Jul 05

It’s All About Learning For Zack Wheeler; Mets Need To Let Him Be

The New York Mets claimed they didn’t want to bring up Zack Wheeler and then send him back to the minor leagues. They said he was here to stay, but the qualifier is Wheeler has to pitch worthy of sticking.

Wheeler will be making his fourth start Friday at Milwaukee, but he’s gotten progressively worse since his debut in Atlanta.

WHEELER: Leave him alone and let him learn. (AP)

WHEELER: Leave him alone and let him learn. (AP)

The issue is command, which was exacerbated by Wheeler tipping off his breaking pitches. In his second start, the Mets called for more breaking balls, and he was simply a mess in his third start when he gave up five runs in 4.2 innings against Washington.

Manager Terry Collins said his staff has been tinkering too much with Wheeler, but remember he was part of that decision making process. Pitching coach Dan Warthen doesn’t construct a game plan without Collins’ knowledge, and catcher John Buck calls pitches predicated on his pregame talks with Wheeler and the staff.

With Wheeler, the Mets have been like the man with the barbeque who is always poking at the fire. They were doing him a disservice.

Now, Collins is advocating what was written here after Wheeler’s second start, which is the rookie must go more with his fastball and use that as his foundation.

“We’ve addressed a couple of issues,’’ Collins told reporters yesterday. “Once again, I don’t like handing out scouting reports. But it’s pretty basic: One of the things I really, really, really believe in – I don’t care if it’s a guy like Zack Wheeler who is strictly a power guy, or a guy like Dillon Gee – you have to pitch to your strengths.

“You can’t always pitch to the hitters’ weaknesses. I’ve had some of the greatest pitchers that ever pitched say the same thing. … That was my whole message to Zack: Don’t get away from your strengths. Just because so-and-so can’t hit a slider doesn’t mean you can’t get him out with your fastball.’’

Collins said the tip-pitching has been corrected. That, combined with throwing more fastballs, should give us a clearer pitcher of Wheeler. We will also learn tonight how well he rebounds from adversity.

Wheeler indicated he wasn’t happy with his latest bullpen session, but there isn’t always a correlation with that and how he does in a game.

Wheeler has had time to clear his head, study film of himself and go over the scouting reports. The early book on him was an ability to focus and not let things bother him.

That includes interacting with the media, which hasn’t always been smooth. There are times when he can get short and curt, but getting acclimated with the media will come in time, as will his level of comfort on the mound.

Right now, nothing is easy for Wheeler, but that’s part of the learning curve. Wheeler isn’t Matt Harvey and the Mets must have different expectations. The Mets are banking he’ll pick it up so he doesn’t have to see the minors again.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Jun 26

Are Mets’ Forcing Wheeler’s Development?

Here’s what the New York Mets can make of Zack Wheeler: He still has a lot of work to do. Wheeler tripped Tuesday night, but I’m inclined to agree with Ron Darling in that it was the Mets who stuck their foot out.

WHEELER: White Sox know what pitch this is.

WHEELER: White Sox know what pitch this is.

Darling, who has forgotten more pitching than most of us will ever know, said the Mets might have done Wheeler a disservice by having him go away from his fastball, which can be overpowering, and throw more of his slider.

Wheeler hasn’t refined his secondary pitches and pitching coach Dan Warthen told reporters last night the Mets’ prized rookie was tipping his pitches by having a different arm angle for his breaking balls.

Wheeler said he was “bad,’’ after he gave up four runs on four hits and three walks in 5.2 innings. Surprisingly, Wheeler struck out one, but you’d think with a 95-mph. plus-fastball he would have had more. He would have had he mixed in more fastballs among his 109 pitches.

Wheeler is clearly not as far along and polished as Matt Harvey was last year at this time. He is more advanced with his fastball than his breaking balls, and that’s the pitch he should have used more often, if for no other reason it was an interleague game.

Seriously, when will Wheeler see the White Sox again? Just throw the fastball until they prove they can hit it.

Throwing unrefined breaking balls is even more risky when behind in the count, and of the 24 batters he faced, he threw only 11 first-pitch strikes.

Wheeler said he was bad. He might over stated things a bit, because the Mets have shown us a lot worse this year. Speaking of which, today is Shaun Marcum Day.

It wasn’t as if the White Sox knocked him around the park, but they were usually ahead in the count and generally had comfortable at-bats.

Unless Wheeler goes into a dive, the plan is for him to be here, and learn on the fly. That’s not the best way as the Mets have rushed him. By Wheeler’s own admission he wasn’t ready, but he’s not going to say, “no, I’ll stay in Vegas.’’ After all, there are only so many $3.99 all-you-can-eat buffets one you can enjoy.

So, as long as he’s here let him throw his fastball, then mix in a curve and go with the slider as his third pitch.

By all accounts, Wheeler is ahead of Mike Pelfrey when he first came up, and that includes his secondary pitches. Pelfrey became ineffective because he didn’t have command of his secondary pitches and hitters sat on his fastball.

Ideally, the Mets should turn Wheeler loose with his fastball and work in the other pitches gradually. Let him throw the pitch he has the most confidence in and go from there.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them.

 Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Apr 23

John Buck: From Trade Bait To Indispensable?

Several times this season John Buck’s fast start fueled speculation that with Travis d’Arnaud’s promotion the Mets might deal him at the trade deadline.

