Sep 17

DeGrom Surgery Raises Old Injury Questions About Mets

Today’s news about Jacob deGrom needing season-ending elbow surgery was disappointing, but hardly surprising considering the Mets’ history with injuries. Sometimes, they mishandle things and other times they are struck down by bad luck.

This is a combination of both.

DE GROM: Out for year. (AP)

DE GROM: Out for year. (AP)

DeGrom has been out since Sept. 1 after experiencing elbow pain in a game against Miami, his third in a string of three poor starts in which he gave up a combined 16 runs on 31 hits in 14.2 innings. You’ll recall that was the game deGrom called for the trainer as he left the dugout for the clubhouse.

After that game, manager Terry Collins said he wasn’t aware of deGrom’s gesture. The pitcher said he felt fine, that he just wanted to talk with trainer Ray Ramirez and the problem was mechanical.

The injury was described the next day as inflammation in his right forearm and he was put on the disabled list.

The Mets seemed to push deGrom’s return in a way they might not have in May or June. He threw ten pitches off the mound last Saturday when the Mets were in Atlanta. DeGrom then had a 35-pitch bullpen Friday, after which Collins cleared him to start Sunday. That start will now be made by Gabriel Ynoa.

Normally, when a pitcher is on the disabled list with an elbow problem, it takes more than one bullpen session before he’s activated. There was immediate speculation the Mets were pushing deGrom. However, from the time of that session to GM Sandy Alderson’s announcement today deGrom would need surgery to repair the ulnar nerve in his pitching elbow, a lot of questions were raised.

In Collins’ pre-game press briefing prior to Friday’s game – probably an hour after deGrom threw – he said: “We think he’s ready. He looked great.”

Collins also said deGrom would have a pitch count of 75, and “our intentions are to build him back up a little bit.” Building deGrom back up indicates he wasn’t ready, which Alderson acknowledged this afternoon when he said: “[deGrom] threw a bullpen yesterday, felt great, went out to shag in the outfield, threw the ball and had some pain as a result. It is unlikely he will pitch the rest of the season.”

However, Collins said today: “I watched Jake’s bullpen yesterday and it was outstanding and 15 minutes after batting practice is over he walked and said, ‘I can’t pitch.’ We certainly have no plans to have him pitch in the near future.”

Collins’ comments indicate he knew deGrom felt pain before Friday’s game. Why then, did Collins make the announcement deGrom would start? If not before the game, then why not update deGrom’s injury status after the game? If nothing else, Collins could have said they were waiting until deGrom was re-examined Saturday. Doing so eliminates the bungling angle, which is frequently an issue with the Mets on an injury.

DeGrom told reporters today there is no ligament damage, but probably scar tissue build-up from his 2010 Tommy John surgery that was rubbing against the nerve.

“I just tried to lob it into the bucket, and I guess throwing that bullpen messed with that nerve,” deGrom said. “After I threw it I said, `OK, I’ve got to say something.’ One throw, that I felt it on, and it was definitely disappointing.”

If you give the Mets benefit of doubt on this, had deGrom not felt pain on the innocent toss from the outfield, perhaps he would have Sunday, or maybe in the playoffs. It’s even possible he might not have felt anything until spring training.

That this happened now could put a crimp in the Mets’ playoff push, could be looked at in a positive light because if deGrom immediately has surgery, he should be ready for spring training.

DeGrom said he’s had numbness in his ring and pinkie fingers for several weeks, but didn’t feel pain until the Sept. 1 start. DeGrom said the span of numbness ran five or six starts, but he decided to pitch through it. At the time, Collins attributed deGrom’s performance to being fatigued. Collins said nothing about numbness.

DeGrom was obviously not “fine” as he said after the Sept. 1 game. Was deGrom – who finishes the year 7-8 with a 3.04 ERA – totally upfront with Collins or Alderson about the numbness? I don’t know. If so, were the Mets assuming the DL stint was enough time for him to overcome it?

You also have to wonder if deGrom was not totally forthcoming, why didn’t he learn from watching what the Mets went through with Matt Harvey? Another idle thought is if what happened with deGrom will give the Mets pause in trying to rush back Steven Matz?

