Mar 19

Montero Making Bullpen Push

The high hopes the Mets have had for Rafael Montero might finally be coming to fruition this spring. What held him back in previous seasons was his command, which ran up his pitch count as a starter and was death as a reliever.

Montero was a bright spot in the Mets’ loss today to the Marlins – Jacob deGrom‘s start was another – with two scoreless innings in which he struck out three, but most importantly didn’t walk a hitter. Overall, he has 20 strikeouts and 2.70 ERA in 13.1 innings spanning eight appearances.

“We’ve known that I get a lot of strikeouts and throw a lot of strikes. It’s just been a matter of working on my command, but I’ve been working hard on that,” Montero told reporters. “I’m using the curveball in the dirt a lot and the fastball outside. … It’s just a matter of getting ready quickly and preparing myself mentally. I’m here to help the team. Wherever they put me, I’m going to do my job.”

If Montero can continue at this pace he could merit consideration in a set-up role to Addison Reed.

Montero could always throw hard, but now his location is better and his pitches have movement and are catching the corners, where it previously flattened out over the plate or sailed. His improvement has been one of the most potentially important developments of the spring.

“Right now, he’s locating his pitches that he hasn’t done in the past,” manager Terry Collins said. “He works the edges of the plate, and this year he’s catching those edges. He’s starting to show us things we know he’s got.”

Mar 17

Things To Like About Mets So Far

With a little over two weeks remaining in spring training, there’s a lot to like about how the Mets are playing, with several bright spots surfacing in today’s rout of the Cardinals.

CESPEDES: Has MVP aspirations. (AP)

CESPEDES: Has MVP aspirations. (AP)

STARTING PITCHING: If numbers were to determine the Opening Day starter, you would have to go with Jacob deGrom, who has a 0.90 ERA and 0.60 WHIP in three starts, with 13 strikeouts in 10 innings.

Noah Syndergaard, however, has a 3.52 ERA and 1.43 WHIP. And, four walks in 7.2 won’t get it done most games. Syndergaard bulked up in the offseason with the intent of getting stronger as to work deeper into games. It’s not that he’s not strong enough, but his command is off. What haunted him last year is resurfacing this spring with higher pitch counts.

Steven Matz threw 3.2 innings today, and if you add an inning in his likely two remaining starts, that won’t get him out of the fifth in his first regular season start. He’s throwing well, by so far isn’t stretched out like the Mets want him to be.

Sure, these are exhibition numbers, but also an early measure of performance. So far, none of their starters are stretched out for them to go longer than six. That becomes an issue if the bullpen is shaky, which so far is far from fine-tuned.

In the competition for the fifth starter, Zack Wheeler – who will likely stay back – his throwing hard and pain-free. The projection is roughly 110 innings, which makes him better suited to coming up in late May or June. I don’t like the idea of using him in relief now.

As for Seth Lugo, he’s pitching in the World Baseball Classic and has done well. It will be either him or Robert Gsellman who goes north in the rotation. However, with numerous off days in April, the fifth starter won’t often be used, so one could go in the bullpen.

HOT BATS: Yoenis Cespedes said he wants to be MVP and if that happens a lot of good things will happen this summer. He’s hitting .419 with five homers, but the key numbers are only two strikeouts in 31 at-bats. That kind of ratio would go a long way towards making an MVP possible.

Also hitting well are Michael Conforto (.359), Neil Walker (.313), Curtis Granderson (.323), but most importantly Travis d’Arnaud (.333) and Lucas Duda (.292 with five doubles). The pressure is on d’Arnaud to have a make-or-break season and Duda, who missed much of last year with a stress fracture in his lower back and recently received a couple on injections.

Jay Bruce and Wilmer Flores finally pushed their averages over .200, and the latter drove in six runs Friday with a grand slam and double. Flores is not going away and the Mets need to find a way of getting him regular playing time to stay ready.

Mar 16

Lost Velocity Could Be Best Thing For Harvey

The issue of Matt Harvey’s lost velocity could be the best thing to happen to him in his effort to rejuvenate his career.  The headlines after Wednesday’s loss asked if Harvey would ever be the same.

HARVEY: He shouldn't hold his head. (AP)

HARVEY: He shouldn’t hold his head. (AP)

What exactly is “the same?” Outside of four spectacular months in 2013 and several scintillating starts in 2015 – which culminated in a hissy fit in Game 5 of the World Series – we must remember for all the hype, he is 29-28 lifetime, which, unlike his string of model girlfriends, is nothing to get excited about.

That 2013 All-Star start and career 2.94 ERA and 1.08 WHIP give us reasons to be hopeful, but for all his sparkling moments there has considerable diva tarnish.

Harvey’s scouting report in 2013 showed a fastball in the high 90s, impeccable control and a bulldog, don’t-give-in mentality that culminated in him pitching through the pain of a strained forearm leading to Tommy John surgery.

Back then, Harvey’s high profile personality was outlined by his high 90s heater. Pitching coach Dan Warthen said we might not know until May whether his velocity will return. If two surgeries aren’t enough of a wake-up call, perhaps the velocity issue could be. It’s important Harvey stay in Florida at the start of the season to find his confidence more than his fastball.

Nolan Ryan was a freak who threw triple digits into his 40s. A chemically-induced Roger Clemens threw high heat late into his career. However, they, like Sandy Koufax, Bob Feller, Tom Seaver, eventually lost what made them great. Age and injury reaffirmed their pitching mortality.

