Jul 17

Three Mets’ Storylines: Conforto’s Return Raises Questions

Michael Conforto is returning to the Mets and with him comes a dilemma for manager Terry Collins on how to handle his outfield. Collins said he couldn’t foresee Conforto and Brandon Nimmo playing in the same outfield. That choice was resolved with Nimmo being sent down.

Conforto, who played 16 games for Triple-A Las Vegas, but only four in right field. That could present a problem, because earlier in the day Collins said Yoenis Cespedes would play left field, which was Conforto’s position.

CONFORTO: Return raises questions. (AP)

CONFORTO: Return raises questions. (AP)

Cespedes, who misplayed a fly ball while playing center field that lead to his strained right quad, stated a preference to play left the remainder of the season, where he should have been playing all along.

Had the Mets played him in left, they could have given Conforto reps in right and center field during spring training.

When Conforto was optioned, Collins said he would return when he regained his stroke – which he did batting .344 (21-for-61) with three homers and 15 RBI – and when that happened he would play.

Where and how often are to be determined.

Since Juan Lagares has played well, presumably he’ll get most of the time in center. That would lead to speculation Conforto and Curtis Granderson – both left-handed hitters – would share right field.

However, Granderson, who homered in Sunday’ 5-0 victory over Philadelphia, has also been hot lately. What becomes of him? Granderson has one more year on his contract. If the Mets go from buyers to sellers in the next two weeks, could they shop Granderson?

Presuming Cespedes opts out after this season, the Mets’ long-range outfield figures to be Conforto, Nimmo and Lagares. However, Nimmo said he hopes to primarily play center at Las Vegas, which immediately creates speculation the Mets could be thinking about dealing Lagares at the deadline.

“I know I have a lot to work on, and I can still do that in Triple-A,” Nimmo told reporters in Philly. “I think right now they feel like Conforto can really help out the team. I think that he can, too. I hope that he’s healthy and good to go and can help this team and spur them on to a nice winning streak.”

Should Lagares be traded and Cespedes opts out, the Mets could have a significant void next season. If they keep Lagares, the Mets could be privately hoping Cespedes opts out.

Conforto’s return raises questions about the composition of the Mets’ outfield in the second half and beyond.

The Mets’ other storylines from Sunday are:

DE GROM’S BRILLIANCE: It has been an up-and-down season for Jacob deGrom, but he’s never been better than Sunday when he threw a one-hit shutout. Pitching on ten days rest after eschewing an All-Star appearance, deGrom produced the best start of his career, a one-hit, 5-0 gem.

“Every time you go out there you want to go as long as you can,” deGrom told SNY. “It was definitely fun. Hopefully, I’ll have many more.”

Everything worked for deGrom, especially his change-up, which he said was the product of improved mechanics that prevented him from flying open with his delivery. Perhaps most of all, deGrom attributed today to the rest from skipping the All-Star Game.

“Just getting a break after throwing every five days,” deGrom said. “You start to feel things and I was definitely worn out. It was needed.”

In the first half, deGrom had a stretch of 10 starts without a victory and an offense that gave him three runs in June. However, he is 3-0 with a 0.93 ERA in his last three starts, walking five against 27 strikeouts over 29 innings.

POWER RESURFACES: Much was made of the Mets’ power in the first half, and they got homers from Granderson and Asdrubal Cabrera.

Granderson has one of the strangest stat lines with just 28 RBI to go along with his 16 homers. Collins said he likes Granderson batting second, which presumably is where he’ll stay. But, he’s said that before.

For Cabrera, it was his 13th homer, a two-run drive in the eighth that gave deGrom a comfortable cushion to close out the game.

 

Jul 16

Three Mets’ Storylines: Fundamentals Lacking

It was the same old story for the Mets Saturday night in Philadelphia: No Fundies, no fun.

Although the Mets hit two sacrifice flies, their continued inability to hit with runners in scoring position – their primary first-half flaw – re-surfaced again in a 4-2 loss to the Phillies that dropped them seven games behind Washington.

VERRETT: Bright spot. (Getty)

VERRETT: Bright spot. (Getty)

After Juan Lagares’ sacrifice put runners on second and third with one out in the seventh, they came up empty. Then in the bottom of the inning, Asdrubal Cabrera’s throwing error on seemingly a routine play put on what turned out to be the winning run on base.

The seventh-inning breakdowns continued to underscore what has been a theme this season in that when the Mets don’t hit a homer then won’t win.

“We’re not driving in runs when we need to,” manager Terry Collins told reporters. “We’re not taking care of those opportunities when we get them.”

We can debate from now until the trade deadline what the Mets need more: another bat; a starter; or a reliever. But none of that matters if they don’t execute the fundamentals, and tonight that was the key storyline.

