Apr 22

Parnell Must Stay As Closer When Francisco Returns

Most everything about the Mets these days is about the future. From Matt Harvey, to extending David Wright, to the trade of R.A. Dickey and protecting Zack Wheeler, we’re talking about 2014 and beyond.

Sure, it would be great to compete now, but 2013 is mostly for establishing the foundation. It is the development of Harvey and Jon Niese; giving Wheeler major league experience – while avoiding free agency for a year – and hope Ike Davis and Lucas Duda improve their offensive efficiency while still producing power.

PARNELL: Don't mess with him now.

PARNELL: Don’t mess with him now.

This trend should extend to the bullpen, where Bobby Parnell, despite limited save opportunities, has performed in the role that should hopefully define his career.

Manager Terry Collins told Parnell at the beginning of spring training he would be the closer if Frank Francisco were not ready. Collins should pull Parnell aside tomorrow at Citi Field – today is an off-day – and tell him he’ll have the job when Francisco returns.

Parnell spit the bit on previous chances, but is grasping the brass ring now. And, tightly. Parnell struck out two Washington Nationals in a perfect ninth Sunday to earn his second save of the season. Parnell is following up last year’s strong second half with a blistering start.

He has a strong traditional statistic in a 1.35 ERA – mostly overrated for relievers – with an even stronger new wave stat of a 0.45 WHIP.  He’s given up three hits and a run in 6.2 innings. He’s been virtually untouchable.

More to the point, he’s pitching the way the way the Mets always hoped.

Collins and GM Sandy Alderson saw that coming at the end of 2012, when with Francisco on the disabled list, Parnell went 3-1 with a 0.96 ERA and paltry .196 opponent’s batting average in 17 appearances.

The Mets might feel obligated to return Francisco to the closer role based on his $6.5-million salary, but they need to resist that temptation. It is not an obligation to return Francisco to the closer role, especially because it is anticipated he will not be re-signed this winter.

If Francisco were in the Mets’ future plans, I might think differently. Parnell, however, is expected to be here next season and beyond. The Mets – namely Jerry Manuel – have jerked around Parnell to the point of messing with his confidence. They must not do it again by changing his role.

Perhaps this is nothing more than a hot stretch for Parnell; perhaps it is the beginning of something special. We need the time to see.

We don’t know to what degree Parnell will develop. What we do know is Francisco will not be here next year and Parnell will. Parnell must stay in the closer role, and remain there in good times and in bad.

That’s the way to build for the future, which is now for Parnell.

Apr 21

Zack Wheeler: Not Ready For Primetime

Baseball 101: Regardless of the level of play, if a pitcher walks too many batters he will be beaten.

It is a baseball fundamental understood by everybody, with the exception of those insisting the Mets bring up Zack Wheeler, who walked six hitters in his last start.

WHEELER: Not ready.

WHEELER: Not ready.

The clamoring is getting louder in the wake of the Mets’ continued problems with the back end of their rotation. Maybe Dillon Gee, he of the 0-3 record and 8.36 ERA, will get it going Sunday against Washington. But, also struggling are Jeremy Hefner and Aaron Laffey, both of whom were hit hard Saturday by the Nationals.

David Wright was correct in saying if the Mets score five runs off Gio Gonzalez they should win, but the combined efforts of Hefner and Laffey made that impossible. Hefner has given up seven homers in 14 innings, with two of them coming Saturday. Laffey gave up three runs in 2/3 of an inning out of the bullpen.

The Mets are hoping for Shaun Marcum’s return, or could give Triple-A starter Collin McHugh a spot start because it won’t, and shouldn’t, go to Wheeler.

The six walks Wheeler gave up trump any radio host’s rant of, “I want to see what he can do.’’ Well, we know what he can do, and that’s walk hitters and get shelled. Hey, the Mets are getting that now.

Do they really need to see one of their prized prospects get routed up here? The Mets took their time with Matt Harvey and should do the same with Wheeler.

