Mar 29

Days Dwindling For Mets; Questions Aren’t

The Mets have two games remaining in spring training, and if they don’t know what they have by now they never will.

They break camp today after playing St. Louis, then bus over to the bay side of the state to play the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday. Next will be Opening Day Monday afternoon against San Diego, while at the same time, in a display of scheduling genius by Major League Baseball, across town the Yankees will play the Red Sox.

COLLINS: No shortage of concerns.

COLLINS: No shortage of concerns.

The Mets have a myriad of remaining questions that won’t be answered in the next 18 innings. That’s not to say there aren’t a few things manager Terry Collins would like to see, most of them health related.

Daniel Murphy and David Wright have missed time with strained intercostal muscles. Murphy played yesterday against Washington in a major league game and Wright hopes to play today and tomorrow in major league games.

Both players say they are ready, but also said the gamble of playing in a major league game instead of a minor league game was worth taking because the speed and pace is closer to that of the regular season. If they are injured and have to go on the disabled list instead of being backdated deeper into spring training, then so be it.

Murphy goes into the season with a handful of at-bats, while Wright had the World Baseball Classic. Even so, neither will face the Padres in a groove.

Assuming Wright and Murphy are sound, the lone position to be determined is center field, with Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Jordany Valdespin the two contenders.

Nieuwenhuis entered spring training penciled in to start in center along side Lucas Duda in left and Mike Baxter in right, and was given first chance at the leadoff spot.

After a miserable start, Nieuwenhuis bruised his left knee and Valdespin emerged as a starting candidate in center – competing with Collin Cowgill – or at second with Murphy hurt.

As of yesterday, Collins said center field was up in the air, but wanted Nieuwenhuis to get at-bats, which presumably means the Mets want him to win the job.

Figuring seven or eight at-bats in the next games, that’s not enough for Nieuwenhuis to get in a groove, but it will have to do. Presumably, if Nieuwenhuis starts over Valdespin he would hit leadoff.

Pitching wise, Johan Santana wasn’t going to be an issue, but now the Mets can place him on the 60-day disabled list that would open up a spot on the 40-man roster. Call it Santana’s last contribution to the Mets, because with a re-tear of his anterior shoulder capsule, his career is likely over.

Jeremy Hefner will take his spot in the rotation, but took a ball off his right elbow Tuesday and Collins wants to give him a couple of innings to see how he feels. Hefner is scheduled the fourth game of the season, Friday against Miami at Citi Field.

The Mets still don’t know when Shaun Marcum can pitch, and could go with Aaron Laffey instead.

Even with Santana’s career-threatening injury, the Mets are adamant about not bringing up Zack Wheeler.

 

Mar 28

Daniel Murphy Passes Audition

Daniel Murphy passed the audition and said it was worth the risk.

Murphy, playing for the first time in a major league game this spring because of a strained right intercostal muscle, singled in three at-bats against Washington’s Gio Gonzalez, played five innings and declared himself ready for Opening Day.

MURPHY: Five innings at second; one hit.

MURPHY: Five innings at second; one hit.

Had he kept playing minor league games until Monday and was re-injured, his DL stint would be backdated deep into spring training. Should he get hurt now the clock would be running and he could miss the first two weeks of the season at least.

Considering how thin the Mets are, it didn’t seem worth the gamble, but it looks as if they dodged it, especially since he tagged up and advanced to second on a fly ball. Most guys don’t even think of such a play in the regular season, let alone the exhibition schedule.

“It was nice to slide,’’ Murphy told reporters. “It was nice to get the headfirst one out of the way.’’

Murphy understood the risks of playing in the major league game, but said he needed the speed of it to get ready for the season. Similarly, David Wright wants a major league game tomorrow or Saturday for the same reason.

“The speed of the game is obviously going to be a little quicker here,’’ Murphy said. “I actually was pleasantly surprised at how far along I was, and not even on the base hit. That was trash. … It was good to face (Gonzalez). It was really good to face a lefty with some velocity like that.’’

Pain wise, Murphy didn’t feel anything, so it was a positive day all along.

Figuring Murphy wakes up tomorrow without any discomfort, he’ll play second against St. Louis and Saturday against Baltimore at Sarasota, Fla.

With Murphy back at second the dilemma is what to do with Jordany Valdespin, who has had a good enough spring to make the 25-man roster.

When Murphy was down and Kirk Nieuwenhuis out with a bruised left knee, Valdespin seemed a lock to make the team. But, with Murphy back, reserve infielder Omar Quintanilla better defensively, and Nieuwenhuis again in contention in center field and needing at-bats, Valdespin could be back to the bench, if not the minors.

“We’ve got to decide who’s going to play center,’’ manager Terry Collins said. “Therefore, we’ve got to get Kirk some at-bats.’’

Nieuwenhuis is batting only .094. Unbelievably, if he and shortstop Ruben Tejada are Opening Day starters, the Mets could have two hitters with averages below .100 (Tejada is at .080).

Mar 27

Opening Day Prospects Improve For Wright And Murphy

After repeatedly expressing doubt recently David Wright and Daniel Murphy will in the Opening Day lineup, the Mets changed course today and indicated otherwise.

Murphy, speaking on WFAN, said he expects to play. Manager Terry Collins said Murphy could play in a major league exhibition game tomorrow, which represents a huge mistake if he were injured and had to go on the disabled list.

WRIGHT: News getting better.

WRIGHT: News getting better.

