Apr 07

Dickey Hopes To Get Off To Fast Start

Every team has its hard luck pitchers and last year R.A. Dickey fell into that category in several respect with the Mets.

DICKEY: Needs to get off to fast start.

Today’s starter against the Braves held them to a .190 average in four starts last season, but only managed to win of them. Dickey also pitched to a 3.51 ERA in the vast confines of Citi Field, but was only 2-9. He deserved better.

Dickey got off to a slow start last year, but finished strong with a 2.69 ERA over his final 24 starts. He will start this afternoon against Atlanta.

“I’ve been looking forward to it,’’ Dickey told reporters on Opening Day. “I’ve felt like I had a good spring, really gotten better, and you’re always excited to get it in there when it counts for real. We’ve certainly put in a lot of hard work, so we’ll see where that hard work takes us.’’

Once he gets into his groove, and it takes some time because his knuckler has trouble in the cold and flattens out, Dickey has proven to be one of the Mets most reliable starters.

The expectations for this year’s Mets are low and April represents an unusually difficult schedule that includes two series against their traditional nemesis in the Braves. However, the Braves are without Chipper Jones at the start and did not play well during spring training. They are vulnerable now and this Mets have an opportunity to capitalize.

 

Apr 07

Mets To Announce Jon Niese Contract

The Mets will make it official in a matter of minutes and announce the five-year, $25.5 extension for Jon Niese, who, if he lives up to expectations will make that a bargain.

NIESE: Gets new contract.

Premium left-handers are in high demand and Niese has already shown a high upside. Throw in two team option years and the deal could rise to $45.5 million.

The Mets have been targets for bad contractual decisions, but this is a sound move because it will enable them to avoid the arbitration and free-agency issues for the next five years.

All contracts represent a gamble, and any thing long term with a pitcher is such, but because of Niese’s age and upside, they are locking him in to a reasonable deal. This is nothing like the Oliver Perez fiasco.

Niese called the deal a blessing and a relief.

“It means a lot,’’ Niese said. “It’s a relief. It’s just a burden off my shoulders. It’s something I don’t have to think about when I go out and pitch. I can just go out there and pitch, have fun and help the team win.’’

Niese will make his season debut tomorrow afternoon against the Braves.

Apr 02

Parnell sharp; Santana gets Opening nod.

Bobby Parnell, who had been uninspiring during his tenure with the Mets, has been scintillating this spring, enough where they could consider opening the season with him in the closer role if Frank Francisco is placed on the disabled list with a sore left knee.

PARNELL: Has had excellent spring.

While Parnell was throwing three scoreless innings at Atlanta in a spot start – because the Mets didn’t want Jon Niese to face the same team he’ll pitch against Sunday – Francisco was getting an MRI.

“Early in camp I felt a little sore in there and it went away,’’ Francisco told reporters today. “In the last three days, I felt soreness in there again, but that’s it. We’re going to take care of that. I did my workout and everything, and it felt fine, but they’re going to take a look at it.’’

 A MRI, followed by manager Terry Collins saying he was concerned about Francisco’s knee can’t be a good omen for the injury ravaged Mets.

Francisco, a Toronto castoff, was signed to a two-year, $12-million contract in the offseason. The Mets also signed another Blue Jays’ reliever, Jon Rauch, but he’s been ineffective this spring with a 7.94 ERA. Parnell, who struggled in the closer role last September, hasn’t given up a run in 12 1/3 innings during spring training.

Despite his success, I’m not so sure moving Parnell to the closer role is the way to go if Francisco’s injury is deemed short term. The Mets have bounced Parnell around in the past and he has not responded to the changing roles. Because he’s been pitching well I’d be reluctant to tinker with him.

I would reconsider that position if Francisco’s injury is determined to be long term.

Meanwhile, the Mets finally announced Johan Santana will be the Opening Day starter Thursday against the Braves. Santana would be followed in the rotation by R.A. Dickey, and Jon Niese.

 

Mar 22

Chipper Jones – Mets Killer – to retire.