And, let’s hear no more about the Mets being cheap because they want to keep him away from the free-agent market another year. That is not the issue. Wheeler is simply not ready for the major leagues, a fact Collins reiterated Saturday.

“That’s a red flag and I don’t want to see walks from those guys,’’ Collins said. “I told Zack in spring training, you’re going to pitch in a tough place [the Pacific Coast League] and I was in that league for 12 years, I know how hard that league is to pitch in.’’

Collins said he would talk to Las Vegas manager Wally Backman about Wheeler. There are times statistics aren’t defining in evaluating performances in the minor leagues. Walks, however, are telling on any level. Overall, in four starts, Wheeler has walked 12 in 18.1 innings. On top of that, he’s given up 20 hits.

“Ten hits, I can understand,’’ Collins said. “But six walks, he’s better than that.’’

He needs to show it.

Apr 17

Ruben Tejada Not Proving To Be Answer At Shortstop

Replacing Jose Reyes was never going to be easy, but with Ruben Tejada’s fielding prowess if he could hit just a little that would be acceptable to the Mets. Perhaps that should read, “former fielding prowess.’’

TEJADA: What's the problem?

TEJADA: What’s the problem?

Trouble is, he’s not hitting or fielding. He’s not even just holding his own; he’s been poor at both, actually terrible. Tejada has committed six errors in 13 games – a pace for just under 80 – and the Mets have already lost a couple of games directly attributed to his defense. It matters little if David Wright believes he’s a Gold Glove caliber shortstop. What matters is if Tejada can catch the ball, and if he does, keep it out of the stands.

Both Tejada’s glove and arm have been erratic. It was a throwing error Tuesday night that opened the door for a late-inning collapse. His throwing has been especially poor. Is Tejada going Steve Sax or Chuck Knoblauch on us?

Yes, it was cold and miserable, and yes, the pitchers needed to regroup to get the following hitters, but that doesn’t change the fact Tejada’s defense is hurting the Mets and they have little answers.

They would like to bring up Omar Quintanilla, but would need to clear a spot on the 40-man roster. Wilmer Flores is on the 40-man roster, but the Mets don’t think he’s ready, otherwise a Flores-for-Tejada swap would be considered. The Mets certainly don’t want to bring up Flores to have him languish on the bench.

Neither Collins nor Tejada blamed the error totally on the weather, but both said it was a contributing factor because the cold made gripping the ball difficult. News Flash: It’s not going to get better tonight or tomorrow.

Blaming the weather might be easier to accept if Tejada hasn’t been so awful this season. What’s wrong with him? Was last year a fluke? Is there an injury we don’t know about?

Whatever the reason, his current play is unacceptable and wouldn’t be tolerated if the Mets had a ready backup. If Tejada continues at this rate and the Mets tank in the second half, perhaps they should consider force-feeding the position to Flores or go shortstop shopping in the offseason.

After all, according to the Mets they will be ready to spend and contend next season. They can’t be competitive with a hole on the left side of the infield. Will they need to add a shortstop to their list?

ON DECK:  Game preview and lineups.

Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

 

 

Apr 13

Mets Notes: Frigid Temps Fire Up Mets Offense

OK, I was wrong, the Mets should play in 30-degree weather all time, where their record in those conditions is probably better than that of the Jets.

It was a wild game last night and I wouldn’t be surprised if SNY’s ratings spiked for those who tuned in to watch the train wreck of playing in Antarctica, where the only things missing were penguins and Kate Upton frolicking on top of the dugouts between innings.

I admit, the weather made me curious, but that went away when it became apparent they weren’t going to call it. Most likely they played on because the forecast for Sunday is rain all day.

Several things caught my attention last night, among them:

* How does Jon Niese feel today? When it is hard to grip the ball pitchers tend to compensate by overthrowing which taxes the arm. He said he didn’t have a good grip and his command was off. We’ll see.

* The Mets played well because they were warmed by the fire that is John Buck. He’s on a historic start. He will catch Matt Harvey this afternoon, count on it. However, if they play Sunday he should DH as to rest him while keeping his bat in the lineup.

