Alou likely out until May
Outfielder will undergo surgery on Thursday to fix hernia
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Each new malady to hit the Mets this spring has prompted a response of "It's better to get it out of the way early" -- or some variation on that theme -- from manager Willie Randolph, general manager Omar Minaya or the patient himself, as if each team is scheduled for a specific number of physical problems this year and the Mets were wisely working their way through their allotment before games of consequence begin.
Now, though, a problem of significant consequence has hit the team and strained the middle of the batting order. Moises Alou is to undergo surgery Thursday to repair a hernia. The oft-disabled 41-year-old outfielder probably will be lost to the Mets until at least May, because the prognosis is he will be unable to resume baseball activities for four to six weeks.
Alou is guaranteed to begin the season in the same circumstance in which he spent 75 days last season -- assigned to the disabled list. The projected absence of his right-handed bat is likely to eliminate the balance the Mets had hoped to have in their batting order and generally undermine their run production.
Even before Alou was examined in Manhattan on Wednesday afternoon, Minaya said the Mets had anticipated playing some number of games without him. But beginning the season knowing Alou could miss 30 or so games before he plays in one was not in their projection.
"We came into the season with a track record of Alou, knowing that he was going to give us a certain amount of games," Minaya said. "We felt that the number of games he was going to give us would be very productive games, and I think that bore out last year."
It was at the same time the Minaya also said: "One thing you always say about Spring Training is you hope to get out of here healthy. If we can get all these injuries out of the way now, it would be great."
Minaya declined to discuss the matter Wednesday night.
With Alou unable to play, the club may opt to deploy veterans Damion Easley and Endy Chavez in left field against left-handed pitchers and right-handed pitchers, respectively. Or it may look to import a right-handed-hitting outfielder or consider using one of two extra outfielders already in camp -- switch-hitter Angel Pagan and Brady Clark, who bats right-handed. Before the latest Alou problem, the plan had been to use Easley in right field against left-handed pitchers if left-handed pitching proved to be too much for Ryan Church.
The less urgent but more immediate problem facing the Mets is that they now have merely two able-bodied regulars for exhibition games -- David Wright and Jose Reyes. Alou's situation is by far the most serious, but five others are down, including catcher Brian Schneider (tight right hamstring), first baseman Carlos Delgado (right hip impingement) second baseman Luis Castillo (recovering from October surgery on both knees), center fielder Carlos Beltran (recovering from October surgery on both knees) and Church, who suffered a concussion in an exhibition game.
Four of the team's primary backups -- Easley, Chavez, Marlon Anderson and Ruben Gotay -- are unavailable as well.
The Mets announced late Wednesday morning that Alou had flown to New York to be examined. At the time, they said he had a sore right groin, but by that point, he already had been examined by Dr. Straun Coleman, one of the club physicians who suspected a hernia. He was seen by two doctors at New York Presbyterian Hospital.
Alou was removed from the Mets' game against the Braves on Monday after making the last out of the third inning in his second at-bat. Randolph said Wednesday it was all but standard procedure to remove the veteran outfielder after two plate appearances.
"After the game, he felt it more and more," Minaya said. "He felt some more discomfort [Tuesday], and [Wednesday] he also felt discomfort. We are making sure."
A strained right quad was the injury that had Alou disabled last season. It added to an injury history that has limited him to 98 or fewer games in each of the past two seasons. When he was well enough to play, he thrived: Alou batted .341 with 13 home runs 328 at-bats last year.
He told teammates last season he had grown weary of time spent disabled and that he probably would retire after the season. But the Mets' late-season collapse prompted him to return. He said he hoped for 500 at-bats this year. That number seems even more unlikely now.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.