Apr 23

April 23.10: A lot to look forward to tonight.

It’s early in the season, but tonight’s game against the Atlanta Braves could be telling on several fronts, with the most important being John Maine.

Maine, he of the 10.38 ERA, will be making his fourth start of the year. After being hammered in his first two, Maine demonstrated improvement in his last start at St. Louis.

Maine is moving away from his dependency on off-speed pitches and more toward a reliance on his fastball as he did in 2007 and 2008. There’s also been the mechanical adjustments of a higher leg kick, different positioning of his right foot, and throwing more over the top.

In short, it’s back to Pitching 101.

“I have to get back to where I was,” Maine said. “After seven weeks of doing something I haven’t been doing, I just have to break that habit.’’

Hopefully, the adjustments will result in a spike of his velocity.

In five innings at St. Louis Maine threw 115 pitches to continue a disturbing tendency that has to stop. What kind of progress has Maine made in the past five days? If there’s little or none, how long will the Mets stay with him or will they try to get him well in the bullpen or minor leagues.

A five-inning Maine offers no help to the bullpen which was tested the past two series and didn’t always pass.

This was a concern going into the season, and after a fast start it is a concern again, especially with Ryota Iragashi going on the disabled list and Hisanori Takahashi unable to find the plate with a GPS.

We’ll may also see tonight what Jerry Manuel does with his line-up that until last night has been a vacuum in the 3-4-5 spots. David Wright and Jeff Francoeur showed snap-out-of-it signs with RBI hits, but Jason Bay is still a horror show at the plate.

Even so, the Mets have won three of their last four games, and four of six. So, does Manuel want to tinker with what has worked the last week? If the Mets were .500 instead of two games under this wouldn’t be an issue.

On one hand Manuel talks of consistency, but on the other he’s the man who can’t resist playing with the charcoal at a barbeque. A day doesn’t go by when Manuel doesn’t talk of making some move, and he still has the itch to move Jose Reyes to third.

The alternative would be the more palatable move of Bay to No. 2, something that worked in the past for Wright.

Another option would be tinkering with Ike Davis, which would be a mistake. Four games into his career he has six hits. Let’s keep him where he’s been successful instead of adding pressure. Davis said he’s on board with any move, but it’s only human nature for a player to try to do too much when he’s put into the clean-up spot.

The prudent thing would be the slight adjustment of flipping Bay and Francoeur in the 4-5 slots, and if they do mess with Davis not to go any higher than fifth.

Apr 22

April 22.10: Chat Room, Game #16 vs. Cubs: Going for first series win.

After hinting at change, Jerry Manuel opts for the status quo tonight against Cubs lefty Tom Gorzelanny, so the slumping 3-4-5 of David Wright, Jason Bay and Jeff Francoeur will remain intact.

Perhaps this weekend against a right-hander there could be some change.

In a nutshell, Wright is averaging a strikeout a game, Bay has 22 strikeouts and Francoeur, who opened the season with a 10-game hitting streak is on an 0-for-22 slide.

“I’ve never been so hot, and then so cold,’’ Francoeur said.

Here’s the line-up for the 6-9 Mets:

Jose Reyes, SS
Luis Castillo, 2B
David Wright, 3B
Jason Bay, LF
Jeff Francoeur, RF
Ike David, 1B
Rod Barajas, C
Angel Pagan, CF
Johan Santana, L

Apr 22

April 22.10: About Last Night: The hole in the middle.

It is easy to look at any Mets’ loss Oliver Perez starts and point at him as the reason. While Perez wasn’t nearly as sharp as he was in St. Louis, the Mets had a chance to win despite the three runs he gave up.

The Mets lost last night because their bullpen gave up six runs, a reminder rankings two weeks into the season are meaningless.

Most disconcerting from last night was the continued lack of production from the heart of the order, 3-4-5 hitters David Wright, Jason Bay and Jeff Francoeur, who combined to go 2-for-9.