Enough things were done and said, and enough questions raised, to indicate this wasn’t handled well by a lot of parties.

Resiliency has been a Mets’ buzzword the past two years, and now they need to show that quality more than ever.

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Sep 13

Backman Tells His Side; Could Have Helped Collins This Week

Speaking on WFAN this afternoon, deposed Las Vegas manager Wally Backman insisted the decision to leave was his, and he vehemently refuted published reports citing unnamed Mets’ sources claiming he was insubordinate.

Backman said he would have accepted a coaching position on Terry Collins‘ staff or stayed with Vegas if asked. Whether he would have fired if he didn’t leave hasn’t been reported, but based on what Backman told WFAN one can presume he would have been canned by GM Sandy Alderson.

ALDERSON: In center of Backman sacking.  (AP)

ALDERSON: In center of Backman sacking. (AP)

Backman, who managed in the Mets’ farm system for seven years, including the last five on the Triple-A level with Buffalo and Las Vegas, said he wants to pursue options to manage in the major leagues but didn’t say he had anything immediately on his radar.

“I left on my own,” Backman said. “It didn’t look like there was any future for me in New York. When you work for an organization and do everything, you want to be respected for what you do. I just felt for my time being there the respect wasn’t there. I could be wrong. They could say different.”

Backman defined respect as more than simply guiding Las Vegas to three consecutive winning seasons prior to this year. He said it should include being acknowledged by Alderson in directing the Mets to James Loney, Rene Rivera and Jose Reyes; the last coming after a two-hour conversation that acted as a screening process.

All three paid dividends this summer.

In addition, many current Mets – from Noah Syndergaard to Michael Conforto to Jacob deGrom – played under Backman. He also was instrumental in turning around Lucas Duda and Travis d’Arnaud when they were on rehab assignments last year.

Backman was livid at reports citing unnamed sources he went rogue and disobeyed instructions on playing Conforto against left-handed pitching and batting Brandon Nimmo in the leadoff spot.

“Whoever put that out there, the source within the system, they lied,” a clearly agitated Backman said. “And that’s the part that pisses me off because I did nothing but try to help these guys.”

As for not playing Conforto against left-handers, Backman said he played in 31 of 33 games, hitting .488 (20-for-41) with three home runs against lefties. One game that Conforto didn’t play in was a day he was sent down and didn’t arrive until the fourth inning. The other came on a day prior to an off-day as to give Conforto two straight days off, which is commonplace.

Backman also said Nimmo hit first or second in 84 out of 97 games.

Backman said he got along with Collins and spoke to him frequently. Regarding his relationship Alderson, Backman took a diplomatic approach.

“I’m not going to say we never got along,” Backman said. “I thought he respected me as a baseball person. I guess I wasn’t the prototypical guy he liked.”

That became clear when the Mets bypassed Backman in favor of Dick Scott last December to be Collins’ bench coach.

We haven’t heard much about Scott this year until this past week, which hasn’t been a great one for Collins, who had three major brain cramps, all of which should have been preventable.

First, on Saturday he failed to pinch-run for Wilmer Flores, who was then subsequently thrown out at the plate, injured and hasn’t played since. On Sunday, he admitted screwing up. He said he was preoccupied talking with pitching coach Dan Warthen about setting up his pitching.

Finally, when it was apparent Rafael Montero didn’t have it Monday, Collins kept the shell-shocked starter in the game too long. He could have pulled Montero in the first or pinch-hit for him. He did neither and Montero let the game away. Would the Mets have won had Montero been pulled? Who knows, but it can’t make Collins feel any less angst.

All three events should fall under the responsibility of a bench coach, but not once did Collins point blame in his direction. That fits in with Collins’ makeup. He’s not one to throw his staff or players under the bus. For that matter, he doesn’t take shots at Alderson for leaving him shorthanded at times.

Frankly, too many times.

We don’t know what Scott said, or didn’t say. What we do know, based on reputation, Backman – no shrinking violet – wouldn’t have been shy to make a suggestion.

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Sep 12

Backman Out; Was Never Going To Get Chance

Mets GM Sandy Alderson said Wally Backman, the one time, popular pepper pot second baseman of the 1986 champion Mets, is out as Triple-A Las Vegas’ manager.

