Why Starling Marte’s return timeline remains murky

Starling Marte said there is a “good possibility” he will return to the Mets before the end of the regular season.

“We’ll get him back at some point,” manager Buck Showalter said.

But with about two and half weeks left in a heated battle with the Braves for the NL East title, the Mets and Marte do not have a firm idea of when, or if, one of the club’s most valuable players can suit up again.

Marte, who has not played since Sept. 6, when he was drilled in the hand with a fastball, which broke his right middle finger, was eligible to be activated off the injured list Saturday before the Mets’ 5-1 win over the Pirates at Citi Field. But it does not sound as if the right fielder, who is still unable to throw or swing, is close to a return.

Marte said he attempted to throw and swing on Thursday, but “it was still bothering me a good amount,” so he stopped. The Mets are in wait-and-see mode.

Starling Marte
Starling Marte
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg

The Mets’ No. 2 hitter said he was not sure the next time he will attempt those basic baseball activities.

“We’re just going to wait until the pain subsides a little more and just hoping that it doesn’t hurt the next time I try,” Marte said through interpreter Alan Suriel.

There is more guessing and less certainty regarding Marte’s injury (technically a partial non-displaced fracture) than with, say, a hamstring injury. Bones heal at different rates for each person, Showalter has repeatedly stated.

The manager said he was being “cautious,” but is not as concerned as he would be if Marte had hit the two-week mark without more healing. Tuesday will be two weeks since the injury.

In the meantime, Marte said he has been working out and “making sure my legs are ready,” while the Mets have missed his bat and glove.

Tyler Naquin started in right field Saturday against Pittsburgh righty Bryse Wilson. Jeff McNeil was forced to play right field on Friday, when he made a remarkable catch at the wall to rob Oneil Cruz. Darin Ruf had to play right field Wednesday.

“Obviously, he’s a good player and we miss him, but [we have] tried to make this a point of emphasis for us all year,” said Showalter, who suggested Marte could be arguably seen as their MVP. “Guys are getting some good opportunities to contribute to the needs of the club, but that’s happened all year.”

Suddenly, the Mets have too many catchers who can hit.

A glaring weakness all season has transitioned into a surprising strength for the first few weeks of September. Through the first 15 games of this month, Tomas Nido and James McCann combined to hit .347, the second-highest in baseball among catching groups in the span.

Nido owns a five-game hitting streak in which has batted .500 with two home runs and three doubles, yet was left out of the starting lineup Saturday night both because McCann also has been swinging well and because the Mets will play a day game Sunday.

“Tomas has been productive for us,” Showalter said before McCann went 0-for-4. “We’re going to make use of that.”

The Mets placed reliever Mychal Givens on the injured list without a designation, which is typically a sign of COVID-19.

After a rough start to his Mets tenure, the righty had been excellent for a few weeks and had not allowed a run in his past 10 ¹/₃ innings.

“I’m hoping that it’s not a long time. It’s kind of a moving target how long he will be out,” Showalter said. “We’d like to get Mych back. He’s in a good place.”

The Mets reinstated righty Stephen Nogosek from the 15-day IL with the corresponding move.

Showalter said Joey Lucchesi, who is building up with Triple-A Syracuse after Tommy John surgery, is “not forgotten.”

The lefty threw 2 ²/₃ scoreless innings Friday while allowing one hit and striking out two.

“He’s presenting himself as an option as the season progresses,” said Showalter, whose team is open to any lefty option it can find.

Righty Drew Smith allowed one hit and struck out one in pitching one scoreless inning Saturday with Syracuse after he threw a scoreless inning Friday. If the reliever emerges unscathed from this back-to-back, he would be an option for the Mets soon.

Unless “there’s some hiccup,” Showalter said, Max Scherzer will be activated Monday and start at Milwaukee.

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