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.

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.