Just like that, he’s out.

Alderson said Backman left on his own, but does anybody really believe that?

BACKMAN: Inevitable happens. (MLB.com)

BACKMAN: Inevitable happens. (MLB.com)

“Wally has decided to move on,” Alderson told The New York Post. “He’s got other opportunities, presumably including possible major league coaching or managing.”

That’s nonsense. The minor league season just ended and the major league season is still going on. There are no current openings. If Backman had another job lined up, he would have said so.

When somebody desperately wants to manage in the major leagues, he doesn’t resign from a Triple-A job without something lined up. Instead, he just posted a mild tweet saying he resigned and thanked Mets’ fans for their support. He posted nothing about Alderson.

Reportedly, Backman was on the verge of being named bench coach for the 2012 season, but something happened at the last minute and the job went to Tim Teufel.

In 2004, Backman was hired to manage the Arizona Diamondbacks but was fired four days later after The New York Times reported he had been arrested twice and was under financial duress.

Amazingly, the Diamondbacks failed to do a background check.

Baseball is noted for giving second chances, but Backman has never gotten another opportunity to manage on the major league level. Instead, he found sanctuary with the Mets, the team he energized in 1986.

SNY analyst Keith Hernandez called Backman, “a dear friend and a great teammate.”

Backman managed Las Vegas for five seasons and guided them to a 70-74 record this year. Although Las Vegas had three winning seasons prior to this year, Backman never was enamored by Alderson, who was very complimentary in The Post.

“I thought he did a fine job for us,” Alderson said. “We had many players come through Las Vegas and graduate to the major league level and establish themselves in New York.

“He was part of that development process. In addition, other than this year, the teams were very competitive and successful on a won-loss basis. He did a good job for us.”

So, what was the problem?

Backman has a reputation as a loose cannon that irritated the button-down Alderson. There always seemed to be friction between them, and Alderson has a reputation for holding a grudge.

There are reports of Backman defying Alderson by not batting Brandon Nimmo leadoff and – heaven forbid – or starting Michael Conforto against left-handed pitchers.

On the major league level, Terry Collins said he would, but never followed through on hitting Conforto against lefties. Backman was also critical of how Conforto was used by the Mets. Come to think of it, who hasn’t been critical of the way the Mets are using Conforto.

The Mets’ current outfield situation, in large part made by their eagerness to placate Yoenis Cespedes, is currently a mess. There are no plans for what to do with Conforto – whom Collins said in April was destined to be the Mets’ No. 3 hitter for the next decade – and Nimmo.

There is actually a chance they won’t have either Cespedes or Jay Bruce in 2017.

Collins was hired to replace Jerry Manuel in 2011 and had four losing seasons. There were opportunities to hire Backman then, but Collins survived, getting the benefit of the doubt by numerous injuries and ownership’s financial problems.

The thinking was the Mets couldn’t fire Collins because he hadn’t been given a representative team. It wouldn’t be fair. However, everything fell into place and the Mets reached the World Series in 2015. And, with the Mets serious wild-card contenders this year, Collins’ job seems secure.

Part of the success of last year was because of the performances of Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Conforto and Travis d’Arnaud, players who did well under Backman.

The Mets could have promoted Backman to bench coach after last year to replace Bob Geren, who left for the Dodgers. However, when the job went to Dick Scott, it became clear there was no place for him on the major league level despite Jeff Wilpon’s initial gesture of support when they hired him.

With the friction between Backman and the Mets this year, it was only a matter of time before today happened. Do you still don’t think there isn’t animosity between Backman and the Mets? On SNY during the game, Backman wasn’t mentioned until the seventh inning of a blowout, and ended its Baseball Tonight broadcast with basically a throw-away line. It was the last item, but should have been the first.

Don’t think the Mets didn’t have anything to do with that? It sure looks like the Mets wanted to bury this. Makes you wonder why they didn’t wait until 3 in morning Eastern time – the Mets were on the West Coast at the time – like they did when they axed Willie Randolph.

The bottom line is the Mets didn’t want Backman. That’s too bad, and I hope some team takes a chance on him.