Some opponents you loathe. You watch with venom in your heart for how they destroy your team. Or you despise their arrogance and swagger.

Other opponents you respect and admire, and salute for their longevity and talent. Such is the case with the Braves’ Chipper Jones.

JONES: His Topps' Rookie Card.

You figured it was coming soon, but it became official this morning when Jones announced this would be his final season playing third base for Atlanta and tormenting the Mets.

Jones will be one of the rare players, something I hoped would be the case with David Wright and Jose Reyes, to play his entire career with one team.

I covered Cal Ripken and Derek Jeter through the prime of their careers, and respected what they accomplished. Both had opportunities to leave for more money, but recognized the importance they represented to their team and cities. They are special players.

Don Mattingly and Kirby Puckett were that way, too. It was a shame it wasn’t the case with Tom Seaver and Reyes. I hope it isn’t that way with Wright.

Jones thought about retirement two years ago, but changed his mind. Now, after 18 years and a string of injuries the past two seasons, there’s no longer fighting time.

Early in camp, Jones told reporters: “Never in my mid-20s would I have given myself a snowball’s chance to be in camp and have a job at 40 years old.  But I like to think I’ve kept myself in pretty good shape over the years. The skills are still there to go out and get it done. I don’t know for how much longer, but we’re gonna ride it as long as we can.’’

I wish for him a full and healthy season, one with numbers that will have him leaving with pride and not frustration.

It was obvious watching Jones the past two years that he slowed. You could tell his range was declining and he wasn’t the same on the bases. Still, when he came to the plate in the late innings, he was showed respect from the Mets’ pitchers.

Since 2004, Jones underwent two knee operations and dealt with several other nagging issues that deprived him of 500 homers – he would have been the third Brave to reach the milestone, joining Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews – which has been an automatic ticket to the Hall of Fame.

Jones, the 1999 NL MVP, joins Mickey Mantle and Eddie Murray as among the games’ greatest switch hitter, which is an unappreciated skill. Jones takes a .304 career average, 454 homers and 1,561 RBI into this season.

Of his 454 homers, 91 came in August and 74 in September, during the heat of the pennant race; 213 were hit in the seventh inning with the Braves tied, ahead by one, or had the tying run on deck.

And, against the Mets, Jones’ numbers would represent a MVP season: He hit 48 homers, with 154 RBI and a .318 career average.

He hit 19 homers at Shea, which is what he named his son. Any player who would name his child after Shea Stadium is worthy of a salute.

I’ve covered well over a two thousand baseball games, and as a reporter found Jones to be accommodating and thoughtful. His appreciation for the fundamentals and ability to perform under pressure made him a privilege to watch.

Some day, I’ll get to say I saw Chipper Jones, Hall of Famer. He’ll get my vote.

 

Jan 04

Mets face difficult start.

It won’t take long to figure out the 2012 Mets.

The team entering spring training without expectations – at least positive ones – face a difficult schedule despite 13 games at Citi Field and ten on the road. That includes everybody in their division, so we’ll have an idea of how they’ll stack up against the NL East.

I looked at their schedule this afternoon and if things play out as expected, they could be done before the weather gets warm. It isn’t hard to imagine interest in the baseball season being done in Flushing before the kids are done with school.

They open with a pair of three-game series at home against the Braves, who always give them a hard time, and the new-and-improved Washington Nationals (80-81 last year), who are talking with Prince Fielder.

Then they have consecutive three-game series at Philly and Atlanta before coming home for four games against San Francisco and three with Miami.

The Nationals and Marlins were sub-.500 last season, but both played the Mets tough and are expected to be better this year, perhaps to the point of wild-card contention.

They close out the month with three at Colorado and one in Houston, places where they have struggled.

Following two more at Houston, the Mets play Arizona, at Philadelphia and Miami, and home to Milwaukee and Cincinnati before May 18.

Think there’s a chance they could be ten games under or more by then? You bet.

It is not productive for a team to look too far ahead, but with all that’s going on with the Mets, it isn’t hard.