The others:

VERRETT GAVE THEM A CHANCE: Logan Verrett took the ball with the very real possibility he was pitching to stay in the rotation as Matt Harvey’s replacement.

Verrett gave up a homer to Ryan Howard, but few Mets’ pitchers haven’t. Verrett gave up two runs in six innings, which is the definition of a quality start.

Verrett walked only one and struck out four and for the second straight start threw over 100 pitches. If there was a negative, it was getting ahead of hitters but not putting them away.

Even so, he should stay in the rotation.

“At this moment we don’t have a lot of options,” Collins said. “But he’s got to give us good innings. That’s the job of any pitcher. … We’re just hoping that now, with it being a little bit more of a consistent role, he starts to find that command that makes him so effective.’’

CESPEDES STATUS UNCERTAIN: Collins said Yoenis Cespedes could have pinch-hit in the ninth if the Mets put a tying run on base.

However, Collins also said he doesn’t know what would have happened had Cespedes got on base or his availability Sunday. As of now, Cespedes hasn’t played since July 8. The Mets gambled he would heal during the All-Star break, but that hasn’t happened.

It might be time to DL him and bring up Michael Conforto.

 

Jul 15

Three Mets’ Storylines: Walker The Difference

On a day the Pittsburgh Pirates demoted Jon Niese to the bullpen and their general manager Neal Huntington lamented the trade that brought him from the Mets, the player they surrendered, Neil Walker, hit a three-run homer for the difference Friday night in Philadelphia.

“In hindsight, maybe the two fringe prospects and trying to figure out where to re-allocate the money might have been a better return [for Walker],” Huntington told a Pittsburgh radio station.

WALKER: Powers Mets over Phils. (Getty)

WALKER: Powers Mets over Phils. (Getty)

I applaud honesty – the trade has not worked out for the Pirates – but it’s pretty stupid to trash Niese, whom he admitted he’s trying to deal. As a GM you can’t devalue the product you’re trying to unload. That’s GM 101.

Sandy Alderson did the same thing with Ike Davis, and also wasn’t shy about ripping Wilmer Flores and Daniel Murphy.

Walker’s opposite-field homer to left in the sixth powered the Mets to a 5-3 victory over the Phillies and kept them six games behind Washington. It was Walker’s 16th homer – he had 16 last year – to give him 40 RBI. He made an immediate strong impression with nine homers in April.

Walker has played well but hasn’t made Mets’ fans forget Murphy. And they certainly won’t if Walker leaves after this season while Murphy plays two more years with Washington.

Then again, and here’s a wild thought, what if the Pirates DFA’d Niese? With Matt Harvey gone for the year, and health questions with Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard, would the Mets bring back Niese? They did with Jose Reyes, so why not?

However, on this night Walker was the Mets’ main storyline.

The other two are:

BULLPEN BAILS OUT COLON: Bartolo Colon (W, 8-4) started strong, but gave up three unearned runs on four hits in the sixth.

Hansel Robles, Jerry Blevins, Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia combined to strike out five and give up one hit in 3.1 scoreless innings. Reed worked 1.1 innings, which I like. He’s strong and if the bullpen is a concern, manager Terry Collins shouldn’t be afraid to give him the extra out.

For Familia, he is 32-for-32 in save opportunities. Earlier this year Familia got his saves, but not without angst. He’s slider has a lot more bite and the confidence level is a lot higher with him now.

The Mets entered the second half with their bullpen a priority and one game won’t alter that thinking, but until those moves are made, this is what they need.

LAGARES SHINES: Juan Lagares homered, stole a base and manufactured a run with a strong slide, and made an outstanding catch in right-center.

Collins told reporters “that’s the kind of player he can be.’’

A Gold Glover two years ago, he was out of shape and a bust last season, but is playing with an aggressiveness the Mets should continue to expect.

Jul 14

Mets Should Consider Internal Bullpen Options

As erratic as their hitting has been – and even with the uncertainty surrounding Yoenis Cespedes’ return – the Mets’ primary need at the trade deadline is pitching.

EDGIN: What about him? (AP)

EDGIN: What about him? (AP)

A strong argument can be made for adding bullpen depth. Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia have been a solid eighth-ninth combination, but the bridge to them is shaky at best.

Jerry Blevins has pitched better lately, but Antonio Bastardo has been a bust and Hansel Robles is too erratic.

Mike Puma of The New York Post suggests San Diego’s Brad Hand, Oakland’s John Axford and Chris Withrow of the Braves. They probably won’t cost much, but before thinking trade, the Mets should look internally until the trade deadline.