If went on the DL now, he would miss five or six games because the assignment would be backdated into spring training; if he goes on the DL after playing in a major league game he would miss a minimum of two weeks.

The same applies to Wright, who will play in a minor league game tomorrow. Obviously, the Mets want to have some good news going into Monday’s Opening Day game against San Diego at Citi Field, but this seems pushing too much.

While they could still make it without playing in major league exhibition games now, this is simply not a risk worth taking.

SANTANA DL UPDATE: Johan Santana will be on the disabled list to start the season, but despite the possibility of missing up to two months, he will not go on the 60-day disabled list.

When Santana goes on the disabled list it will be retroactive into spring training and he would miss a week. Although it is expected he will be out longer, going on the 60-day disabled list means exactly what it says and he wouldn’t be available until June.

It makes no sense to guarantee him being out two months if that isn’t certain.

Placing Santana on the 60-day disabled list would open up a spot on the 40-man roster, which will be needed to accommodate LaTroy Hawkins, Scott Atchison, Marlon Byrd, Aaron Laffey and Omar Quintanilla.

However, the Mets will be listening to trade proposals for some of their minor leaguers. They might also re-assign several players to make room.

HEFNER UPDATE: Jeremy Hefner was struck on his elbow yesterday, but said he hopes to make his start in the rotation.

It hasn’t been decided if Hefner, penciled in as the fifth starter with Santana down, will start the fifth game of the season, or if the Mets will go twice with Jon Niese before going to Hefner.

Laffey could be brought up if Shaun Marcum, who has a pinched nerve in his neck, isn’t available to start the second game of the season.

FELICIANO ACCEPTS ASSIGNMENT: Calling the Mets “home,’’ lefty reliever Pedro Feliciano accepted a minor league assignment over free agency.

His reasoning is three-fold: 1) there’s a familiarity between Feliciano and the Mets, 2) there’s a greater probability of getting back to the majors with the Mets, and 3) a minor-league salary is better than nothing.

Mar 27

Mets Shouldn’t Push Wright For Opening Day Start

With most strained and pulled muscles, a sound approach is whatever timetable is given just add a week.

Given that, I don’t see why the Mets seem to be rushing David Wright, who sustained a strained left intercostal muscle while at the WBC. I also don’t see why Wright is rushing himself.

WRIGHT: Needs to slow down.

WRIGHT: Needs to slow down.

Didn’t anybody learn anything from the Johan Santana fiasco? What is to be gained by him playing in a handful of games? Could it be nobody wants to point a finger at the WBC? Could it be that both parties want to put their handling of the injury on the back burner?

Wright made it to the field yesterday, getting five at-bats in a pair of minor league games, but not playing defense. For that, he’s taking ground balls from third base coach Tim Teufel.

In both cases, he didn’t face anything coming to close to the actual speed of a major league game.

Wright says he feels better, which is positive news. He said he’s optimistic about Opening Day, which is what you would expect him to say.

“I’ve been optimistic about Opening Day since I came back to St. Lucie, and talked to the doctors and the trainers about the diagnosis,’’ Wright told reporters yesterday. “It’s another step closer, so I’m still very optimistic.’’

We could end it there, which would be the puff story way to go, but that wouldn’t be accurate.

What is accurate is Wright is as tough as they come, once playing a full month with a stress fracture in his lower back. He’s had muscle pulls and a beaning-related concussion. This player, the best the Mets ever produced outside of Tom Seaver, is strong and fearless.

However, there are times when he’s lacking in judgment. There is a difference between pain and injury. All players have some type of pain, but an injury can be career damaging.

Wright should have been more cautious with the back; he needs to be more cautious with his current injury.

In the grand scheme of things, what is the difference if Wright plays April 1 or April 7? Seriously, do you expect it to be the difference between making the playoffs and going home for the winter as they have every season since 2007?

What pushing the envelope with Wright could mean is the difference between missing the first half dozen games of the season and potentially a month if he’s reinjured.

Wright could play and not be reinjured, but it could impact him at the plate or in the field. It could lead him to bad habits and consequently another injury. If the Mets and Wright constantly find themselves looking at first the calendar, and then the clock, he’s simply not ready.

How much time Wright needs, I don’t know. But, what I believe from all the information the Mets and Wright are putting out about his injury in relationship to Opening Day is he’s not ready.

I would like to see him play, because he’s arguably the best reason to watch the Mets, but I am willing to wait a week. The season will still be here when he gets back.

However, it might not be if he has to sit for another month or longer.

Mar 26

Encouraging News For Wright; Opening Day A Possibility

After he played in a minor league game today, the Mets softened their position on whether David Wright could be ready for Opening Day. When Wright was pulled from the World Baseball Classic last week, manager Terry Collins was thinking a month. Not any longer.

“I would not be surprised if David Wright is there Opening Day,’’ Collins told reporters today. “There will be a lot of things considered here on Thursday or Friday.’’

The Mets are doing the right thing in that both Wright and Murphy are playing in minor league games, so if there was a setback and they had to start the season on the disabled list it could be backdated into spring training.

Among the variables Collins will consider is the weather, as the intercostal muscles both are fighting could be vulnerable to further injury in the cold.

Both players were 1-for-5 today.

THE GAME: The Mets were ripped today, 11-4, by St. Louis, but the most thing to take from the game was Jeremy Hefner – who’ll replace Johan Santana in the rotation and on the roster – left early with a bone bruise on his right elbow.

On a bright note, Lucas Duda had three more hits, including his fifth homer, to raise his average to .302.