Sep 28

Reflections of Willie

With the Milwaukee Brewers in town, and Jerry Manuel presumably in his last week as Mets manager, it is not surprising the attention being placed on Willie Randolph and the inevitable comparisons to his successor.

RANDOLPH: Looking back.

I covered Randolph in 2006 until 2008 when he was unceremoniously fired, and found him to be knowledgeable but sometimes too thin skinned. I won’t use the word paranoid because I’m not a psychiatrist and believe that’s too harsh and unfair an assessment.

I attributed Randolph’s demeanor to it being his first job and his inability to let go of being passed by for other opportunities.

And, to be fair, Randolph had reason to be cautious as the Mets presented him with several untenable obstacles. Willie spoke highly of Omar Minaya the other day, but part of that was being a gentleman. Fact is, there was an uneasy tension between Randolph and the front office caused in large part by the constant undermining presence of Tony Bernazard, who literally was a management spy and who fed information to players that caused a gap in the clubhouse.

Minaya was at fault for letting that situation develop and not pulling in the reigns on Bernazard. Eventually, Bernazard did himself in and his reputation has kept him from landing another baseball job.

That Carlos Delgado sabotaged Randolph’s relationship with the Latin players, and it was allowed to happen by the front office, was distasteful and really despicable. Delgado’s presence undoubtedly hampered Randolph’s relationship with Jose Reyes to name one. It was information fed by Bernazard to Delgado that damaged whatever relationship the player could have with his manager.

The Mets came within one hit of reaching the World Series in 2006, then collapsed in 2007. The collapse that summer was historic, but traceable to the front office not addressing the needs of starting pitching and not bringing back the bullpen that was a strength of the 2006 team. The collapse would have happened sooner, and perhaps not been as dramatic, if not for the strong start that spring.

The bullpen was again a problem in 2008, but the Mets hung around until the final weekend. There was another collapse that year, but not as dramatic. The team hung around long enough for the interim tag to be removed from Manuel.

The Mets have addressed needs piecemeal, from Johan Santana to Francisco Rodriguez to Jason Bay, but never gave Randolph a full deck after 2006. The feeling was that they came close and to take the next step with essentially the same team. Hoping for improvement is not the same as adding the proper pieces to improve.

Gradually, by sticking with Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez too long, by not rebuilding the bullpen after Duaner Sanchez’s injury described in his EMR (electronic medical record) as a  fractured coracoid bone in the shoulder, by misjudging the progress made by Oliver Perez and John Maine after 2007, by hamstringing the bench with the likes of Julio Franco, poor contracts given Perez, Franco and Moises Alou, and numerous injuries, the window has slammed shut on the Mets and it doesn?t matter who is manager.

Had Randolph stayed, he couldn’t navigate through this mess, and Manuel has proven to be less capable. Let’s face it, today’s Mets are a house of cards. Their record will be better this year, but in some respects the team overachieved because of RA Dickey and Hisanori Takahashi, and Mike Pelfrey’s step forward.

With the payroll as it is, the injury to Santana and questions in the pitching staff, and the health issues of Carlos Beltran and Bay, this team could go south again next year.

Randolph deserves another chance to manage in the major leagues, but bringing him back isn’t the best idea. Been there, done that. Just like with Bobby Valentine.

Randolph has his faults as does Manuel, but the fact is this front office will be going on its fifth manager in ten years next season, a sure sign that the instability that comes from up top.

May 19

May 19.10: What’s wrong with Wright?/Adding tonight’s lineup.

Pedro Martinez once told me one of his greatest weapons as a pitcher is the fear he instilled in the batter’s mind about being hit.

“If the batter is afraid of being hit, then I can pitch him any way I want,’’ Martinez said.

That’s the way it seems these days for David Wright even though he will never admit it. That’s all right, because what the mouth won’t say body language does, and there have been numerous times when Wright bails out.

We see him more turning away from the inside fastball rather than turning on it and ripping it to left. Once a pitcher knows he has the inside half of the plate, there’s no reason to go to the outside.

The Matt Cain beaning last season has had a residual effect of Wright, and it mostly is mental, which leads to bad physical habits.

I’ve seen Wright pull off pitches he used to hammer, and I see him get too anxious when he does get a ball on the outside half and middle. His swing is long with a noticeable uppercut.

Statistically, Wright has made enough contact to be on a pace to hit 32 homers and drive in 105 runs. He’s also on pace to strike out 223 times and hit for a .262, some 43 points below his career average.

