The question is always posed at the start of the exhibition schedule: How important is it to win during spring training?
For most teams it isn’t and history is full of examples of spring training winners who were flops during the regular season. The reverse also holds true.
But, what about the Mets, who open up today against the Washington Nationals? What are we to make if Zack Wheeler outpitches Stephen Strasburg or if the Nationals light him up?
Probably nothing, but over the next five weeks I believe it is important for the Mets to show something, if for no other reason but to get a good feeling about themselves. And, for us to get a good feeling about them.
Several things to look for in today’s Mets intrasquad game in Port St. Lucie. You don’t get answers in a game like this, but you can get a first impression or something to build on.
Here’s the players I am interested in and why:
Kirk Nieuwenhuis: Leading off for Team 1. Nieuwenhuis is getting the first chance to win the leadoff job, which is definite hole.
Jordany Valdespin: Playing second base for Team 1 and batting second. Valdespin is ticketed to open the season in the minors, but that could change on how well he plays second base and how Daniel Murphy recovers from a ribcage injury.
Andrew Brown: Playing left field for Team 1. He has a chance to stick as a reserve in the Mets’ undermanned outfield.
Wilmer Flores: A top prospect playing second base for Team 2. Opportunities often come out of injuries and if Murphy’s injury is worse than expected Flores might become an option. Even so, he should see major league time this summer.
Several days ago I gave you my idea for the Mets’ batting order and it included Kirk Nieuwenhuis as the leadoff hitter, so I was happy to read Adam Rubin’s story he will be given first chance to win that job.
Nieuwenhuis will be the leadoff hitter for Saturday’s exhibition game against Washington.
The Mets like Nieuwenhuis’ patience – he sees over four pitches an at-bat – and he had moderate success in the role last year hitting .264 with an on-base percentage of .303.
Both numbers need to be improved, but it must be remembered he did this in his first look at major league pitching.
Before their slide Nieuwenhuis played center and hit leadoff and Terry Collins remembered: “ … when we were playing really, really well, that guy was in center field. So he deserves the right to get the first shot.’’
Nieuwenhuis can steal the occasional base, but he’s not known as a steal threat. Steals can sometimes be overrated, but fundamental base running is always in vogue. Going first-to-third, realizing when a ball will go through, and running to avoid a double play are all critical components of good base running.
Like every manager in the history of the game, I love to tinker with batting orders. So much can happen between now and Opening Day, but when it is below freezing it is as good a time as any to think of what Terry Collins’ lineup could be this summer.
Collins is on record with Ruben Tejada in the leadoff slot, but I’m suggesting a different direction.
NIEUWENHUIS: Trying him at leadoff.
Kirk Nieuwenhuis had limited success last season when he first arrived, but pitchers figured him out. I’d like to give Nieuwenhuis the chance to lead off because he demonstrated patience and the ability to slap the ball around and run. If he can become more disciplined he could develop into a good leadoff hitter, and since we’re thinking long-term let’s give it a try because there’s an upside with Nieuwenhuis hitting first.
Tejada would hit second because he has good bat control, knows how to work a pitcher and can bunt. All are ideal for a No. 2 hitter. Tejada can also hit-and-run and steal a base. If Tejada can do all those things, it could get a running game going with Nieuwenhuis. If Nieuwenhuis doesn’t pan out as a leadoff hitter, Tejada would go back to the top. Let’s give it a month.
The Mets’ first injury of spring training is Daniel Murphy, who is back in New York to have an intercostal muscle in his ribs examined and receive a possible cortisone injection.
Murphy complained of feeling a tugging feeling in his ribs and will be examined at the Hospital of Special Surgery.
This is not a new injury for the Mets, as David Wright and Scott Hairston had the same last spring, but both were on the Opening Day roster.
Murphy is thinking he’ll be down from a week to ten days. Murphy said he experienced similar pain last year and attributed it to a minor change in his stance.