* Lefty Josh Edgin has recovered from surgery and has pitched well. He’s 1-1 with a 2.45 ERA in 25 appearances. He has 22 strikeouts with 12 walks. He has two saves and five holds. Since he was part of the Mets’ plans at one point and healthy now, I would think he should get the first chance.

Josh Smoker is a lefty who throws 98 mph., hard. Substitute him for Bastardo and I’ll be happy. In 39.2 innings he has 59 strikeouts and 17 walks.

Seth Lugo (3-4, 5.65 ERA) is already up here, so I’d like to see him get some meaningful opportunities.

As far as starters who could be turned into relievers, I’d look at Gabriel Ynoa and Rafael Montero.

Ynoa (9-3, 4.19) has been a solid starter for Vegas. He has good control and throws in the lower 90s. Montero (4-6, 7.20 ERA) has not pitched well in 16 starts. Something is wrong with him evidenced by a 1.89 WHIP. Perhaps he’s one of those pitchers where the hitters catch up to him the second and third times around the batting order. Maybe it is time to consider him out of the bullpen.

The bullpen is suspect now, but there could be some answers within the system. Worth a try.

 

Jul 13

Mets Must Overhaul Pitching Protocols

 

UPDATED

The only one of the Mets starters not currently waving a health red flag is the one whose roots are not in the organization – Bartolo Colon. To be fair, Colon had health issues earlier in his career and a PED history, but he’s clean now and save a ball hit off his thumb has been fine.

Colon, at 43, has been a source of stability on the mound since joining the Mets, but his greatest contribution might be the suggestion to Noah Syndergaard, whose 23-year-old arm suddenly lost its steam, to back off his between-starts throwing.

HARVEY: Symbolizes Mets' pitching problems. (Getty)

HARVEY: Symbolizes Mets’ pitching problems. (Getty)

When Syndergaard told Bob Klapisch, one the most knowledgeable baseball writers I know, his arm felt “like there are parachutes attached to it,”  there was the image of swimming against the current.

Syndergaard is pitching through a bone spur in his elbow. Syndergaard experienced a sudden five-mph., drop off his fastball in his last start against the Nationals, similar to turning an oscillating fan from high to medium. Every pitch was a change-up.

Matt Harvey, who at 27, is out for the season following shoulder surgery; the second time in four years the knife cut him out of the rotation. Jacob deGrom was given a chance to be on the National League All-Star team but told manager Terry Collins he was too tired. The word he used was “beat.”

He’s only 28.

Then there’s Steven Matz. He had Tommy John surgery before he was 25, and like Syndergaard is pitching with a painful bone spur.

Finally, there’s Zack Wheeler, who at 26, also experienced Tommy John surgery. He was supposed to come off the disabled list in late June and send Colon to the bullpen. Then it was July, then after the All-Star break. Now, it is mid-August.

I’m waiting for the announcement he will not pitch this year.

Realistically, nobody expected all these guys to blossom into 20-game winners at once. However, also realistically, nobody expected them all to break down all at once, which is closer to happening than one might think.

Is this a coincidence or something deeper?

I would love to see the Mets get back to the World Series. However, I would rather they not make the playoffs, even have a losing season, if it meant seeing each of these guys healthy. For that to happen, the Mets need a serious and comprehensive plan. And remember, wishing is not a plan.

The first step is to recognize how they’ve handled things in the past. The second step is to recognize it hasn’t worked.

I’ve been on the record and will not back off saying they mishandled Harvey from the outset of his arm problems in 2013. It should be noted Harvey back then, and today contributes to his own problems.

Syndergaard won’t pitch until the Mets are in Chicago next week. They’ll ease him back in the rotation, which is a wise decision. Not so wise is their inexplicable decision not to schedule a new MRI. The Mets are going on a previous set taken several weeks before the Washington meltdown.

Just stupid.

GM Sandy Alderson said of Syndergaard and Matz their bone spurs is a matter of pain tolerance. More than once they’ve said the pitchers – the keys to the Mets’ future – couldn’t risk further injury.

Wrong answer.

There are no guarantees when it comes to injuries. The only guarantee is if you continually do something wrong and it doesn’t work, it won’t get better.

The Mets have the possibility to have a great pitching staff, but that’s all it is now – potential. It will remain potential unless the Mets do a complete overhaul in how they handle their pitchers.

From throwing between starts, to pitch counts, to days off, to dealing with pain and discomfort, to a myriad of other things, there must be a complete change. There should be uniformity in policy and procedure from the rookie league to Citi Field.

I don’t know if these Mets will develop into a staff for the ages or fizzle out like the Oakland staff under Billy Martin. Both could happen.

Something is wrong and priority one for the Mets is to find out what it is and fix it.

I don’t care about what happens this year, it’s probably too late, anyway. I care about what happens in the years to come.