Mar 01

Arguments For John Lannan Being Fifth Starter

Current conventional wisdom has the inside track for the fifth spot in the New York Mets’ rotation belonging to Daisuke Matsuzaka, based primarily on how he finished last season in Flushing.

His competition is John Lannan and Jenrry Mejia, the latter who is coming off elbow surgery. There is sentiment for Mejia to win the job if healthy, but several arguments can be made in favor of Lannan:

* Lannan is left-handed, which would give the Mets two in their rotation. The other is Jonathon Niese, but his balky shoulder could give the Mets pause when it comes to cutting loose Lannan. If Niese isn’t ready, they will need a lefty in their rotation.

* Another consideration is age. At 29, Lannan is four years younger than Matsuzaka. Mejia is 24, but there’s still time for him to crack the rotation. In addition, Mejia has experience as a reliever, and the Mets have questions in their bullpen.

* He has a 45-58 record pitching for some pretty poor Washington teams during his seven-year career, but with a decent 4.12 ERA. Nine of those victories have been against Atlanta, but admittedly a weak 3-13 record against Philadelphia.

* In three out of four years from 2008-2011, Lannan started over 30 games and worked at least 180 innings. By contrast, Matsuzaka has only once started as many as 30 games and worked more than 170 innings during his career.

* Matsuzaka has a career 53-40 record, and seemed to correct his mechanical flaws in his final three starts in 2013 with the Mets. If Matsuzaka has indeed found his rhythm, the Mets could have a valuable trade chip while at the same time keep Lannan.

Lannan will get two innings or 30 pitches today against the Marlins.

The fifth spot remains up for grabs, but Lannan could fill the role while giving Mejia time to recover and work in the bullpen, and provide them a trade asset in Matsuzaka.

That’s a lot to consider.

Feb 28

Does Sandy Alderson Really Believe 90 Wins Is Possible For Mets?

Does Sandy Alderson really believe the New York Mets are capable of winning 90 games this season?

Reportedly, that’s what Alderson told his staff in an internal meeting this week. He has not made such a decree to the media.

ALDERSON: What's he thinking?

ALDERSON: What’s he thinking?

Ninety wins last year would have tied the Mets with Cincinnati for the last wild-card spot. It would have put them in the playoffs in 2012; tied them with St. Louis for a wild card in 2011; tied them with Milwaukee for a wild card in 2008; and tied them for the NL East lead with Philadelphia in 2007.

That last season, you’ll recall the Mets coughed up a seven-game lead with 17 remaining, losing in the season finale to Miami at Shea Stadium.

David Wright doesn’t mind the projection.

“I love the fact that Sandy is confident in us,’’ Wright said. “I think 90 is challenging, it’s attainable and it’s a good starting point for us.

“You know, number goals, it’s tough to come out and say, ‘I’m going to do this. I’m going to do that. We’re going to do that.’ But I think 90 is a good starting point for giving us something to shoot for and getting guys to understand that mediocrity is not going to be acceptable.’’

A lot of things must break right for the Mets to win 16 more games than last year, which is roughly a 20-percent improvement, despite the loss of Matt Harvey:

* They must remain injury free with their key players.

* Jonathon Niese, who already has a shoulder issue, must win a lot more games than the eight he did last year.

* Zack Wheeler must continue to develop.

* Dillon Gee can’t afford a drop for last season’s 199 innings.

* Bartolo Colon needs another solid year.

* There must be consistency from the fifth starter.

* There must be stability in the bullpen, beginning with Bobby Parnell’s recovery.

* It would be nice to see something from Travis d’Arnaud.

* Ike Davis needs to show he can play this game.

* There must be dramatic improvement at shortstop, whether from Ruben Tejada, or whomever they might bring in.

* Wright needs to re-establish himself as a dominant run producer, so .300, 30 and 100 has to happen.

* Curtis Granderson can’t afford to morph into another Jason Bay.

* All those homers Chris Young used to hit, well, he has to hit them again.

* There should be a breakout years from either Eric Young or Juan Lagares.

* They must have a winning record at home, in one-run games and within the division, all areas in which they struggled the past few years.

Ninety victories is a bold prediction. Meanwhile, I was thinking .500 – which is one more win a month –would be substantial improvement.

With all the variables listed above, I wonder what gives Alderson confidence to think 90 wins are possible. I also wonder what Terry Collins must think.

ON DECK: Mets Wrap.

 

Feb 28

Jon Niese Injury Raises Questions

It was interesting to hear Jonathon Niese take responsibility for his setback, but his comments raised questions as to how the New York Mets handled his injury.

NIESE: Injury raises questions. (AP)

NIESE: Injury raises questions. (AP)

Niese’s MRI revealed scapula-muscle weakness in the back of his left shoulder.

How did this happen?

Niese missed two months last season with a rotator-cuff strain, but returned to pitch late in the year.

Before the offseason, I asked Niese his off-season plans and he said he would get a workout routine from the trainers and concentrate on strengthening his shoulder. Sounded reasonable.

