PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The New York Mets' pitching staff which this spring already has undergone numerous scares and distractions, suffered its greatest setback yet yesterday when Sid Fernandez fractured a bone in his pitching arm and was lost for three months.
Fernandez, the immensely talented if erratic lefthander who was the team's No. 4 starter, was struck by a batted ball in the fifth inning of yesterday's exhibition against Houston.
He left the complex in extreme pain and returned hours later in a cast, the ulna bone of his left arm having suffered a non-displaced fracture roughly three inches above the wrist.
Mets manager Bud Harrelson said Fernandez's arm would remain in a cast for six weeks, and another six weeks would be required to rehabilitate the arm. He said it would be nine weeks before Fernandez would even be capable of tossing a ball.
Fernandez, with a career record of 78-59, was a National League leader last season in holding opposing hitters to a .200 average, and his 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings rated second in the National League.
"I'm numb," Harrelson said. "I just lost my No. 4 starter, who is a force to be reckoned with."
Fernandez made his 1991 camp pitching debut yesterday by working a perfect fourth inning.
Then in the fifth, with runners on first and second, Javier Ortiz hit a one-hop smash back to the mound. Fernandez's arm absorbed the ball's impact after he lifted it instinctively to protect his face.
"It was playable," said Fernandez, standing at his locker with the arm in a sling after the game, an 11-4 loss for the Mets. "It's not a real bad break. But I'm disappointed. I won't be able to help the team."
Where that help comes will consume the organization and fuel the most intense competition of the four weeks that remain until the start of the season. "We'll be talking, looking," Harrelson said. "All the candidates are here."