After all, who doesn’t want a hot-hitting catcher who calls a crisp game behind the plate? Most every team would and that includes the Mets, who, along with Buck exceeded early expectations.

BUCK: Proving very valuable.

BUCK: Proving very valuable.

It’s not as if Buck has gone from trade bait to indispensable, but he isn’t going anywhere any time soon. And, that has more to do than with d’Arnaud’s broken foot that will keep him out for two months. Buck is simply the Mets’ best offensive weapon and has been solid behind the plate, drawing raves from Matt Harvey and Jon Niese.

However, manager Terry Collins said it best: “John Buck seems to be in the middle of everything that’s good right now.’’

Buck homered in the Mets’ 2-0 victory over Washington Sunday, a comprehensive display of the fastest start of his career. There was the homer, giving him seven and a league-high 22 RBI, but also his defense and the game he called for Dillon Gee.

The Mets’ pride is their young pitchers, and Buck could be the same steading influence Jerry Grote once was to Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Jon Matlack.

Harvey has been the darling at 4-0 and a sub-1.00 ERA, swears by Buck. There’s no way the Mets break up that duo.

Harvey said he’s shaken off Buck maybe five or six times this year ins describing the same instinctual chemistry a quarterback would have with his best receiver.

“He already knows what’s coming,’’ Harvey said. “It’s really fun every time I take the mound and see him back there. It’s just positive energy. It’s more fuel.’’

It’s not luck or coincidence that has Buck putting down the correct fingers. It’s the culmination of hard work spent in the first nine years of his career. He keeps copious notes on his pitchers and opposing hitters, and they complement the game plan drawn up by pitching coach Dan Warthen.

On the day of the game Buck meets early with Warthen and the pitcher to go over the scouting reports and film. Later, he’ll meet with the pitcher privately. However, he talks to all the pitchers throughout the week, not just on the days they start. The communication is constantly flowing.

Harvey said Buck’s preparation is inspirational to the point where he’ll incorporate what he’s learned throughout his career.

“He knows what the hitters are going to do,’’ said Harvey. “The studying that he does and the video that he watches and the plan that he comes up with for each individual pitcher, it’s something that I’m learning still. And it’s awesome.’’

Buck and d’Arnaud’s lockers were side-by-side in spring training, and it wasn’t by accident, either.

“I like to pick his brain,’’ d’Arnaud said this spring. “He’s very easy to talk with and I’ve learned a lot from being around him.’’

Buck said in spring training he understood he was brought here to help d’Arnaud and that attitude hasn’t changed despite the latter’s injury. It’s not as if when he heard the news he moved out of his apartment and bought a house.

“My stance is still the same,’’ Buck said. “I truly feel if I do good, then he does good. I’ve been around too much to take positive thoughts out of something bad happening to someone else. … Until someone tells me otherwise, I’ll just keep going about my business.’’

Nobody will be telling Buck otherwise any time soon.

Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Mar 04

Is Terry Collins In Charge Or Is Johan Santana?

What we have here is a failure to communicate. Or worse, a desire not to communicate.

SANTANA: Shouldn't take a bow for Sunday's stunt.

SANTANA: Shouldn’t take a bow for Sunday’s stunt.

Apparently, unbeknownst to manager Terry Collins, his veteran left-hander Johan Santana threw off the mound Sunday when the Mets earlier indicated it could be at least ten days before he would do so.

ESPN reported this dialogue:

Collins: “What did you get on the mound for?”

Santana: “Because I felt good.”

Collins: “It was unnecessary. … The last thing I need is to have you wake up tomorrow stiff and then we take a huge step backward because you wanted to show everybody you’re OK. I understand what you’re doing, but once in a while you’ve just got to let stuff slide away. You’ve just got to let it roll off your back and move on and get yourself ready.”

From that exchange, Collins was in the dark when Santana took the mound. And, Santana apparently didn’t care enough to follow the rest plan or to tell his manager.

This was amazingly ridiculous on the part of both.

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Mar 03

Did Mets Rush Johan Santana On Sunday?

Some athletes will use anything as a motivator while others simply know what it takes to get ready.

Today, pitching coach Dan Warthen tried to sell the idea Johan Santana used perceived criticism of his physical condition as the spark to get him on the mound for the first time since Feb. 19. Santana threw the day after GM Sandy Alderson said he didn’t think the soon-to-be 34-year old lefty would pitch for another ten days to put his Opening Day start in jeopardy.

SANTANA: Pushes himself to mound. (AP)

SANTANA: Pushes himself to mound. (AP)

The Mets are trying to mix the contrasting positions Santana as the ultimate competitor who knows better than anybody what it takes to get ready and the other that he uses criticism as motivation.

Well, which is it?

Reportedly, Santana was irritated at reporters’ questioning, to which my first thought is for him to get over it as he’ll get $31 million this year regardless of how much he pitches, so answer the damn questions.

There’s no doubting Santana’s heart, but he can be sensitive.

What I especially found questionable is if the Mets thought he was ten days away from throwing, then why would they let him throw today? Who’s running the show anyway?

When a team puts it in the hands of the athlete to make medical decision, there is a likely chance of failure. Just think of Ryan Church, Mike Pelfrey, Carlos Beltran, David Wright, Jose Reyes and others.

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