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.

Apr 11

Cespedes Leads Power Onslaught; Harvey Strains Hammy

If it came easy, they wouldn’t be the Mets. There they were, crushing the Phillies behind the power of seven homers – three from Yoenis Cespedes – and the stellar pitching of Matt Harvey, when the reclamation project pitcher strained his left hamstring covering first base.

HARVEY: Tight hammy ends night early. (AP)

HARVEY: Tight hammy ends night early. (AP)

Any injury involving Harvey, whether it appears serious or not, supersedes anything else happening to the Mets that day. There they were, pounding on the Phillies’ pitching staff the way United Airlines does its customers when Harvey came away hobbling in the sixth inning.

There was no fooling around with warm-up pitches as manager Terry Collins immediately went to the bullpen.

“He cramped up going past first base,” Collins said of Harvey’s injury. “We’ll keep him hydrated and know more tomorrow.”

Collins didn’t appear too concerned about Harvey, and wouldn’t speculate on him possibly missing his next start. Harvey isn’t worried, either.

“When I took my last step it cramped up a bit,” said Harvey, who speculated he might have tightened up sitting in the dugout watching his team hit. “It’s nothing serious.”

Harvey has been dominant in his first two starts. Maybe not like in 2013 or 2015, but pretty close.

“It’s definitely a work in progress,” Harvey said. “It’s been definitely fun and I’ll keep working.”

Before Harvey left he was seemingly on cruise control, backed by an offensive onslaught in a 14-4 rout that also featured two homers from Lucas Duda, and one each from Asdrubal Cabrera, and Travis d’Arnaud among their 20 hits, including 14 for extra-bases.

“Don’t think for a second this guy won’t have a good year,” Collins said.

The outcome never seemed in doubt after Cespedes’ three-run homer in the first, but people hung around to see if he could make history by hitting four homers in a game, something no Met has done.

“I wasn’t trying to hit a home run,” Cespedes said through an interpreter. “I was really seeing the ball well tonight. I was just looking for a good pitch and making contact.”

Apparently, the game was a lot closer than the score indicated, as the Mets couldn’t find a way to get Michael Conforto into the game until the eighth inning as a defensive replacement.

EXTRA INNINGS: David Wright began throwing in Florida but a return date has not been determined. … Zack Wheeler will look to complete the sweep in his second start of the season Wednesday. … Cespedes’ first-inning homer was his 50th as a Met. … Jay Bruce added a two-run single. … Jose Reyes singled.

 

Apr 10

Bruce Red Hot; Value Enhanced

How can you not feel good for Jay Bruce? Booed by when he floundered last year following the trade that brought him from Cincinnati and into a pennant race, and whom GM Sandy Alderson desperately wanted to trade over the winter, has emerged as the Mets’ hottest hitter.

And, it isn’t close.

BRUCE: Sizzling (AP)

BRUCE: Sizzling (AP)

It started with three walks on Opening Day and continued Monday night in Philadelphia with a pair of homers in a 4-3 victory over the Phillies.

Bruce hit a solo drive off Phillies starter Jared Eickhoff to pull the Mets within 2-1 in the fourth, then put them ahead with a two-run drive off his image on the video board against reliever Joely Rodriguez.

“I think it is an approach,” was how Bruce explained his hot start to reporters. “I concentrate on being ready. Every day, I go into the game looking for the right pitches and taking a good swing.”

Bruce insisted he wasn’t daunted by the pressures of playing in New York when he struggled last summer, and that he didn’t want to leave his new team.

And, Alderson shouldn’t be in any hurry to deal Bruce, even if those teams that played hardball with him over the winter start calling him now.

It’s early, but Bruce leads the Mets with four homers and six RBI, and overall, they aren’t hitting, and in each of the last two seasons, they went into lengthy hitting droughts in the second half.

Quite simply, there will be a time this summer when the Mets have to count on Bruce carrying them the way he did the Reds for so many years.

Bruce, who has had 30-plus homers in four of his last six years, was moved to the clean-up slot to replace Curtis Granderson, and will likely remain there in the foreseeable future as the latter struggles.

Bruce, 30 is making $13.1 million this year, while the 36-year old Granderson is pulling in $15 million, which could give him a greater long-term value to the Mets.

Granderson has more of an immediate value to the Mets because he can play center field. However, that shouldn’t last too long because Juan Lagares will be coming off the disabled list shortly, at which time Michael Conforto will be shipped to Triple-A Las Vegas.

The Mets will need Bruce this year, and likely they’ll need him next year. I can’t see the Mets bringing back both Bruce and Granderson. If they don’t bring back either, having just Lagares and Conforto next season to complement Yoenis Cespedes probably won’t be good enough and the Mets could go shopping again in July.

Meanwhile, at 37 next season, the Mets could lowball Granderson and bring him back for less in 2018. However, they couldn’t pull that off with Bruce because after a good year, his free-agent market value would he higher than Granderson’s.

 

Apr 10

Signs Point To Monster Year For Syndergaard

If Noah Syndergaard keeps pitching like this, there really isn’t any reason – other than Clayton Kershaw or Madison Bumgarner – why he can’t win a Cy Young Award.

SYNDERGAARD: Dominates. (AP)

SYNDERGAARD: Dominates. (AP)

Seriously, giving up two runs – one unearned thanks to a Yoenis Cespedes error – in seven innings will get it done most times. Syndergaard struck out nine and only threw 103 pitches. A knock against Syndergaard was a high pitch count and runners stealing on him at will. He’s been economical in both starts and the base paths have been quiet.

“I feel good with all my pitches right now,” Syndergaard said. “Slider, changeup, curveball, it doesn’t matter the count. I feel like I can throw them in any scenario.”

Syndergaard didn’t mention his fastball, but he had that, also, in the high 90s with command (no walks). He must maintain his command as it is far more important than velocity. If he can do that, and keep the stolen bases to a minimum, he can be dominant.

Most any hitter can crush a 99 mph. fastball if he’s looking for it, say on a 3-1 pitch, but it is so much harder when the pitcher is ahead in the count and doesn’t have to throw a fastball down the middle. So far, Syndergaard has been ahead in the count and can throw whatever he wants, and those pitches have been dancing and darting in the zone.

If the bone spur that nagged him last season stays quiet and he avoids injury, who is to say he can’t have a monster year?

The Mets found their home run bats with Michael Conforto and Jay Bruce going deep, but what was really impressive was manufacturing three runs in the first inning without the homer. It is always to a pitcher’s advantage to work with a lead.

Conforto also walked with the bases loaded, but he’ll sit Monday night in Philadelphia.