Feb 23

Callaway Benches Smith; Shows Who Is Boss

Today wasn’t just a milestone day for new Mets manager Mickey Callaway simply because it was his first game, it was in that he firmly established who is in charge.

From the moment he was introduced, Callaway stressed accountability and responsibility.

It wasn’t always that way under Terry Collins, who, in all fairness, didn’t get support from GM Sandy Alderson. Obviously, Alderson wouldn’t undercut Callaway over Dominic Smith, but it was encouraging to see the rookie manager pull the prospect from the starting lineup after he showed up late to a team meeting.

Callaway doesn’t have many rules, but being on time is one of them. It’s not all that hard to show up on time, and it is head scratching for someone trying to make the roster being late for the first game of the year.

Players supposed to show up for an 8:45 a.m., meeting and Smith was late. Maybe he overslept, maybe he got stuck in traffic, maybe he didn’t set his alarm properly. Whatever the reason, it didn’t fly with Callaway, nor should it.

Smith is a professional, and while he might have a lot to learn about playing the game, he should already know how to set an alarm clock.

Perhaps it would have been more impressive if it was Yoenis Cespedes, Matt Harvey or Noah Syndergaard – all who tested the limits under Collins – but Callaway wouldn’t wilt in his first disciplinary test.

Good for him.

To his credit, Smith made no excuses, was contrite and admitted he was wrong.

“I shouldn’t be cutting it close like that,’’ Smith told reporters. “I’m a professional. This is my job. This is my career. It’s my livelihood. I felt like I definitely let them down today.

“He asked me what I thought the decision should be and I agreed with him. That’s the only way it should be. They shouldn’t give me a pass or whatever. They shouldn’t give anybody a pass. That’s what he’s been preaching since Day 1 – accountability. You got to be accountable for yourself, your actions.’’

Yes, it was only a Triple-A prospect. It wasn’t Cespedes, who is erratic in his hustle and blew off treatment of a quad injury to play golf; it wasn’t Harvey, who blew off a game last year nursing a hangover; and it wasn’t Syndergaard, who refused to take an MRI and subsequently tore a lat muscle last April which basically cost the Mets their season.

Some might ask why this is a big deal, that what difference does a few minutes make.

It’s because being late shows a lack of discipline. It shows a lack of respect for the rules and your teammates. It’s because little things can grow into bad habits that can cost a team games if left unchecked.

Basically, it’s learning how to win, something the Mets don’t know how to do.

Feb 22

Mets Must Make Decision On Wheeler

Zack Wheeler gets the ball tomorrow against the Braves in their exhibition opener. He’ll get roughly 30 pitches or two innings.

It’s one of five appearances he’ll get this spring to prove his elbow is sound enough for him to make the Mets’ rotation. There’s also been talk about trying him out of the bullpen, or him staying back.

WHEELER: Rotation or bullpen? (AP)

WHEELER: Rotation or bullpen? (AP)

Frankly, I’m intrigued by the possibility of him working out of the pen. I’m aware of the concern over the up-and-down nature of a reliever being an injury risk, just as the probability of breaking down after pitching on consecutive days.

The biggest chance for injury is if the Mets plan for him to start then switch direction and try him out of the pen. Or, do the opposite in working him in the bullpen during spring training then switching gears during the season.

This is what happened with Jenrry Mejia, who bounced around from the rotation to the pen and back again, only to blow out his arm.

It’s too simplistic to say, “Well, he’s a pitcher, just throw the damn ball.’’

There have been plenty of pitchers to go from the rotation to star in the bullpen. Dave Righetti, Dennis Eckersley and John Smoltz all made the transition and starred. Smoltz even went back to the rotation, but the key was it wasn’t done during the season.

I don’t know what the Mets will decide to do with Wheeler, but whatever they do, for this year at least they can’t deviate. Make the decision and stick with it, even if he opens the season in the minors. If they decide to pitch him out of the bullpen, then send him to the minors, he must pitch in relief at Las Vegas.

I’m intrigued by the idea of Wheeler pitching out of the pen. He has a live fastball – his out pitch – and from starting he has a secondary pitch. If he can control his command issues, he could be an effective reliever.

He gets into trouble facing a lineup the third time through when his pitch count rises so maybe being a closer would suit him.

Plus, are you all that convinced Jeurys Familia is a great closer. Both he and AJ Ramos will be free agents in 2019, so it would be beneficial to prepare for them leaving.

Unlike Sandy Alderson, I don’t see the Mets competing this year, so getting some answers would be a good thing.

 

Feb 21

Mets To Resist Temptation With Conforto

Don’t do it Mets. You’ve been down this road before with Matt Harvey, David Wright, Yoenis Cespedes and numerous others. Now you’re facing the dilemma with Michael Conforto.

The initial prognosis was for Conforto to return by early May from surgery off his left shoulder. However, he’s ahead of schedule and been hitting balls off a tee.

