Mar 21

Harvey Not There, But Better

What can we make of Matt Harvey‘s latest start, one in which he threw 74 pitches and worked into the fifth inning (4.1 innings) for the first time this spring?

HARVEY: Takes a positive step. (AP)

HARVEY: Takes a positive step. (AP)

It was easily his best outing of the spring, not only in terms of length but also velocity when he threw three straight pitches at 95 mph., to strike out James McCann – who homered off him earlier in the game – in the fourth inning.

“A guy hits a home run off of you, and you always want to get him out the next time,” Harvey told reporters to show the competitive fire that has not abandoned him as he tries to come back following thoracic outlet surgery that has sapped his velocity and hindered his command and movement.

Pitching coach Dan Warthen estimates Harvey’s velocity should return full time in May. That he hit the radar gun at 96 tops is a very good sign.

However, we can’t say certainly he is back. He remains a work in progress. Don’t forget, before he broke down last summer Harvey had trouble getting out of the fifth and sixth innings. It was as if he hit a wall. Harvey gave up three runs on seven hits in his 4.1 innings, which, by definition, is not a quality start. That he reached that far for the first time is a positive, but Harvey would be the first to say he wouldn’t be satisfied with that in the regular season.

However, 74 pitches are way too many for not getting out the fifth. It signifies hitters are fouling off a lot of pitches, meaning he wasn’t able to put them away.

“Overall, I’m excited, and I made a lot of good pitches; unfortunately, in the last inning I didn’t,” Harvey told reporters.

Catcher Kevin Plawecki said Harvey’s command drifted in the fifth inning.

“Other than that last inning, I thought he hit his locations good,” Plawecki said. “[The fastball] was coming in real good, but more importantly, his location was what [he] wanted to see. That’s ultimately what it’s about — you can throw as hard as you want, but if you aren’t spotting anything, it really doesn’t matter.”

Harvey will get two more starts and said he needs to build up his arm strength, improve his command and refine his mechanics. That’s a lot of work to do for two more starts.

As of now, I’m still inclined to leave him back for now, but hopeful he’ll turn it around.

 

Feb 15

Wheeler’s Sore Elbow Illustrates Mets’ Depth

The issues of whether Zack Wheeler is a starter or reliever, or his innings limitations, are moot if the Mets can’t get him on the mound. Here we are, less than a week into spring training, and the Mets’ first red flag is already flapping with news Wheeler – who hasn’t pitched in two years while recovering from Tommy John surgery – has tenderness in his elbow.

The immediate plan is for him to play catch Thursday, and if there’s no pain then throw in the bullpen Friday.

It’s all about caution for Wheeler, who likely will open the season on the disabled list because let’s face it, there’s no reason to rush him, not with Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman around to pick up the slack. When Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz were injured last season, Lugo and Gsellman – and don’t forget, Bartolo Colon – kept the rotation afloat.

Maybe the tenderness is because Wheeler hasn’t really thrown since last August, or perhaps it was scar tissue, but pitching coach Dan Warthen said they won’t rush him. There’s no reason.

“We’re not going to push it because we want to see this kid healthy and once we get healthy, we want him to stay healthy, so we’ll have kid gloves with him,” Warthen told reporters in Port St. Lucie.

Warthen said it would be great if Wheeler made 25 starts, and even projected how many innings he’d throw if that happened, He also said it might be difficult for Wheeler to work out of the bullpen, something he’s never down before. But none of that matters if he can’t get to the mound.

Lugo figures to be the fifth starter and Gsellman could make the final 25-man roster as a long reliever. As for Wheeler, just getting him healthy is imperative. If they can do that, perhaps we’ll see Wheeler sometime in June.

We won’t know what kind of setback this will be, but it underscores the potential depth the Mets have in their rotation. There has been sentiment the Mets could trade Lugo or Gsellman, but Wheeler’s elbow reminds us there’s no reason to go there now because of the fragility of the rotation.

