Mar 25

Did Santana Commit Career Suicide?

Santana10

HOW MUCH IS SANTANA CAUSE OF HIS OWN PROBLEMS?

When Johan Santana said he doesn’t know when he will pitch again, it isn’t inconceivable it could be never.

Santana’s left shoulder is not getting better and it isn’t unfair to wonder if the prideful or stubborn lefthander – take your pick – may have committed career suicide on March 3, a quiet Sunday that turned into one of the Mets’ loudest days of spring training.

The day after GM Sandy Alderson said he thought the Mets’ $31-million commitment was at least ten days from getting on the mound and not in good shape, Santana took it upon himself to prove him and the questioning media wrong.

Now, there’s no longer doubt of him staying in Florida or being on the Opening Day roster.

“I’ve just got to stay here and work out and get ready,’’ Santana told reporters over the weekend. “… I’m making progress. It’s just I don’t know when I’m going to be pitching again. That’s the thing: We cannot think ahead. The way we’re approaching everything is every day make sure we have a good day.’’

Too bad he wasn’t thinking that way when he expressed displeasure in not playing in the World Baseball Classic, and later anger at Alderson. Who knows what went through Santana’s mind when he took the mound with an “I’ll show you’’ chip on his shoulder.

How can there be progress when he can’t think ahead? How can there be progress when his shoulder isn’t close?

Since that day, Santana threw a light session, but was scratched from a start and has been reduced to 90-foot long tossing. Do you realize how far away that distance is from a regular season game?

He must gradually build up to 180 feet, and after cleared at that distance will he be allowed on the mound. Then, it’s throwing batting practice and building his pitch count up to 100. Manager Terry Collins said Santana needs to go through a spring training, which is six weeks. But, that clock doesn’t start until he gets on the mound, and nobody can say when that will be.

That’s progress?

And, that’s assuming there are no setbacks, of which there have been several during this struggle since shoulder surgery in September of 2010 to repair a torn anterior capsule.

Of course, it is hard to pinpoint an exact time when a pitcher’s million-dollar arm turns to ten cents. There was the injury in 2010, but Santana had issues with his shoulder in Minnesota before the trade to the Mets.

The wear and tear on a major league pitcher’s arm begins with the first pitch. Santana made 34 starts in 2008, his first year with the Mets, but had surgery in the off-season and hasn’t come close to pitching a full season since.

After two winters of rehab, Santana made it back last year with initial success, including a controversial no-hitter, the only one in franchise history.

Did Collins make a mistake leaving Santana in for 134 pitches, thinking he was giving the pitcher a shot at a career moment and Mets’ fans their lone bright spot in what would be a dark summer?

Of course, Santana didn’t want to come out, and no pitcher admits to being tired, but this was different. Had the no-hitter not been on the table Santana never would have continued pitching. His summer quickly unraveled and included a career-worst six-game losing streak.

After two winters of rehab, Santana, with the Mets’ knowledge, did not have a normal offseason. Then again, nothing has been routine about his winters since 2007 as there has been an injury issue each year.

“I’ve been in this game for a while,’’ Santana said. “I went through that [surgery] a couple of years ago and I’m still here. So I’m going to battle and try to come back and help as much as I can. When that is going to happen, I don’t really know.’’

Several questions are raised through Santana’s uncertainty. How much did the no-hitter hurt him? How carefully was Santana monitored in the offseason? Did going slower backfire? It is easy to suggest the no-hitter hurt, but how much did Santana contribute to his own demise this spring?

“I’m just building up my strength and throwing more volume,’’ Santana said. “… With injuries you never know. I got to spring training feeling good. And then, once I started getting to pitch and stuff and I got on the mound, I didn’t feel I was making progress.’’

If he didn’t believe he was making progress, then why consider the WBC?  More to the point, if he wasn’t making progress why did he get on the mound March 3, when his manager wasn’t expecting him to throw for nearly two weeks?

What forced him, pride or anger? Perhaps, he simply ran out of patience waiting to find out if he’ll ever make it back.

Santana might finally have his answer.