CONFORTO: A lot to smile about. (AP)

CONFORTO: Need for caution.  (AP)

“I have been waiting forever to be able to do that and it feels great,’’ Conforto told reporters in Port S. Lucie. “It really makes you understand how much you love it.’’

It’s encouraging news, no doubt, but is it enough for the Mets to tempt fate?

Conforto, who had surgery in September to repair a dislocated shoulder, said he’s content with the timetable initially set by doctors and the Mets. However, there are temptations.

“There’s the May 1 date and that kind of gives me an idea,’’ Conforto said. “As a competitor, it’s tough to look at that date and not want to get out there before that, but that is why we have the great medical staff we have.’’

Conforto wants to break camp with the team, but rushing back – especially in the chilly April evenings when it is hard to get loose – would be the worst thing for him to do.

Manager Mickey Callaway insists he won’t be seduced by positive reports about Conforto’s shoulder, even if it means a slow start.

“Players always tell you they are better than they probably are [physically], so we are going to be aware of that,’’ Callaway said. “We want [Conforto] back, and when he’s there, he is ready for the rest of the season.’’

That’s what he says now. Will he say the same thing in a month?

Feb 16

Vargas A Good Signing

I would have preferred Jake Arrieta, but I like the signing of Jason Vargas. Two years for $16 million with a club option for 2020 isn’t a bad deal, especially for a left-hander pitched 179.2 innings and won 18 games.

What’s not to like?

VARGAS: Good signing. (Getty)

       VARGAS: Good signing. (Getty)

Zack Wheeler reportedly isn’t happy, but that’s too bad because after all, he’s frequently injured and has only pitched in 66 games since 2013.

Assuming Vargas – who pitched for the Mets in 2007 – comes close in the next two years to start the 32 game he did last year [Jacob deGrom led the staff with 31].

Vargas is an insurance policy for a staff that had five starters [Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Wheeler, Steven Matz and Seth Lugo] go on the disabled list last year.

He also is a stop-gap for Harvey possibly leaving and gives the Mets a left-handed option if Matz goes down again.

Manager Mickey Callaway echoed what I wrote the other day that a team “can’t have enough pitching.’’

While pitching coach with Cleveland Callaway undoubtedly saw Vargas pitch for the Royals.

Feb 16

What Can We Expect From Harvey?

It’s not surprising Matt Harvey has been an early topic in spring training, but for once the most compelling question about him isn’t: Will it ever happen for him?

We are six years removed from 2012 when Harvey made his major league debut with Cy Young expectations. We may never see that Harvey again, and but I believe his thoughts this year are more about his contract year than it carrying the Mets.

HARVEY: What to expect from him? (AP)

            HARVEY: What to expect from him? (AP)

Ken Davidoff, the very talented baseball columnist for The Post, wrote about Harvey “just trying for a graceful exit,’’ and he couldn’t be closer to the truth.

Seriously, does anybody really believe Harvey will suddenly pitch injury free all year, win up to 17 games, and NOT leave the Mets next winter as a free agent?

I’ve always thought he’d bolt for the Yankees the first chance he got, but maybe they won’t want him. Even so, I’d be shocked if he pitched healthy and well and stayed with the Mets. It doesn’t even matter if he signs with the Yankees or not, he’s gone.

So far, the first impression of manager Mickey Callaway is a good one. I especially liked when he said: “He might never be the Dark Knight again, but the Mets don’t need that from him. … We need the best version of who Matt is today, and that person is going to be good enough.’’

Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, but that has to be Harvey’s motivation. He must take measured steps and that begins in spring training.

Don’t rush him, just concentrate on the mechanics Callaway said he could fix. It could take time, something Harvey wasn’t given last season.

Last spring, in his comeback from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery, Harvey was clocked throwing in the mid-80s, then pitching coach Dan Warthen said not to expect from him to reach his full strength and his velocity to reach the 90s until the end of May at the earliest.

Of course, that didn’t happen because GM Sandy Alderson ignored him and had Harvey on the Opening Day roster. Since Harvey was forced to pitch earlier than he was physically able, and, broke down again.

In addition to his physical breakdowns, Harvey has been a diva and hasn’t always treated his teammates well, such as blowing off a game and being suspended.

Harvey played it smart when he said: “New year. People make mistakes.  I’m looking forward to a new season.’’

However, he unwisely didn’t address free agency and will undoubtedly be asked about it numerous times despite him saying he wouldn’t respond to the question.

Instead, he should have said, “I have thought about it. I am open to returning to the Mets [even if he isn’t, a lie is better than a no comment]. This the only time I will address it this season.’’

He did say: “I’ve got a lot left in the tank.  I’m ready to go.’’

Personally, I hope it doesn’t reach that stage. I hope it reaches the “graceful exit,’’ Davidoff wrote about, but I think I think the best thing for both sides is for Harvey to prove he’s healthy, pitches well and is traded at the deadline.

The Mets are hedging their bets on Harvey, which explains in part why they signed free-agent lefty Jason Vargas to a two-year, $16-million contract.

Vargas is 35, and the Mets gave him the extra year in preparation for Harvey leaving, whether in July or next January.