Mar 24

Gsellman Frontrunner For No. 5 Starter

While there’s nothing official, it’s probably safe to assume the Mets will name Robert Gsellman their fifth starter.

There’s not much to debate after Gsellman gave up one unearned run in Thursday’s shutout loss to Washington. Gsellman reported to spring training to compete with Seth Lugo and Zack Wheeler for the No. 5, and he’s lived up to expectations with a 1.56 ERA, but in only 17.1 innings.

As for Wheeler, he hasn’t helped himself with an 8.59 ERA in three games. He certainly hasn’t worked enough to be stretched out for a rotation spot, and considering his lack of experience in the role, the Mets are reluctant to work him out of the bullpen despite their need.

However, Lugo, who pitched well for Puerto Rico in the WBC – save the championship game against the United States – does have a bullpen background and the Mets envision working in as a reliever in the middle innings.

The need for Lugo in the bullpen coupled with Wheeler’s problems forces Gsellman to the front of the line.

“I have no idea until they tell me,” Gsellman told reporters Thursday about a possible rotation spot. “So we’ll wait and see. I don’t really think about that. I just try to go out and get the job done.”

Gsellman will get one more start to cement his spot in the rotation, and it’s possible – but a likely long shot if the Mets hold to form – both he and Lugo could go in the rotation – if Matt Harvey continues to spit the bit in his final spring start.

 

Mar 23

Mets Boast Formidable Lineup

The Mets’ batting order will vary depending on the opposing pitcher and who are the hot hitters. However, the lineup manager Terry Collins started Wednesday against the Miami Marlins is the one he’ll likely write in most days.

And, when clicking it can be very formidable.

REYES: The catalyst. (AP)

REYES: The catalyst. (AP)

Jose Reyes, 3B: With David Wright to open the season on the disabled list and Reyes playing every day, there’s no need to search for another leadoff hitter and we won’t see him in the outfield. Backup: Wilmer Flores, T.J. Rivera.

Asdrubal Cabrera, SS: He produced in this slot last year and there’s no reason to change. He has the power to be a run- producer high in the order and bat control to advance runners. Backup: Reyes with Flores playing third that day.

Yoenis Cespedes, LF: Traditionally, your best hitter bats third. That’s Cespedes, no question. Backup: It will depend whether Michael Conforto or Brandon Nimmo are on the roster.

Curtis Granderson, CF: He homered twice Wednesday and if he’s hitting that’s sufficient protection for Cespedes. A potential issue is stacking two high-strikeout hitters back-to-back. Backup: The only true center fielder is Juan Lagares.

Neil Walker, 2B: I like putting a switch-hitter between Granderson and Jay Bruce. Let’s hope he shows the power he did last season. Backup: Rivera and/or Flores.

Bruce, RF: Let’s face it, there will be no immediate trade involving Bruce. And, with the $13 million they are paying him, he will play which could leave Conforto on the outs. He could open the season in the minor leagues to get consistent at-bats. Backup: If he stays, Conforto could be a factor. If not, Granderson would return to his natural position.

Lucas Duda, 1B: He’s healthy – knock on wood – for now. With the hitters immediately ahead of him, Duda should have plenty of RBI opportunities. Duda has had a good spring and has been driving the ball to the opposite field. Backup: Flores is the first option. Potential backup Bruce hasn’t gotten enough playing time at the position.

Travis d’Arnaud, C: Somebody has to hit eighth. He’s had a good spring at the plate, but his throwing needs work. Backup: Rene Rivera, but we’ll see Kevin Plawecki this summer.

Collins consistently said last year’s offense was built to hit the long ball, and this season should be no different as he has four sluggers who have hit 30 homers in a season, with three of them – Granderson, Bruce and Duda – left-handed added to Cespedes. Even so, it was encouraging to hear Collins say he wanted to push the envelope offensively and manufacture runs. The flip side is those four are also capable to strike out over 100 times.

For that to happen, the Mets must strike out less and walk more and emphasize the need for making productive outs and improve their hitting with runners in scoring position.

Mar 22

Matz Hammered; Fastball Command Off

What had been a strong spring for Steven Matz following elbow surgery, turned sour Wednesday when he was routed by the Miami Marlins. The positive take on giving up five earned runs on eight hits in four innings (79 pitches) are the following: 1) his outing wasn’t injury related, 2) there wasn’t anything wrong with his fastball velocity, 3) considering he has been consistent this spring, today should go down as “one of those games,” and 4) he quickly identified his problem.

MATZ: Still has work to do. (AP)

MATZ: Still has work to do. (AP)

“I think just fastball command,” Matz told reporters. “I gave up a hit on a curveball to [Matt] den Dekker. Other than that, they were all fastballs. Spring Training is about fastball command, and I’ll keep hammering away at that.