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Sep 10

Translating Alderson: Mets Not Expecting DeGrom, Matz Soon

Recent history tells us when Mets’ brass speculates on the return of injured players, it usually takes longer than announced. So, when GM Sandy Alderson refused to comment Friday on the progress of Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz, I can’t help but conclude they aren’t coming back anytime soon.

“I’m not going to talk about them,” Alderson said. “The players who have gotten us here are the players who are healthy and the players who have performed. It doesn’t do anybody any good about talking about when, or if, certain players are going to come back.”

ALDERSON: Easy to conclude his words. (AP)

ALDERSON: Easy to conclude his words. (AP)

DeGrom threw on flat ground Friday. He’ll throw on flat ground again in a couple of days. Then, in a few days, he’ll throw off the mound, which should be in a week.

So, with me doing what Alderson won’t, I’m guessing the Mets will skip deGrom’s spot in the rotation at least twice.

Matz, who will throw off the mound Saturday, is slightly ahead of deGrom. Assuming all goes well, he’ll go off the mound again in several days. The best case scenario for him will be after next weekend’s series against Minnesota.

Figuring that time frame for both, each could get about two or three starts before the end of the season.

Until then, the Mets will continue with Robert Gsellman, who have up four runs Friday in Atlanta, and Seth Lugo, who has a blister and will be pushed back to Sunday.

“We have the players who we have,” Alderson said. “We hope they continue to do the same job they’ve done. It’s really not constructive to talk about the players who aren’t here, or the players who aren’t close to being here. Talking about injuries is history.”

The operative words being “aren’t close to being here.’’

If they were, Alderson would have said so. Right?

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Sep 08

So What If Tebow Signing A Gimmick

Why would the Mets sign Tim Tebow to a minor league contract? Well, why not?

My first thought was not that the Mets were seeking divine intervention in their playoff push, but of the more practical acceptance for what it really is – a no-risk opportunity.

TEBOW: Now a Met. (FOX Sports)

TEBOW: Now a Met. (FOX Sports)

The Mets don’t have anything to lose. If Tebow – who hasn’t played baseball since his junior year in high school – doesn’t make it like everybody expects, they haven’t lost anything. However, if the former Heisman Trophy winner and New York Jet does catch lightning in a bottle, then everybody is a winner.

In a conference call this afternoon. GM Sandy Alderson addressed, and as expected, denied the obvious motivation.

“While I and the organization, I think, are mindful of the novel nature of this situation, this decision was strictly driven by baseball,” Alderson said, his nose growing with each word.

“This was not something that was driven by marketing considerations or anything of the sort. We are extremely intrigued with the potential that Tim has.”

If that’s the case, then why were the decision makers Alderson and Chief Operating Officer Jeff Wilpon, and did not involve the Mets’ baseball operations personnel?

A decision on a prospect that will go to the fall instructional league, Sept. 19, doesn’t go all the way to the top. In addition, just any prospect trying to salvage a professional sports career, isn’t excused a couple days a week to pursue a college football TV analyst position.

Alderson spoke glowingly of Tebow’s work ethic and professionalism and how the Mets’ minor leaguers could learn from watching him. While that’s all well and good, but this is an opportunity to keep the Mets in the news this winter and sell some tickets in spring training and in the minors next year.

Of course, Alderson won’t admit that for it would defeat the purpose.

As for Tebow, who didn’t make it with Jets, Denver, Philadelphia or New England, his motivation is presumably the desire to compete. He likely doesn’t need the money, and if he did, he’s surely smart enough to understand he’s years from major league money.

He’s also smart enough to realize this won’t be easy. As Michael Jordan learned, hitting a baseball might be the single most difficult thing to do in sports.

“I know this is a tough game,’’ said Tebow on the conference call. “ But I’m looking forward to putting in the work and I felt like this was the best fit.”

This is very easy to figure out, but what I don’t get is all the criticism of him doing this and the calls for him to get a real job. Shouldn’t he be free to pursue whatever career he wants?

If this is what Tebow wants to do, and he’s found a willing partner in the Mets, what’s the big deal?

And for those who say the Mets already have enough left-handed hitting outfielders, well, that’s a little premature, don’t you think?

The call-in shows were full of Tebow this afternoon, and he’ll be on the back pages tomorrow.

Just like the Mets want.

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