 

Feb 08

Mets Send Huge Contingent To WBC

As they always do, the Mets will send a large group to the World Baseball Classic. The marquee names going will be Jose Reyes and Jeurys Familia, both of whom nraised interesting questions. I understand the pull for representing one’s country or heritage, but what about the significance of getting ready to play for the team that pays you?

First, look at Reyes. The Mets are talking about him being a super sub, capable of playing every infield position save first base and even seeing time in center field. Reyes will play for the Dominican Republic, traditionally a very strong team, and if they reach the finals the Mets might not have him back until March 22. That’s not giving Terry Collins a lot of time to see Reyes at second or center. Doesn’t Reyes owe some loyalty to the Mets who signed him – after a suspension for domestic abuse – when nobody else would?

As for Familia, his likely suspension will come down during spring training. How he’ll be used by the Dominican Republic remains to be seen, but I would think the Mets would like to see Familia pitch in save situations before possibly losing him for up to 30 games if not more.

Personally, I think he owes it to the Mets,

Also participating in the World Baseball Classic are Seth Lugo, Gavin Cecchini, Brandon Nimmo, Hansel Robles, Ty Kelly, Rene Rivera and T.J. Rivera, all of whom have compelling reasons to be in camp instead of getting perhaps sparse playing time in the WBC.

Lugo, who distinguished himself last year in a starting role, could be used as a fifth starter or out of the bullpen. If it’s the latter, pitching coach Dan Warthen would like to see it. With Familia expected to be suspended, it could mean an expanded role for Robles. Warthen would probably like to see that, too. Warthen would also probably like to see Rene Rivera work with the rotation.

Cecchini, Nimmo, Kelly and T.J. Rivera are all competing for spots on the bench. They arguably could get more playing time in spring training for the Mets than for Teams Italy, Puerto Rico and Isreal in the WBC.

The World Baseball Classic isn’t going anywhere, and the Mets have always been big supporters, but eventually they have to stress to their players they have obligations to them, also.

Neither Collins nor GM Sandy Alderson would say this, but I wonder what they are truly thinking.

Oct 31

Here’s Hoping Terry Collins Is Watching Series

One thing we know about sports is everybody is a copycat, and here’s hoping Mets manager Terry Collins is taking notes. Something Indians manager Terry Francona has known for a long time – and putting to use this postseason – and what Collins seems to ignore is a game’s critical moment doesn’t always occur in the ninth inning.

MILLER: Somebody Mets should emulate. (CBS)

MILLER: Somebody Mets should emulate. (CBS)

Sometimes, it is in the sixth, seventh or eighth inning. Often during these critical situations, Collins will turn to Hansel Robles, or Jerry Blevins, or any number of other forgettable names. For Francona, this postseason – and down the stretch for the Indians – he gave the ball to Andrew Miller.

Yes, it is the postseason, so don’t remind me of the obvious. And, yes, the postseason has built-in off days, but the point is clear, he has a stud and isn’t afraid to use him. Collins does not have Miller but does have Addison Reed, who led the National League with 40 holds.

Reed has been stretched out, so he can handle up to six outs. If anybody can do what Miller does it is Reed. Here’s another thing to consider, Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman proved they have the mettle and can be used for more than three outs if they aren’t in the rotation.

I’d rather concentrate on using these three guys for multiple innings, than load up on mediocrity in the middle innings. In doing so, perhaps they can carry one less reliever and add a bench player. More than a few times last summer the Mets got caught with a short bench.

It has been a compelling World Series, and what Francona, and to a degree, Joe Maddon showed last night with his use of Aroldis Chapman, is there is another way to manage a bullpen. For the most part, the back end of the Mets’ bullpen has been good, but it can be better.

Francona is counting on his starters for five or six innings before turning the game over to Miller and the rest of the Indians’ bullpen. With the uncertainty of the ability of the Mets’ starters to go past the sixth, Collins and pitching coach Dan Warthen has some thinking to do this winter.

Let’s hope they are taking notes during the World Series.

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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