“I was up in the zone. Last time, I was up out of the zone and had some walks. This time, [the fastballs] were up in the zone, and they were able to get their barrels to it more. I felt like mechanically, I was OK, but the ball was just up in the zone. That’s right where the bat path is, and they were able to hit them pretty hard.”

The negative take is that fastball command should usually be on this late in spring training, and if Matz doesn’t regain it in his remaining one or two starts then there could be a problem. My thinking is today was “one of those games,” and a red flag isn’t waving.

My concern with Matz is whether he’ll get enough work this spring. The conventional wisdom on a starter’s innings in spring training has usually been in the high 20s up to 30 innings. With his four innings today, Matz has 12.2 innings and assuming five in his next start that’s not even 20. Especially coming off surgery he might not be strong enough.

“I’m glad I’ve got one or two more starts before the season comes,” Matz said. “You try to not let this stuff bother you, but still. when you’re getting hit around, it’s never fun. I’ll take away something and bring it to my next start.”

 

 

Mar 21

Harvey Not There, But Better

What can we make of Matt Harvey‘s latest start, one in which he threw 74 pitches and worked into the fifth inning (4.1 innings) for the first time this spring?

HARVEY: Takes a positive step. (AP)

HARVEY: Takes a positive step. (AP)

It was easily his best outing of the spring, not only in terms of length but also velocity when he threw three straight pitches at 95 mph., to strike out James McCann – who homered off him earlier in the game – in the fourth inning.

“A guy hits a home run off of you, and you always want to get him out the next time,” Harvey told reporters to show the competitive fire that has not abandoned him as he tries to come back following thoracic outlet surgery that has sapped his velocity and hindered his command and movement.

Pitching coach Dan Warthen estimates Harvey’s velocity should return full time in May. That he hit the radar gun at 96 tops is a very good sign.

However, we can’t say certainly he is back. He remains a work in progress. Don’t forget, before he broke down last summer Harvey had trouble getting out of the fifth and sixth innings. It was as if he hit a wall. Harvey gave up three runs on seven hits in his 4.1 innings, which, by definition, is not a quality start. That he reached that far for the first time is a positive, but Harvey would be the first to say he wouldn’t be satisfied with that in the regular season.

However, 74 pitches are way too many for not getting out the fifth. It signifies hitters are fouling off a lot of pitches, meaning he wasn’t able to put them away.

“Overall, I’m excited, and I made a lot of good pitches; unfortunately, in the last inning I didn’t,” Harvey told reporters.

Catcher Kevin Plawecki said Harvey’s command drifted in the fifth inning.

“Other than that last inning, I thought he hit his locations good,” Plawecki said. “[The fastball] was coming in real good, but more importantly, his location was what [he] wanted to see. That’s ultimately what it’s about — you can throw as hard as you want, but if you aren’t spotting anything, it really doesn’t matter.”

Harvey will get two more starts and said he needs to build up his arm strength, improve his command and refine his mechanics. That’s a lot of work to do for two more starts.

As of now, I’m still inclined to leave him back for now, but hopeful he’ll turn it around.

 

Mar 20

Mets’ Remaining Issues With Two Weeks To Go

It seems hard to believe, but it’s true … Opening Day for the Mets is two weeks from today. Fourteen days and a lot of things needing to be determined, beginning with the rotation.

Let’s take a quick look:

HARVEY: Big start today (AP)

HARVEY: Big start today (AP)

ROTATION: I wrote after his last start that perhaps the Mets should consider leaving the battered Matt Harvey back. They haven’t publicly discussed it, but if Harvey gets hammered today the question should be answered. Pitching coach Dan Warthen said Harvey likely would not be full strength until May, at least. And, with a lot of off days in April, it would be an optimum time to let Harvey get stronger and work on his mechanics.

Assuming Harvey is in the rotation, the fifth starter spot between Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman and Zack Wheeler is undecided. Leaving Wheeler behind would be the prudent option.

BULLPEN: The Mets won’t learn of Jeurys Familia’s suspension until the World Baseball Classic is over. The popular guess is 30 games, but you never know. Addison Reed hasn’t done well as the expected replacement. … Rafael Montero has pitched well, but others have not, like Erik Goeddel. … Fernando Salas just reported to camp following a visa issue. … We’re still waiting for Hansel Robles to show something. … A potential problem with the bullpen is that the starters won’t go long early, so there could be an exposure problem.

FIRST BASE: Jay Bruce as a potential backup hit a snag because he developed a sore hip when he started taking grounders. Could that be because he didn’t start practicing there in earnest until recently? It’s probably Wilmer Flores as the backup for now.

OUTFIELD ALIGNMENT: Michael Conforto has had a good spring, but there’s been no mention as to how – where and how much – he’ll be used. If Conforto and Brandon Nimmo will be on the Opening Day roster, there should be a rough playing rotation as to keep everybody sharp and nobody gets worn down. We haven’t seen a hint of that.

Fourteen days to go and it seems like that many unresolved issues.