Today, Niese told ESPN in Port St. Lucie he worked on the rotator cuff area, but neglected the area in the back part of the shoulder leading to an imbalance of strength and caused his shoulder blade to be tugged at an awkward angle.

Often with an arm injury a pitcher overcompensates, which leads to another problem.

“The MRI revealed that my shoulder this year is actually better than it was last year,’’ Niese said. “[Mets physician Dr. David Altchek] said everything was healed and everything was clean.

“It’s just the fact that there are little weak spots. I kind of blame that on myself. Last year, with it being the rotator cuff, this off-season that’s pretty much all I was working on. I neglected the other things. So everything was at an imbalance. That’s when I started having the shoulder-pinching issues and discomfort.’’

This leads to several questions:

* Was Niese instructed to work on that area of the shoulder and just didn’t? If so, why? Surely, he has to be smart enough not to ignore rehab instructions.

* Did the doctors not tell and show Niese how to work those muscles? One would think they would have.

* Was Niese rushed back too soon last season and developed bad habits that carried over to his off-season throwing? If so, it wouldn’t have been the first time a Met was rushed back.

* Are Niese’s mechanics the same as they were prior to the injury, and if so, why wasn’t this caught by pitching coach Dan Warthen? Everything is on tape, so it’s a wonder why it was missed if that’s the case.

* Niese said he would get a workout routine from a physical therapist, leading to speculation he wasn’t given that series of exercises. If so, why not?

The Mets have been frequently criticized for their handling of injuries. While it might be premature to make that accusation in this case, there is cause to wonder.

Feb 27

Syndergaard Stars In Intrasquad Game; Mets Shouldn’t Get Carried Away

The cheers were great, the performance was scintillating, but the New York Mets – and their often-frustrated fan base – shouldn’t get carried away and read too much into Noah Syndergaard’s performance in Thursday’s intrasquad game.

SYNDERGAARD: Big showing. (MLB.com)

SYNDERGAARD: Big showing. (MLB.com)

In Syndergaard’s first performance in the Mets’ camp, Syndergaard, throwing what manager Terry Collins calls “the hook from hell,’’ struck out five in two innings. He also gave up a run on four hits, but with no walks.

Not only was Syndergaard’s curveball working in fall-off-the-table fashion, but his 97 mph., fastball was sizzling.

“I felt pretty good out there. I kind of shocked myself a little bit,’’ Syndergaard told reporters Thursday in Port St. Lucie. “I wasn’t expecting that my first time out there.’’

Nor should the Mets expect that from him in Monday’s start against Atlanta; every time out at Triple-A Las Vegas; or when he finally is brought up in June. He’ll need time to develop into all what is expected of him.

“I didn’t think I was going to get the start, first of all,” Syndergaard said of Monday. “I’m excited, a little nervous at the same time. It’s the first time facing a real big-league lineup. I’m going to go out there and do what I can. It’s still a game. They’re still playing baseball out there.’’

Which is true, but baseball is also a game of emotions. Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler, despite their youth, have been able to keep their emotions in check. The Mets would like to see the same from Syndergaard.

That will be easier, of course, if he’s throwing that fastball in the upper 90s.

“How can you not like what you saw?’’ Collins said. “For heaven’s sake, I don’t know how hard he threw, but it was firm. Even in a game like this, you better get to the heater, because you don’t want to try to hit that curveball.

“Certainly everything you heard, you saw. You heard, ‘What a great arm.’ You got it. You heard, ‘He’s got a great presence,’ that he pounds the strike zone. He did that.’’

Of course, should Syndergaard cut down the Braves as he did his minor league teammates, there will be rumblings about cracking the rotation.

However, Collins and general manager Sandy Alderson should a turn a deaf ear and continue with the same plan they had last season for Wheeler.

ON DECK: Mets Wrap.

Feb 27

Jon Niese MRI Is Clean; Incident A Reminder Of Pitching Fragility

The New York Mets received good news Thursday when the MRI on Jon Niese’s pitching shoulder came back clean. Most times when a pitcher complains of a dead arm as Niese did, the issue is more weakness than injury, which is the diagnosis here.

This was the best possible news for the Mets, who have plenty of issues already without having to worry about losing their No. 1 starter.

This was a scare to be sure, but what it also serves as is a reminder starting pitching is scarce, meaning they better be careful if they are considering dealing a starter, even on the minor level, for shortstop Nick Franklin.

Reportedly, Seattle is asking for starting pitching for Franklin, an infielder who became expendable with the Mariners’ signing of Robinson Cano. The Mets turned down trade overtures for Niese in the past, but this time he wasn’t on the Mariners’ wish list.

Niese was examined Wednesday at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan after complaining of shoulder soreness the day after throwing batting practice. He wanted the exam for his peace of mind because he missed two months last season with a partially torn rotator cuff.

Niese will miss his first exhibition start, Tuesday against Houston, but could resume throwing this weekend.

Manager Terry Collins said Niese will be the Mets’ Opening Day starter, and didn’t back off that Wednesday.

ON DECK: Intrasquad game.