Apr 16

Harvey Continuing To Be Bright Spot

One of the Mets’ biggest concerns coming out of spring training is turning into one of the early season’s bright spots, which is Matt Harvey’s comeback from thoracic surgery.

HARVEY: Another positive step. (AP)

HARVEY: Another positive step. (AP)

Harvey took the loss in an emotional rollercoaster of a game today in Miami, losing 4-2 to the Marlins. The Mets’ third straight loss had them being no-hit going into the eighth inning, then rally in the ninth to tie but lose the game in the bottom of the inning.

Harvey was done by then, but his third straight strong start was extremely satisfying to the pitcher who some wondered would ever be special again.

“Being able to go against that lineup, and kind of controlling the damage for the most part, is definitely uplifting for me,” Harvey told reporters.

Harvey gave up two runs – one unearned – on seven hits with five strikeouts in six innings. He wasn’t close to dominant, but worked out of trouble several times and cranked up his fastball to 97 mph.

Early in spring training he was in the low 90s, but vowed his velocity would return. It’s not important that he throw 97 on every pitch, but reach it when he needs it to get out of trouble.

“Going back to spring training, I knew throwing in between starts that is was slowly creeping back,” said Harvey, whose ERA is down to 2.45. “Being able to paint the outside corner and kind of control both sides of the plate was big. When I needed to ramp up and throw a little bit harder, I was able to do that. It’s definitely a good positive.”

Harvey still has a way to go, but for now, he’s looking good.

Apr 15

DeGrom Start Wasted; Let Second Guessing Begin

Sooner or later you had to wonder when the Mets’ overworked bullpen would betray them.

It happened tonight.

Fernando Salas, working for the eighth time in 12 games, surrendered eighth-inning, back-to-back homers to Christian Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton, to power the Marlins over the Mets, 5-4, and trash another superb start from Jacob deGrom.

DeGROM: Start gets wasted; generates debate. (AP)

DeGROM: Start gets wasted; generates debate. (AP)

Not only has Salas been overused, it must be remembered he arrived in spring training late because of a visa issue.

Salas retired his first two batters and then walked Miguel Rojas. When a reliever walks a hitter on four straight pitches, he needs to be pulled.

Yelich is already a slugging star, and the Mets had lefties Jerry Blevins and Sean Gilmartin manager Terry Collins could have gone to in that situation. Considering how much Salas has worked lately, why did Collins keep him in the game?

“I didn’t want to go with Blevins because he has pitched in five of the last six games,” Collins testily barked to reporters.

However, Gilmartin, who was brought up after the 16-inning game Thursday for the sole purpose of pitching late in a game, was fresh.

Salas fell behind 3-and-1 before grooving a pitch Yelich couldn’t help but crush. Over-managing and stubborn to the end, Collins let Salas face Stanton.

You knew that wasn’t going to end well.

Collins said he wanted Salas to face Stanton, but what does that say about his confidence in Addison Reed and Hansel Robles?

The second-guessing of Collins began before Salas entered the game. DeGrom got off to a rocky start, giving up back-to-back homers in the second to Justin Bour and Marcell Ozuna, then regrouped to retire the next 11 hitters. The Mets really needed deGrom’s effort considering how their bullpen has been taxed recently, including throwing 11.1 scoreless innings Thursday.

DeGrom gave up two runs on four hits and one walk and tied his career-high with 13 strikeouts in seven innings. He was on cruise control and had only thrown 97 pitches. He struck out his last four hitters.

“He was pitching great,” Collins said. “It’s easy to second-guess. We made a commitment to protect these guys. … If I let him stay in and he got hit you’d be asking me, `Why did I let him pitch?’ ”

That’s fair, but it comes with the territory with managing in the major leagues. DeGrom could have, but did not, throw his manager under the bus.

“Honestly, I didn’t know how many pitches I had,” deGrom said. “I thought I was out after that inning anyway.”

As far as stretching out his start, deGrom said: “The goal is to stay healthy. Salas had been doing a good job. I felt comfortable handing the ball over to the next guy.”

One of the beautiful aspects of baseball is it being ripe to second guess and discuss and debate strategy. Few basketball fans will second guess Gregg Popovich, but what baseball fan doesn’t feel comfortable scratching his head about the manager he follows?

CONFORTO DELIVERS: One of the hardest things in baseball to do is to pinch-hit, and it is even harder when all eyes are on you and you’re expected to produce in order to stay. Well, that’s exactly the case with the Mets’ Michael Conforto, who drove in the go-ahead run in the seventh inning.

Sure, Conforto wants to start, what young player doesn’t? But, when things haven’t gone his way, he’s stayed quiet and gone about his business. Overall, he’s hitting .400 with two homers and six RBI, including 2-for-4 with a double and two RBI as a pinch-hitter.

Neil Walker lead off the seventh with a bunt single to third against Marlins starter Adam Conley, and scored on a triple by Curtis Granderson, who scored on Conforto’s deep fly to center.