Wright has 14 strikeouts, roughly one a game, and has been susceptible to breaking balls off the plate. Bay is not seeing the ball well at all, evidenced by 22 strikeouts. And, Francoeur, after a 10-game hitting streak to start the season, is on a 0-for-22 slide that began with the 20-inning game in St. Louis.

“I think once they get a few hits, any type of hits, they’ll get going,’’ manager Jerry Manuel said. “I don’t see fatigue as an issue. I don’t see lethargic legs. I see good bat speed.’’

Because rest isn’t the immediate answer, Manuel needs to consider breaking up the order of the three right-handed hitters, and indicated Ike Davis or Angel Pagan are options.

Currently, Bay is drawing the most concern, and Manuel said batting him behind speed might be the answer, and in that regard, he’s not letting go of the idea of moving Jose Reyes to the third slot in the order.

However, Manuel also was open to the idea of batting Bay second.

This has worked before with Wright and it could work for Bay. The problem is he’ll still have three righties in a row because he’s not going to slot Davis or Pagan clean-up.

Another possible solution is to keep batting the three righties, but mix up the order.

Apr 21

April 21.10: Chat Room, Game #15 vs. Cubs: An Ollie P. encore?

With a victory tonight against the Cubs, the 6-8 Mets would win their third straight game and first series of the season.

On the mound is Oliver Perez, who is coming off a solid start last Friday at St. Louis when he gave up one run in 6 1/3 innings.

Perez worked quickly and got ahead in the count in that game, spotting his pitches low and on the corners. It was how the Mets have wanted him to work for years.

He’ll be backed by this line-up:

Jose Reyes, SS
Luis Castillo, 2B
David Wright, 3B
Jason Bay, LF
Jeff Francoeur, RF
Ike Davis, 1B
Rod Barajas, C
Angel Pagan, CF
Oliver Perez, LP

Offensively, Wright and Bay have been strikeout machines lately and Francoeur’s hot start is now a memory. On the upside, with four hits Reyes might be getting into a groove.

Ryota Igarashi was placed on the disabled list today with a strained left hamstring (he was replaced by Manny Acosta), which leaves the eighth inning to Pedro Feliciano and Fernando Nieve.

Apr 21

April 21.10: Although news not good on Beltran, it was still a good signing.

The news isn’t good on Carlos Beltran, who was examined Tuesday in Vail, Colo. Beltran remains in neutral with no word on a potential return that is anything other than guesswork.

Beltran, who underwent knee surgery in the offseason, hasn’t been cleared to start running. And, until he runs there’s no telling when he’ll begin baseball activities, and after that a return to the line-up.

Initially, the prognosis was up to six weeks following running for a return in May. That’s not happening. Try June now, or maybe after the All-Star break. Who is to say? I mean, who is to say with any authority?

“It’s kind of unfortunate,’’ manager Jerry Manuel said. “But what we have to do is we have to continue to play the way we have the last three or four games and hope that Carlos recovers quickly. He’s obviously an integral part of our lineup, but Angel (Pagan) is playing real well.’’

Maybe so, but there’s a reason why Pagan is a role player and Beltran a perennial All-Star.

Let’s assume at least until the end of June at the earliest. For now, Pagan is the center fielder. Gary Matthews will be kept for insurance. For now I don’t believe they’ll bring up Fernando Martinez as long as Pagan is producing.

I’ve always liked Beltran. He works hard, he hustles and he plays hurt. This was an unfortunate injury, but it would be unfair to say he was a bad signing.

This is a player who played hurt. I don’t think it would be fair to say just because this injury has lasted that the Mets should regret signing Beltran. This guy showed what he is made of when he played with a broken face after his collision with Mike Cameron.

The only thing of hindsight was the issue of the surgery. It should have been done last year, not last winter. Had it been done in September instead of trying to get him back in a lost season they might have him now.