Harvey is lucky in comparison. He’s only 27 and hopefully will take advantage of his lost fastball to learn how to pitch. Let’s hope he’ll learn how to pitch like Mike Mussina, Jack Morris, John Smoltz, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine – don’t snicker on the last one, because after all, he won over 300 games and is in the Hall of Fame – which could extend the career of the pitcher many have given up on.

I wrote yesterday how the Mets should leave him off the Opening Day roster and send him for an extended spring training. I didn’t say Harvey’s career was over and the column didn’t bash him. To the contrary, I still think he can become a solid major league starter.

I have previously been hard on Harvey for his attitude and I’m not backing off. I don’t expect Harvey to consistently throw 98, but I do hope he’ll be smart enough to capitalize on being given the great gift of being young enough in his career to reinvent himself.

Hopefully, he was taking notes the past two years from watching Bartolo Colon. Harvey’s career is not over unless he mentally gives up.

 

 

 

 

 

Mar 15

Do Mets Have Guts To Leave Harvey Off Opening Day Roster?

The question must be posed: Does the Mets’ top brass have the stones to leave Matt Harvey off the Opening Day roster?  While it is clear Jacob deGrom is ready for the start of the season, it is also painfully obvious Harvey is not.

HARVEY: Not ready. (AP)

HARVEY: Not ready. (AP)

While exhibition numbers aren’t important, after Harvey was pasted once again today by the Marlins, it is hard to ignore his 0-3 record and 7.88 ERA. That high an ERA is hard to dismiss any time of the year.

Harvey broke into our consciousness in 2012 with near pinpoint control, supreme confidence and a fastball that regularly clocked in the high 90s. Today, an elbow and shoulder surgery later, his confidence as battered as his body, and a fastball in the low 90s, Harvey isn’t close to being the stud pitcher and cartoon superhero character Mets’ fans yearn to see again.

Earlier this spring Harvey said he had no doubt his velocity would return. He was far less optimistic today; he appeared to concede to a new chapter in his career.

“I’m not looking to throw 100 mph., again or 97 even,” Harvey told reporters. “My job is to get people out no matter what I’m throwing, and I’m looking forward to it. [The velocity] is going to be there.”

But, what will it be?

Pitching coach Dan Warthen said the Mets won’t know about Harvey’s physical abilities for several months, claiming he’s guessing May.

“History says with [thorasic surgery] it’s 10 months out,” Warthen said. “That’s when you really start to feel strong. Generally, when you open a season you gain two miles per hour. If he’s playing at 94, 95, it’s a completely different story.”

But, Harvey’s throwing 92 these days at best, which means he basically must reinvent himself, which will be hard to do with another three exhibition starts remaining.

That brings us back to the original question as to whether the Mets if Harvey doesn’t immediately turn it around, would leave him back to get stronger and work on his mechanics. Considering their potential depth with Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman – and possibly Zack Wheeler – that would be the prudent option.

The Mets are blessed to have the depth most teams don’t possess, so why not take advantage of it? Assuming Harvey isn’t ready in three three weeks – and that’s what Warthen is saying – it would be better to utilize that depth in April to get him ready rather that use it later if he breaks down.

Harvey won’t like it, but that’s not important. Getting him ready is.

Mar 14

DeGrom Ready; Mets Should Rest Ill Syndergaard

If spring training is all about getting ready for the season, it would be safe to conclude of all the Mets’ high-profile starters Jacob deGrom is the closest to being ready.

In three spring starts, he has given up one run in ten innings with 13 strikeouts, including six in four innings in today’s 2-1 victory over Houston. Now, who wouldn’t take that?

DeGROM: Ready. (AP)

DeGROM: Ready. (AP)

The best thing about deGrom today was his ability to pitch out of trouble. He walked and gave up a single to start the game, but pulled it together to strike out the side, including the last two in the high 90s.

DeGrom didn’t have his best changeup and got it done with his fastball and breaking pitches.

“You’ll have those days in spring and throughout the season,” deGrom told reporters. “So, you have to find other ways to get outs. My slider was good today and I mixed in a few curveballs.

“I’m happy with how things are going. The main thing is to stay healthy. I’m just happy that I feel good and I’m looking forward to starting the season.”

Health does not only include elbows and shoulders. It includes illness, which brings us to Noah Syndergaard, who has been struggling with bronchitis the past month and a half. Six weeks is a long time to fighting illness and this isn’t just a cold or the sniffles.

“He’s like many people, including myself, that when it gets in their lungs and they get bronchitis, it can affect you for a while,” manager Terry Collins said. “He’s fighting that. He’s been on medication. He is getting better, but he just ran out of gas.”

Syndergaard threw in the high 90s Monday, but later said he felt tired and his delivery was out of whack. He admitted it could have been because of being ill.

So, Syndergaard said being ill could have sapped his strength and Collins admitted the same. So, why don’t Collins and GM Sandy Alderson do the smart thing and sit Syndergaard for his next start if he’s still feeling lousy?

Now, Syndergaard, like any other Mets’ pitcher will fight Collins if he wants to rest him. Matt Harvey already has … several times.

But, Collins and Alderson are supposed to be the adults in the room and should be smart enough to tell their kids not to go outside and play when they are sick. And, enforce it.

If spring training is all about getting ready for the season, then shouldn’t that include not letting Syndergaard getting run down?