Asdrubal Cabrera homered with one out in the eighth against reliever Junichi Tazawa. It marked the 11th straight game in which they homered and gave them a major league-high 22.

LOVE THOSE BUNTS: The other night it was Jay Bruce laying one down towards third against the shift. Tonight it was Walker leading off the seventh with a bunt single. Last year Collins made a big deal out of calling his team a “home run hitting team,” and that they aren’t built to manufacture runs. This year, they lead the majors with 22 homers but have shown the ability to scratch out runs.

Walker also doubled in the Mets’ first run in the first.

EXTRA INNINGS: Lefty-hitters Bruce, Lucas Duda and Conforto did not start against Conley. … All players wore No. 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson Day. Granderson wore special spikes for the occasion that he will auction and donate to the Jackie Robinson Foundation. … Wilmer Flores made a run-saving grab of a hard hit ball down the first base line by Stanton.

HARVEY STARTS SUNDAY: Matt Harvey (2-0, 2.92) goes Sunday for the Mets against RHP Dan Straily (1-1, 7.56). Harvey is 12-3 with a 2.93 ERA in 17 career starts in April, easily his best numbers in any month.

 

Apr 14

Game Wrap: Torn Fingernail Shelves Syndergaard

Noah Syndergaard gave the Mets what they needed. He just didn’t give them enough. With their bullpen forced to work over 11innings Thursday, and three relievers unavailable, the Mets needed length from their ace.

Unfortunately for the Syndergaard, another finger issue held him to six innings and 87 pitches, well short of what manager Terry Collins hoped. Collins targeted Syndergaard for however long 110 pitches would give the Mets, likely seven and hopefully eight.

SYNDERGAARD: Leaves early with torn fingernail. (AP)

SYNDERGAARD: Leaves early with torn fingernail. (AP)

“I was aware of it,” Syndergaard said of the need of preserving the bullpen. “I wanted to go out there and give those guys a break.”

Syndergaard’s Opening Day start was cut short by a blister on his finger. Tonight it was a torn fingernail and he could only helplessly watch as J.T. Realmuto doubled in the game-winner in the ninth off Josh Edgin gave the Marlins a 3-2 victory.

Syndergaard said he had fingernail issues in the minors and doesn’t know why they resurfaced now.

“If I keep my fingernail too short, I get a blister,” Syndergaard said. “If it gets too long, it splits. It is all about finding a happy medium.”

Syndergaard tried humor to deal with his frustration.

“This gives me a chance to go get a mani-pedi,” he said. “I have to maintain this. … I wanted to stay out there and finish the job. I feel I will be able to bounce back.”

The Mets used eight pitchers in Thursday’s 16-inning marathon and Collins said he wouldn’t use Addison Reed, Hansel Robles or Josh Smoker. To pick up the slack they brought up lefty Sean Gilmartin, whose role tonight would have been to pitch had the game gone to extra innings.

Syndergaard gave up two runs on six hits with no walks and four strikeouts, good enough to win most games, but not in those in which the Mets went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position and leaving 11 runners on base.

“He pitched fine,” Collins said of Syndergaard. “He held them to two runs. We had opportunities to score.”

AFTER FURTHER REVIEW: For the second straight game a reversed replay challenge factored prominently.

On Thursday, the Mets had a run taken off the board, when the original safe ruling on Yoenis Cespedes was overturned. Cespedes would likely have been safe had he slid.

Had it happened that way, the Mets would have won in regulation and not spent their bullpen, and consequently, tonight things might have played out differently.

Tonight, Miguel Rojas was thrown out at the plate by Michael Conforto to end the seventh. The call was upheld after Collins challenged, although the TV replay showed catcher Rene Rivera missed the tag.

FLU SHELVES CESPEDES: Cespedes, probably the National League’s Player of the Week with five homers, hit two Thursday despite playing with the flu.

“He was, at the end of the game, absolutely beat,” Collins said. “I went to him yesterday before the game started and asked if he needed it, and he said, `I’ll be OK.’ So he played. But by the end of the game, you could tell. If you saw him walk off the field, he was shot.”

Cespedes struck out as a pinch-hitter in the eighth.

METS STILL FLEXING: The Mets lead the Major Leagues with 21 homers, including Lucas Duda’s fourth tying him with Jay Bruce for the team lead.

Duda homered to center to give the Mets a 2-1 lead. Duda reached base four times with two hits and two walks.

You have to love Duda’s approach at the plate. He’s been patient and drawn walks and going to the opposite field.

 

Apr 14

Mets Try To Keep Rolling

Tonight is one of the few times I wish the Mets could use the designated hitter. Damn, after the last two games I’d love to see d’Arnaud starting, but not after catching 16 innings. He might even rest again tomorrow.

SYNDERGAARD: Mets going for six straight. (AP)

SYNDERGAARD: Mets going for six straight. (AP)

The Mets will be seeking their sixth straight victory tonight in Miami behind their best pitcher, Noah Syndergaard, going against Edinson Volquez.

The Mets crushed four homers last night – d’Arnaud hit the game winner, plus two from Yoenis Cespedes and one from Wilmer Flores – but credit also needs to go to a bullpen that threw 11 scoreless innings.

