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Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Abbey Mastracco

Mets closer Edwin Diaz ahead of schedule with rehab of torn patellar tendon

NEW YORK — Edwin Diaz didn’t immediately know how badly his knee was injured. He was elated after striking out the side for Puerto Rico on March 15, helping his country defeat the favored Dominicans and advance to the World Baseball Classic quarterfinals.

The celebration just sort of happened. The team surrounded him and everyone began jumping around in a huddle. And then, suddenly, he was on the ground. His brother Alexis in tears, blaming himself for the injury.

Next came the diagnosis — a torn patellar tendon — the controversy surrounding the WBC and surgery for the highest-paid closer in baseball.

Lost in all of this was how Diaz himself felt about it all. He finally opened up about how it all went down and what comes next Wednesday morning at Citi Field. Already ahead of schedule on his eight-month rehab, Diaz continues to be upbeat and optimistic.

“I’m feeling great and working hard to come back as soon as possible,” Diaz said. “Everything is going in the right direction and the doctors say I’m doing great. I’m really happy.”

The 29-year-old Diaz is hoping that he can return to action this season but he’s not yet ready to say that he will. He’s rehabbing his knee while keeping his arm in shape and isn’t looking too far ahead at a timeline for a return.

“First, they want my knee to get better and then they’ll see how I’m responding with my strength and all of the things I have to do,” he said. “Then I’ll start throwing. If the tests are coming back good, I might throw this year.”

Cameras captured the shock and emotion of Diaz’s Puerto Rican teammates as he was carted off the field. At the time, he was pretty shocked himself but he quickly focused on figuring out what was wrong with his knee and how long it would take to get a diagnosis.

Diaz had never really worried about his health in the past given his history of durability. He had only made two brief injured list stints in the past and felt great going into the tournament.

“When I saw what happened and I saw my teammates were really sad,” he said. “But I realized I was going through a process. So I’m positive and I’m trying to do my best and we’re doing good right now.”

The enduring image was of Alexis, a right-hander for the Cincinnati Reds, being consoled by coaches and teammates as he sobbed on the field. Once in the training room, Diaz was happy to see his younger brother, and tried to reassure him that the injury was not his fault — it was simply a freak accident.

“He was crying and I started crying too with him,” Diaz said. “He was saying, ‘That’s my fault, that’s my fault.’ When I saw the video, I saw no one hit me or anything, so I told him. He’s very good right now.”

Diaz signed a record five-year, $102 million contract over the winter, which only seemed to fuel the fire for the narrative of the naysayers. If you ask Diaz, the controversy surrounding the WBC is overblown. He didn’t injure himself pitching, he injured it celebrating, something that could have happened during a game with the Mets.

The pride he takes in being from Puerto Rico is shown on a baseball field and if given the opportunity, he would play in the tournament again.

“It can happen in your home or in any place. It happened to me in the WBC and that’s part of the game,” Diaz said. “I wasn’t pitching, I was celebrating. If I had the chance to play again, yeah, I would do it. It was great. I can’t wait.”

Verlander amps up rehab

The Mets have finalized their plan for Justin Verlander’s rehab. The right-hander is headed to Port St. Lucie this weekend to throw two side sessions and a bullpen before making a rehab start. He has continued to throw off flat ground while sidelined with a teres major strain and will start throwing off a mound in Florida.

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