend, though his legs passed one test when he went from first to home to score a run against the Cardinals. His lungs were another story: He was winded when he slid across the plate and looked for help from a teammate coming to bat.

“I was definitely gassed,” d’Arnaud said. “Took me a while to get up.”

As d’Arnaud has worked his way back since his injury last April, plenty has changed around him. Van Wagenen replaced Sandy Alderson as general manager, and in December the Mets signed Wilson Ramos to be the team’s starting catcher. Just before spring training, the team also brought back Devin Mesoraco, a bulwark who was acquired by trade from the Reds last season and made an niche for himself by catching 21 starts made by pitcher Jacob deGrom during his Cy Young Award-winning season.

Manager Mickey Callaway asserted at the start of camp that he would be not rule out carrying three catchers on the team’s 25-man roster. He also made clear that despite d’Arnaud’s athleticism and ability to play other positions like third base — which he memorably did, sort of, in 2017 — or the outfield, he would be limited to catcher and designated hitter so as not to risk a setback to his arm. It was false advertising on Saturday when the lineup posted on the wall inside the main entrance at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium in Jupiter, Fla., listed d’Arnaud at third base. He served as the designated hitter that afternoon.

“I’m just happy to be playing today,” he said.

Beyond that, it’s still not entirely clear where he’ll fit in with the Mets when the regular season begins. Last April, d’Arnaud was splitting time at catcher with Kevin Plawecki, who has since moved on to the Cleveland Indians. D’Arnaud, who played all 14 postseason games during the Mets’ run to the 2015 World Series, started four of the first 10 games, and he went 3 for 15 with a home run and three R.B.I. Still, there was concern about his arm when he allowed seven stolen bases without catching a single runner. He experienced elbow discomfort, alerted the team, and, after the tear was discovered in New York, his season was done.

Support came in from family members, his wife and former teammates. He maintained that he stayed confident in his belief that he could come back to his position.

“I had a good foundation,” he said. “I never doubted it at all.”

There is evidence of that support here, too. On Thursday, when d’Arnaud completed his game duties, Van Wagenen went up to the dugout, and exchanged a fist bump with him through a black chain-link fence.

D’Arnaud remained on the move after taking a short breather. He walked over to Field 1, where he played catch with Glenn Sherlock, the first base coach, before throwing down to third base, then second and finally first with no runners in sight.

D’Arnaud then went back to the bullpen, where he warmed up relief pitcher Jeurys Familia before he entered the side game.

Following the main team’s game in the stadium, Callaway noted that the report he received from team officials was that d’Arnaud was throwing bullets.

D’Arnaud was finally ready to take aim at runners on the regular field.

“Coming soon,” he said.



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