Mar 24

Mets Roster Taking Shape; Matt Harvey Rocked

The Mets are closer to settling on their Opening Day roster, and being the Mets, some of their decision-making is predicated on injuries.

MURPHY: DL bound?

MURPHY: DL bound?

Half their infield – third baseman David Wright and second baseman Daniel Murphy, both of whom are slowed with strained intercostal muscles – will be determined at the end of the week, but the disabled list remains very much in play for both.

Wright reported no problems after taking live batting practice today, but how he felt after his swings is not the story.

“It’s the next step,’’ Wright told reporters. “Any time you get to the next step, it’s a significant step. It’s one step closer. … It’s important that I see how I feel tomorrow. I’ve said all along that Opening Day is my goal.’’

In all probability, Wright and Murphy will open the season backdated to the disabled list, meaning they would miss only the first five games of the season. It they were to play in a major league exhibition game and are injured, their DL stints would be backdated to the day after the injury.

Murphy played in a minor league game today and saw his first meaningful pitch since last season said it was “like trying to hit an aspirin.’’ Murphy went 1-for-2 with a walk, but said the biggest test might have been when he checked his swing and didn’t feel anything.

Because of the structure of minor league spring training games, Murphy could get as many as five or six at-bats a game, but that could increase the possibility of overdoing things and sustaining another injury.

If both Wright and Murphy go on the DL, one scenario has Justin Turner playing third and Jordany Valdespin at second. Another has Zach Lutz playing third and Turner at second.

Brandon Hicks is no longer a third base option as he was outrighted to the minors today, leaving way for Omar Quintanilla to make the team.

In addition, the Mets optioned to the minor league camp left-hander Aaron Laffey, Andrew Brown, Brian Bixler and Jamie Hoffman. By sending down Laffey, the Mets are reasonably sure Shaun Marcum – who missed his last start and took a cortisone injection in his shoulder – will be able to rejoin the rotation Thursday. Of course, if he’s not, it’s easy enough to recall Laffey.

A long shot to make the Opening Day roster, despite their need for defense in the outfield, was center fielder Matt den Dekker. That’s not going to happen now as broke his right wrist attempting to make a catch today. Compared to Jim Edmonds, den Dekker has had an exceptional spring in the field, but has struggled until recently at the plate.

METS OPTION d’ARNAUD: The Mets’ key to the R.A. Dickey was getting catcher Travis d’Arnaud, who was sent to Triple-A Las Vegas.

The Mets gambled keeping d’Arnaud around this week because had he been injured he would have opened the season on the major league disabled list, which would have started the clock on his service time. Should d’Arnaud, who hit .343 this spring, spend the first 20 days of the season in the minor leagues, his free agency would be delayed from after the 2018 season to after the 2019 season. His arbitration status would also be delayed a year if he’s not one of the top 22 percent of rookies called up.

That’s irrelevant insists GM Sandy Alderson.

“I know people talk about control and all of that,’’ Alderson said. “If John Buck gets hurt tomorrow, Travis d’Arnaud is the front-line catcher.’’

THE GAME: Matt Harvey’s next-to-last spring training start was not a good one, as he was hit for four runs in five innings in a 9-4 loss in a split-squad game to Detroit. In the other game, the Mets rallied from six runs down to beat St. Louis as Jamie Hoffman, Lutz and Mike Baxter homered.

Harvey struck out the side in the first, including Triple-Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, but it was all uphill from there. Harvey said he let his emotions get away from him and overthrew after the first inning.

“Definitely something I learned is try not to get too pumped up for a team and a lineup like that – back off and let everything work,’’ Harvey said.

Also not having a good day was set-up reliever Brandon Lyon, who gave up five runs on six his in one third of an inning.

Mar 24

Injury Updates: Wright Making Progress; Murphy, Santana Lagging Behind

Day-to-day is exactly how it sounds, which means the Mets aren’t ready to announce David Wright’s Opening Day status.

Wright has been moving cautiously in trying to come back from a strained left intercostal muscle. He’s been fielding and hitting off a tee, which is ahead of what was originally thought.

WRIGHT: Making progress.

WRIGHT: Making progress.

