Bobby Parnell’s journey hit another snag on Friday, raising fair questions
It’s been a long and winding road for Bobby Parnell, a journey that has lasted over two years.
It started with being diagnosed with a herniated disc in his neck after an appearance against the Marlins on July 31, 2013. That injury would require surgery and that game was the last he would pitch until Opening Day, 2014.
But after a turbulent spring training and an Opening Day to forget for Parnell, little did he know that would be the only game he’d pitch in 2014, as his elbow required season-ending Tommy John Surgery.
It would be 14 1/2 months, a strained groin, and a sore forearm later before Parnell and some creative reinvention before Parnell could pitch in a big league game again. His first year back after undergoing the infamous procedure has been up and down, with days looking like he is close to returning to form and others, like Friday, when his stuff just isn’t there.
Because the fastball and location were off on Friday, Parnell allowed two runs to the Pirates in the tenth inning, taking the loss and ending the Mets four-game winning streak.
“It’s been a roller-coaster ride of a year,” Parnell said on Friday. “The health’s been good. I feel like the small things are continually getting better. I’ll keep going forward.”
Unfortunately for Parnell, he left the field to a smattering of boos, despite the outing being the first time in six he had been scored upon.
“I was a little surprised [at the booing] with how well we’ve been playing,” manager Terry Collins said. “But it’s part of the game, you shrug, realize that it happens, and move on.”
Parnell heard the booing, but chose to focus on the fans who offered him support despite the disappointing performance.
“True fans were out there supporting me,” Parnell said. “That actually meant a lot to me because it’s kind of been a roller-coaster ride this year. Losing a big ballgame like that is not fun. I saw some good fans up there showing me some support. It makes me feel good about the scenario.”
One of Parnell’s problems in his return from Tommy John Surgery has been he is yet to prove he can pitch effectively on back-to-back days. He was fine on Thursday afternoon against the Rockies, pitching a scoreless ninth inning. But his velocity was down on Friday night, his fastball was up in the zone, and the Pirates skewered him for two runs and a loss.
Parnell has now allowed eight runs in only 4 1/3 innings when pitching in the second of back-to-back games.
Still, Parnell attributes his struggles on Friday to poor execution, not fatigue.
“I think today is just a matter of trying to do too much,” the right-hander explained. “It’s a big spot. I’m kind of putting a lot of pressure on myself and trying to be too fine. I feel like when I try to get too fine I give up those little weak hits and stuff like that.”
Collins felt the same way, as Parnell only made 14 pitches on Thursday. Still, the manager acknowledged Parnell is still going through an unpredictable recovery process.
“There are days his arm has got it, days it doesn’t, and there’s nothing to signal when that’s going to be,” the manager explained.
Parnell clearly has a lot of work to do to get back to being the pitcher the Mets will need him to be. He has shown some positive signs lately with the uptick in his fastball, often sitting in the upper-90s with good and effective location. But then there are these kind of nights when it’s just not there.
The stats certainly support the hypothesis in that he does indeed struggle in back-to-back scenarios. His velocity is typically down, and his location has been off more often than not as well. It’s not unexpected – after all, he is coming off Tommy John Surgery, and nearly two years of basically not pitching at all. This is a process, and a process both he and the club will have to bear in the heat of a pennant race and must-win situations in the final 46 games of the year.
The thing is, if he continues to be off and on and the Mets do make it to the playoffs, they’re going to have to think about how Parnell might be able to effectively contribute in those games. His services will undoubtedly be needed on consecutive days, but if these struggles and setbacks continue, they may not have the luxury of patience during that time of year.
It would be an unfortunate dead end for Parnell in 2015 if he can’t break through this necessary barrier in the recovery process. But management and the front office are obligated the go with the best 25-man roster in that time of year.
Hopefully he can cap his comeback by pitching meaningful games in October.