Those aren’t the results Wright is seeking.

“If you don’t see the results a lot, you start pressing a little bit,’’ Wright said last night after his three strikeout game in Atlanta. “It’s tough when somebody is out there playing as poorly as I am right now, costing us both offensively and defensively.’’

Wright was having an off-year in 2009 even before the beaning, which some of it being written off as adjusting to the new stadium and him being on an island in the line-up. There was no Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado or Jose Reyes for much of this year. There’s no Beltran this year, Jason Bay has done nothing to protect Wright and Reyes hasn’t been on his game. The situations are very similar, as are the results.

Wright called baseball a “humbling” game and right now the man is humbled.

It all boils down to this, that regardless of the psychological and statistical theories, if Wright is the player the Mets and he believes himself to be, things have to dramatically change. These reasons, or excuses, for him not hitting must be pushed aside.

It could start with something small, like hitting a sacrifice fly instead of striking out.

Here’s tonight’s line-up”

Jose Reyes, SS
Luis Castillo, 2B
Jason Bay, LF
Ike Davis, 1B
Angel Pagan, CF
Jeff Francoeur, RF
Fernando Tatis, 3B
Henry Blanco, C
RA Dickey, RP

Apr 13

April 13.10: Line-up and notes; Reyes still leading off.

Good for Jerry Manuel not to tinker with his struggling line-up by dropping Jose Reyes to the three hole. At least let Reyes get into some kind of groove before doing anything.

Personally, I still want Reyes leading off where he can do the most good. Better to leave Reyes where he is. Let’s look at it this way. If Reyes doesn’t bat third they still have a good option in David Wright. But, if Reyes doesn’t bat first, where do they go?

Why create a problem in the leadoff slot if you don’t have to?

Here’s tonight’s line-up for the Mets (2-4):

Jose Reyes, SS
Luis Castillo, 2B
David Wright, 3B
Jason Bay, LF
Jeff Francoeur, RF
Fernando Tatis, 1B
Rod Barajas, C
Angel Pagan, CF
John Maine, RP

NOTES: Lefties Johan Santana and Oliver Perez will stay on schedule, meaning the latter won’t be skipped to keep the former at every fifth day. … Jon Niese goes tomorrow followed by Mike Pelfrey Thursday against the Rockies. … Carlos Delgado, who is rehabbing from hip surgery in Colorado, visited the clubhouse this afternoon. … Many of the Mets, who are hitting .245 as a team and .189 with runners in scoring position, took early batting practice. … As a bonding exercise, most of the team took in the Nuggets game Monday night.

NOTE FROM ME: For the next few months I am taking a night class. I will be in the Chat Room tonight, but won’t get there until nine. So, you’ll have to do the first inning without me. Thanks-JD

Feb 27

Feb. 27.10: Mets batting order.

As of now, the question in the Mets’ batting order is at 4-5, where Jerry Manuel needs to decide how to slot David Wright and Jason Bay.

Jose Reyes, unfortunately, is still ticketed to bat third, with Angel Pagan and Luis Castillo hitting one-two. Then comes Wright-Bay  followed by Daniel Murphy, Jeff Francoeur, Rod Barajas and the pitcher.

With Carlos Beltran out, Wright is the Mets’ best hitter and should be third, with Reyes leading off. However, since that won’t be the case, I think he should bat fifth with Bay at clean-up. When the Mets’ batting order was its most potent in 2006, it had Beltran-Carlos Delgado-Wright.

With Reyes third, and presumably on base, Bay should get more fastballs and Wright would offer protection in the order. I like Murphy sixth because it should afford him more RBI opportunities.

Feb 24

Feb. 24.10: Wrapping up the day.

The following is an accumulation of news and notes from spring training today:

* Rod Barajas reported to camp and will wear Carlos Delgado’s No. 21.

* Japanese pitchers Ryota Igarashi and Hisanori Takahashi threw live batting practice.

* Sean Green is working on a submarine delivery. In theory it should produce a sharper sinker conducive for getting the double-play grounder.

* Pedro Feliciano is working on a cutter. The more pitches the better.

* Jerry Manuel said Fernando Nieve is versatile enough to work as a long-man, eighth-inning set-up man or starter. That’s another way of saying he has no idea on how to use him. If Jon Niese steps up, Nieve would likely be the long man.

* Good reports so far on Angel Pagan’s confidence. Pagan has no doubt he can hold center field until Carlos Beltran’s return in mid-May.