Batting practice followed by games are the next steps.

“We’re looking at the middle of next week for possible at-bats as we head into next weekend,’’ manager Terry Collins told reporters. “Once again, I’m going to be very cautious. This guy is a huge piece. The last thing we need to do is to try to tell him he needs to rush or he needs to hurry. But we’ll see where he is in the middle of next week.’’

If Wright hits without pain this week, say Wednesday, the Mets will try to get him in a minor league game before the team breaks camp this Saturday. The Mets will not risk playing him in a major league game because if there is a setback going on the disabled list would be retroactive to the day after the injury. If there is a setback in a minor league game, the Mets can backdate the disabled list assignment ten days from the end of spring training.

There’s nothing wrong with how the Mets are currently handling Wright, but if he can’t go all out by the end of this week it makes zero sense to carry him on the Opening Day roster and risk further injury.

Sit him for a few games now instead of a month or longer later.

Meanwhile, Collins insists it is too soon to make a decision on Daniel Murphy, who is recovering from a strained right intercostal muscle. Murphy played in a minor league game eight days ago, but only in the field. He has not had a meaningful at-bat this spring.

There’s little doubt Murphy will open the season on the disabled list, as will Johan Santana, who does not have the strength yet in his shoulder and is only long-tossing at 90 feet. He won’t get on the mound until he reaches 180 feet, and from there, he will have to go through the entire spring training process.

Santana set himself back when he threw unannounced the first week of March after GM Sandy Alderson said the left-hander didn’t report in shape. Angry and frustrated, Santana took it upon himself to throw and hasn’t done anything meaningful since.

TODAY’S GAMES: Matt Harvey starts for the Mets today against Detroit in a split squad game in Port St. Lucie. Left-hander Aaron Laffey will start against St. Louis in the other game in Jupiter.

Makes sense to keep Harvey away from the Cardinals, a team he could face later this summer.

LINEUP vs. DETROIT

Kirk Nieuwenhuis, DH

Justin Turner, 2B

Ike Davis, 1B

Marlon Byrd, CF

John Buck, C

Andrew Brown, LF

Omar Quintanilla, SS

Brandon Hicks, 3B

Matt den Dekker, CF

Matt Harvey, RHP

 

LINEUP vs. ST. LOUIS

Jordany Valdespin, 2B

Ruben Tejada, SS

Collin Cowgill, CF

Lucas Duda, LF

Travis d’Arnaud, C

Mike Baxter, RF

Zach Lutz, 3B

Brian Bixler, 1B

Aaron Laffey, LHP

Mar 23

Mets Batting Order Reveals How Unsettled Team Is

There must be times Mets manager Terry Collins sits in his office with the door shut, puts his head in his head and wonders how he is going to handle his team.

There are probably times he thinks retirement might not be such a bad thing.

COLLINS: What's he thinking?

COLLINS: What’s he thinking?

In most camps, positions and batting orders are set a week from Opening Day. That isn’t the case with the Mets, where Collins is still juggling his options with one eye on the calendar.

Maybe he’s hoping that blizzard in Denver last night during the soccer game hits Citi Field on Monday.

In fairness, the order hasn’t been helped by the absences of David Wright and Daniel Murphy. Also, in fairness, he doesn’t have much to work with, as there will be no late arriving help for a roster, such that it is, that for the most part is set.

However, there’s nothing fair about baseball, and a manager must figure out what to do with the cards he’s dealt, good or bad. That’s his job; that’s what Collins signed up for.

There are times the batting order is a team’s GPS, as it tells you exactly where the team his headed. Today’s line-up is indicative of Collins’ dilemma:

Collin Cowgill, CF: If they aren’t going to carry Matt den Dekker in center, then Cowgill is the best option defensively. He’s there today, but has moved around all spring both in the outfield and his position in the order. It was thought Ruben Tejada could lead off, but he’s not hitting.

Justin Turner, 2B: With Wright out, Turner is supposed to play third. So why is he at second today? He’s hitting second, as has at least half a dozen Mets this spring. It’s clear the Mets aren’t settled at the No. 2 spot in the order.

