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.

 

Feb 27

The Mets’ Ambivalence Towards Ruben Tejada Opens Door For Flores

Of all the young New York Mets, the one I am most interested in seeing is Wilmer Flores, especially at shortstop. While Ruben Tejada is the starter by default, Flores has a legitimate shot with a strong spring to grab a job.

FLORES: Has opportunity to earn job (Getty)

FLORES: Has opportunity to earn job (Getty)

As the Mets monitor Stephen Drew’s interest and Seattle for Nick Franklin’s availability, it is clear they aren’t sold on Tejada. That makes it no better time than now for Flores to surface.

As team officials continue to portray Tejada as the most likely starter on Opening Day, they acknowledge those two other possibilities and are showing a declining enthusiasm for the incumbent.

A hot spring from Flores could make things interesting if the Mets don’t make an acquisition, especially if he shows something defensively.

The rap on Flores is he doesn’t have the first-step quickness in moving laterally. He also doesn’t have a lot of speed, but shortstops don’t have to be fast. Flores attended the same Michigan fitness camp as Tejada and reports are he improved his straight-ahead speed and lateral quickness.

However, for the offensively-challenged Mets, Flores’ upside is greater than Tejada’s. Flores drove in 13 runs in 27 games last season, which projected over a 162-game schedule is 78 RBI. In contrast, Tejada’s 162-game average is a mere 40.

In addition, as a spray hitter, Tejada’s career on-base percentage is only .323 and his 162-game average is 87 strikeouts.

Flores played shortstop in the minors until 2011, but because of the range issue, the Mets started playing him at third, second and first. All this begs the question: With all the ways prospects are measured, couldn’t they have figured out his range limitations?

Flores’ value to the Mets would be to show something at shortstop, because he is a man without a position and despite his supposed offensive abilities, never hit more than 18 homers (2012) in the minors.

His best season was at Triple-A Las Vegas in 2013 when he hit .321 with a .357 on-base percentage, 15 homers and 86 RBI.

As the Mets consider Drew and Franklin – neither is imminent – this is the perfect time for Flores to make a statement.

Although Flores has experienced every position in the infield, shortstop is the one with the most potential for a breakthrough. Barring injuries, he won’t supplant David Wright at third or Daniel Murphy at second this year.

Who knows what could happen at first base? I floated the idea last year they might cut loose both Ike Davis and Lucas Duda and go with Flores at first base.

That’s not imminent, either.

 

Feb 26

Alderson Weighs In On Shortstop Situation; So Far, Endorses Tejada By Default

New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson danced around published reports critical of Ruben Tejada’s conditioning and steady media demands to sign Stephen Drew.

Earlier this week, The New York Post, citing unnamed sources, said despite Tejada training in the offseason at a Michigan fitness camp he didn’t look any more in shape than he did last season.

TEJADA: Holding on (Getty)

TEJADA: Holding on (Getty)

When Tejada first reported, manager Terry Collins said the shortstop, whose job is on the line this spring, looked good physically.

The off-the-record comment could have come from anywhere: from a front office official, a coach or a player. By club rule, the medical staff isn’t permitted to speak to the media.

“Look, we have probably 30 front office and coaching staff down here,’’ Alderson told the MLB Network. “There’s going to be a stray comment about players from time to time. That’s unfortunately the nature of the media in New York. It’s so pervasive that comments like that are going to be gleaned from time to time.’’

If indeed the comment came from a front office official, that could have easily been prevented if Alderson ordered his staff not to speak. It’s done all the time in all sports and provides an effective muzzle.

Alderson, who said during the winter Tejada could open the season at shortstop, still said the team is looking for improvement.

“We were happy with what Ruben did in the offseason,’’ Alderson said. “We’re hopeful that he’ll show significant improvement on the field – back to the levels he has demonstrated, so it’s not an unrealistic hope. But we continue to look at our middle-infield situation.’’

There’s no way that can be interpreted as an endorsement.

Ever since the day after the season, which ended with Tejada out with a fractured leg, there have been reports the Mets were interested in Boston free agent Stephen Drew. However, his $14.1 million qualifying offer from the Red Sox, which would cost the Mets a compensatory draft pick, was a deterrent.

Even so, the reports persisted.

“There’s been a lot of talk about Stephen Drew obviously,’’ Alderson said. “My own personal view is at this point, Stephen and his agent are reviewing the situation and perhaps looking at a strategy that prolongs this situation into the regular season or even into June.’’

Alderson didn’t say if the job would be Tejada’s until June.

Drew is currently working out in a facility in Miami owned by his agent, Scott Boras.

In the wake of Nelson Cruz signing with the Orioles – he wanted a five-year, $75-million deal, but settled for a one-year, $8-million contract – there’s been speculation Drew would reconsider.

Despite claims Drew might wait until June – when the draft pick compensation condition would be lifted after the draft – there’s been so signs Boras will back down.

“From our standpoint, look, it does appear that we would be a logical landing spot for someone like Stephen Drew,’’ Alderson said. “But, at the same time, we have to make our own, independent evaluation and cost-benefit computation and act accordingly, which is what we have done.’’

Translation: Drew remains too expensive.

The Mets are also discussing a trade with Seattle for infielder Nick Franklin, who reportedly would require pitching in return.

Whatever option the Mets choose, it is clear they are not enamored with Tejada. If by chance they can’t land somebody and Tejada keeps the job by default, he needs a big year to stay with the Mets in 2015.

ON DECK: More injuries.