* Speaking of lineups, Jordany Valdespin needs to play until he cools off. Never mind the left-hander today, keep him in there and give him a chance to stay in a groove. Valdespin has never been a full-time player. It’s time to find out.

* Ike Davis doesn’t have to look any further than Lucas Duda for an example of what he should be doing at the plate. Duda hasn’t been Ted Williams, but lately he’s about patience and waiting for his pitch. Take the walks, cut the strikeouts, and you’ll make the pitcher come to you. If it was easy, everybody could do it. Duda is and Davis isn’t.

* Ruben Tejada had a few gems in the field, and a play, well, not so good. However, he’s a talented glove who’ll eventually settle into a good fielding zone.

* Scott Atchison, who had a bad elbow, never should have pitched last night. He didn’t need that kind of work. Let’s keep an eye on him, too.

* David Wright entered the game in a slump and ended it hot. Still no homers, but he drove the ball and came through with runners on base. That had been missing.

* Bad news about Jose Reyes, who severely sprained his ankle and could be out for up to three months. The karma hasn’t been kind to Reyes since leaving the Mets.

The Mets played a terrific game under horrible conditions. The best sign is they kept focus and didn’t allow the conditions to beat them. It definitely was something they can build off of.

Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Apr 12

Mets Matters: Is Ike Davis The Answer At First?

"<strongYou can Google Ike Davis with dozens of different questions, but here’s one you won’t find an answer to: Why isn’t he as good as advertised?

It was May of 2011 when Davis was hitting .302 with a .383 on-base percentage and resembling the slugger the Mets had trumpeted he could be when he ran into David Wright and hurt his left ankle and missed the rest of the season.

Then came last year, the virus and a miserable first half where he was almost sent back to the minors. He salvaged 2012 with a strong second half and 32 homers appeared to give him a pass going into this season, but he’s flailing again. How long before this season-opening slump becomes a first-half swoon?

Davis gave me an answer indicating what could be his problem this spring when I asked him about striking out, and whether he should concentrate on going to the opposite field and being more patient.

“I like to hit home runs,’’ Davis said in much the same tone a kid would say he likes to eat candy. Then, in what could be defined as defiance, added, “I’m a home run hitter; I’m going to strike out.’’

All that was missing was him sticking his tongue out and muttering, “so there.’’

Statistics can be interpreted any way you want, but Davis’ – both this year and his career – scream he might not be as good as he’s cracked up to be, and despite his manageable contract, is currently an offensive liability.

What else can you take out of a .129 batting average, .229 on-base percentage, .226 slugging percentage, one homer, two RBI and 11 strikeouts compared to four hits and four walks? Whether you are a traditionalist and believe in the basic stats, or are into the new math of baseball, it still adds up to a big hole in the middle of the order.

Go ahead, convince me those are good numbers.

Go ahead, convince me a 162-game average of .249 with 150 strikeouts to 72 walks, is somebody you build a team around.

General manager Sandy Alderson said strikeouts are acceptable if there’s a reasonable expectation of run production in return. He has driven in two this season.

These numbers, as is his .214 average against left-handers, are the result of poor plate habits. He lacks patience or pitch recognition; he either refuses or can’t shorten a swing that begins with a terrible hitch that gives him a long loop; and he doesn’t use the entire field. Either he doesn’t listen to the hitting coach or the hitting coach isn’t reaching him.

Davis can’t handle the low-and-away breaking pitches to the point where it is a mystery why pitchers would ever throw him a fastball. A manager should fine his pitchers if they threw Davis anything other than breaking stuff away. They should keep throwing him curveballs low-and-away until he proves capable of handling them.

Davis is rapidly becoming an all-or-nothing slugger in the mold of Dave Kingman, Rob Deer, Mark Reynolds and Adam Dunn. These are guys who are thrilling when they connect, but usually don’t.

If Davis continues on his current course, it will get to the point whether he changes his style and approach, or the Mets should change their first baseman.

It’s not difficult.