Marlon Byrd, RF: I recently suggested Byrd hit third because he’s a veteran and arguably one of their more versatile hitters. I didn’t say best. If Byrd has the inside track to hit third, he should stay there this week. Byrd appears to have won the right field job from Mike Baxter.

Ike Davis, 1B: Hitting him third was never a good idea, but he has the most power. Clean-up figured to be his spot, so he never should have been hitting anywhere else this spring.

John Buck, C: I was wondering when they were going to insert a right-handed hitter between strikeout-prone Davis and Lucas Duda. Righty or lefty, somebody needs to hit between them as you can’t afford a combined 300 potential strikeouts hitting back-to-back.

Lucas Duda, LF: Duda is here for his power potential. But, with it comes his high strikeout potential and low on-base percentage. The Mets sent him down last year when he struggled, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the same thing this summer. He’s still a work in progress, both at the plate and in the field.

Zach Lutz, 3B: He’s hit clean-up this spring, which is pointless because that’s for Davis. He’s still getting reps at third base, which means they are thinking of him there. That would also mean they are also thinking of Turner at second and not Jordany Valdespin.

Ruben Tejada, SS: Tejada is having the kind of spring offensively that would have sent most players to the minors. The Mets don’t have the depth to make that move. Until he starts hitting, he stays eighth.

Rafael Montero, RHP: Getting the spot start today because there are already holes in the rotation.

Sad to say, the only consistent and sure thing about the Mets’ batting order is the pitcher hitting ninth.

Mar 23

Mets Outfield Still A Mess; No Help Coming

For those hoping for a last minute trade or free-agent signing to give the Mets a representative outfield, there will be no meteor like event to change the obvious impression it will be a long season.

Sandy Alderson did not make a significant move over the winter to build the outfield. Instead he tinkered and went into spring training with a “hope for the best” mentality. Now, he’s telling reporters what nobody – outside the players involved – wants to hear which is the Mets are keeping a pat hand.

COWGILL: Could be in center on Opening Day

COWGILL: Could be in center on Opening Day

And, it’s not a full house.

“I think we’ve got a sense of who the five or six are who might be on the team,’’ Alderson said. “How exactly they’re used is something that we’ll talk about over the next week or so. What we have is what we’re going to have, and we’re not entirely displeased with that.’’

Doesn’t that also mean, they are not entirely pleased?

Also unsettling is outside of Lucas Duda in left field, the Mets don’t have a concrete idea of how they’ll use Marlon Byrd, Collin Cowgill, Mike Baxter and Jordany Valdespin.

That could be because they have no idea of what they are getting. Byrd is at the end of his career; Cowgill and Baxter have never been fulltime starters; and Duda is trying to learn a new position while at the same time attempting to figure out major league pitching.

Valdespin is now projected to open the season at second base because Daniel Murphy will not be ready. Murphy, down with a strained intercostal muscle, will not play in a minor league game today as hoped. Manager Terry Collins said if Murphy did not play this weekend he would open the season on the disabled list. The announcement is a formality now.

Collins has used Cowgill all over the outfield, while Byrd – perhaps having the greatest offensive upside – has played center and right. Baxter has been mostly used in right field.

The Mets’ best defensive outfielder is Matt den Dekker, but there is no indication they are considering him, citing his offense. Den Dekker has hit well recently, but not enough for the Mets’ liking. It should be noted, that neither has anybody else.

Of the group, only Duda and Baxter were on the roster last season, and Duda could very well be the only one in spring training next season if there’s development in the minor leagues or the Mets spend in the off-season as they promised.

Entering spring training, the penciled-in outfield – from left to right – was Duda, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Baxter, with Cowgill rated No. 4. Byrd wasn’t even in camp and Valdespin was a long shot to make the team.

The acquisition of Byrd put him ahead of Baxter in right because of his offensive potential, and Valdespin hit his way onto the Mets’ radar.

There is no track record to indicate Valdespin will continue to hit and when Murphy returns he will find himself back on the bench.

What the Mets have is a handful of role players who have never performed in the role of a fulltime, productive starter.

What the Mets have is a problem.