The Mets have homered in nine straight games and lead the majors with 20, with Cespedes the individual leader with six.

While it is way too early to make projections, it isn’t too soon to make some assumptions about this team, especially after last night.

The Mets came in at 3:30 in the morning and their No. 5 starter was torched, several of their starters were sputtering, but they rallied from a four-run deficit and behind their power, d’Arnaud – who sparked the comeback with a bases-loaded triple – and their bullpen, the came up with a signature victory.

Much has been written about how this could be a make-or-break season for d’Arnaud, but the same can be said of reliever Hansel Robles, who pitched two scoreless innings in his fourth straight game.

They don’t win last night without Robles, or d’Arnaud, or Cespedes, or Michael Conforto, or several other guys.

That’s what being a team is all about.

Here’s tonight’s starting lineup:

Curtis Granderson, CF: Speculation is if the Mets keep Conforto, the player whose time will be reduced most will be Granderson. He is homerless with three RBI on the season.

Asdrubal Cabrera, SS: Is batting .304 and taking an eight-game hitting streak into tonight’s game. Hit 23 homers last season.

Jay Bruce, RF: Moves up to third with Cespedes getting the night off. Bruce needed a good start and he’s getting one, hitting .300 with four homers and eight RBI.

Lucas Duda, 1B: He’s another who is having a good start, hitting .250 with three homers and six RBI. Has shown no signs of back injury that limited him last season.

Michael Conforto, LF: He finally gets a start. He needs at-bats. If Conforto is to stay up with the Mets, manager Terry Collins needs to come up with a rotation system, and that includes resting Cespedes in left.

Wilmer Flores, 2B: Starts tonight in place of Neil Walker. Is hitting better against right-handed pitching.

Jose Reyes, 3B: Is a career .323 hitter at Marlins Park. Got a hit last night as a pinch-hitter and batting just .079 on the season. Needs to wake up.

Noah Syndergaard, RP: Is 3-0 with a 1.67 ERA lifetime against the Marlins. Perhaps as a tribute to Tony La Russa, Collins has him hitting eighth.

Rene Rivera, C: Gets the start for two reasons, 1) to put the brakes on the Marlins’ running game, and 2) because d’Arnaud caught 16 innings last night. Has thrown out two of three potential base stealers.

 

Apr 12

Wheeler, Conforto Give Mets Glimpse Of Future

Sometime next season or the year after, Zack Wheeler and Michael Conforto will combine to lift the Mets. They did for awhile Wednesday night in Philadelphia until Hansel Robles sprayed graffiti on their near masterpiece.

i-5Wheeler, backed in large part by Conforto’s homer and Asdrubal Cabrera’s two-run single, cruised into the sixth with a five-run lead. It looked as if manager Terry Collins would let him pitch out of trouble, but pulled him with two outs and the bases loaded in favor of Robles.

Collins feared the Phillies would break through and spoil Wheeler’s night and he’d suffer an emotional setback. Instead, Maikel Franco turned around Robles’ first pitch for a monster grand slam that changed the complexion of the game, but the Mets held on to win 5-4 to complete the sweep.

In winning his first game since coming off Tommy John surgery in 2014, Wheeler gave up three runs on four hits with one walk and four strikeouts. He threw the target 85 pitches, but the key was working ahead in the count with his secondary pitches. Miami hurt Wheeler in his first start – of a cold damp day – when he fell behind in the count and waited on his fastball.

Wheeler coasted into the sixth but the Phillies worked him hard to load the bases.

“I was very happy with the way he pitched tonight,” Collins told reporters of Wheeler’s start. “He threw the ball as well as he could but he ran out of gas all of a sudden.”

Pitchers usually won’t admit to getting tired, but Wheeler was stand-up. He knows the score.

“I was a little tired at the end,” Wheeler said. “It’s all about building myself up. …I had better command. That’s what I needed from my first start. It felt good to bounce back after that rough outing. I was nice to go out there and do well.  It’s a weight off my shoulders.”

Conversely, it hasn’t appeared the Mets were all that interested in building up Conforto’s at-bats. They had a huge lead, but Conforto sat until the end. Conforto was a surprise start over Curtis Granderson and responded with two hits and a walk and scored three runs.

One of those hits was an opposite-field homer to give the Mets an early 2-0 lead.

Conventional wisdom has Conforto going to the minors when Juan Lagares is activated from the disabled list. He needs at-bats, but Collins would not commit to starting him Thursday in Miami.

Conforto hasn’t gotten a lot of playing time but responded with what little he has.

“I’m getting good pitches to hit and getting deep into the count,” said Conforto, who continues to refuse to get drawn into the debate on his immediate future.

Another positive note to the day was the report Matt Harvey, who strained his left hamstring Tuesday night, would be able to make his next start Sunday in Miami.

While Wheeler and Conforto were the headliners, Robles served as a reminder of one of the Mets’ biggest weaknesses, which is the bridge to the back end of the bullpen.