Francisco Alvarez needs surgery on torn ligament in thumb

LOS ANGELES — Early this season, Francisco Alvarez ranked among the brightest aspects of an improving Mets organization. After a solid rookie year, Alvarez presented himself as one of the league’s most obvious candidates.

If he wants to exploit that potential, Alvarez will have to wait a while to do so. The Mets announced Saturday that Alvarez had a torn ligament in his left thumb and would require surgery. Although the team has not publicly estimated a timeline for Alvarez’s recovery, the catcher told teammates he expects to be out for 6-8 weeks.

“It’s horrible that it happened like this,” said Tomás Nido, one of two veteran receivers who will absorb Alvarez’s playing time. “But this team is built with the depth that we need to be able to combat these things and continue to win games.”

The Mets placed Alvarez on the 10-day injured list before their 6-4 win over the Dodgers. Only later in the day, after receiving additional test results, did they revise their diagnosis to what team officials originally called a sprain.

A team spokesperson said Alvarez plans to speak publicly about his injury on Sunday.

“When you lose a player like Alvarez who brings so much energy to us, it’s definitely a big blow,” outfielder Starling Marte said through a translator.

Throughout the young season, Alvarez absorbed bump after bump behind the plate, regularly taking swings and foul balls off his catcher’s mitt, facemask and chest protector. But nothing seemed to faze Alvarez until Friday, when he stumbled around first base after making an error. As Alvarez began to lose his balance, he reached out with his left hand to try to break his fall. As he did so, his thumb bent at an extreme angle.

The next 20 hours became an exercise in crisis management. As Alvarez underwent an MRI and other tests, the Mets sent a message to Charlotte, North Carolina, where Nido was playing at Triple-A. Nido took a connecting flight through Atlanta, waited out a two-hour delay, landed in Los Angeles, fought another 90 minutes of traffic and arrived at Dodger Stadium about 20 minutes after the first pitch. At the end of the seventh inning, he was on the field in catcher’s gear.

Nido and Omar Narváez will split time behind the plate in Alvarez’s absence, with Narváez, a left-handed hitter, likely to receive the majority of the reps. He’s hitting .200/.259/.240 without a home run in nine games this season, while Nido is off to a good start at Triple-A Syracuse, with a .345/.345/.517 slash line and one home run. in nine matches.

Yet none of them are Alvarez, a 22-year-old prodigy who once ranked among MLB Pipeline’s top prospects. Despite a slow start at the plate, Alvarez still collected five extra-base hits in his first 59 plate appearances while ranking in the 92nd percentile in Statcast’s catcher framing metric. Overall, he was slashing .236/.288/.364 with a home run.

Beyond the numbers, Alvarez is a popular presence at the club, known for his gregarious nature and tireless work ethic.

“I’m sad for him,” said pitcher José Buttó, a fellow Venezuelan who has known Alvarez since his early days in the United States. “It is my brother.”

Given that the Mets already have two veteran catchers in-house, it’s unlikely they’ll look for significant help outside the organization. The team paid for adding depth two offseasons ago, signing Narváez to a two-year, $15 million contract and guaranteeing Nido’s final two years of arbitration totaling $3.7 million. of dollars.

“It’s sad because Alvarez is a very important part of our team,” Narváez said. “We all know he’s a tough kid, and it takes a lot to take him out of the game. But things happen. You just have to play the game. I’m ready to go and I’ll try to keep the team at the same level (until) he returns.

Before Alvarez left Dodger Stadium on Saturday, he hugged his teammates and shook the hand of a staff member. Others in the clubhouse tried to speak optimistically. A 6-8 week schedule brings Alvarez into June in a best-case scenario, giving him plenty of time to contribute to what is quickly becoming an intriguing Mets season.

“It’s tough, and it probably won’t be the last tough news we get,” outfielder Brandon Nimmo said. “It’s unfortunate. I love the way he plays the game. I love the way he’s growing as a player, but these kinds of things happen. It’s just another obstacle to overcome.

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