Apr 09

Slumping Ike Davis Benched

If the Mets are to beat Cliff Lee tonight – the second Phillies’ ace in as many nights – they’ll have to do it without Ike Davis.

Davis is struggling out of the gate, hitting .148 with one homer and showing no signs of breaking out. He’s on the way of repeating last spring, which morphed into a miserable first half.

DAVIS: Haven't seen much of this lately.

DAVIS: Haven’t seen much of this lately.

“I don’t know if I can say I am better for going through that,’’ Davis said during spring training. “But, you do learn that eventually you’ll come out of it. That’s what happened to me.’’

Davis had strong second half to finish with 32 homers; that’s what gives him confidence now.

Tonight is as good a night as any to give Davis a break as he is 1-for-11 with four strikeouts in his career against Lee.

It was suggested in this column earlier today that if Terry Collins needed to adjust his lineup he might consider dropping Daniel Murphy to third and David Wright to fourth.

Instead, Collins chose to keep Murphy and Wright in their respective, two-three, slots and play Justin Turner at first base and insert hot-hitting catcher John Buck in the clean-up spot.

It is premature to say Davis is evolving into a left-handed hitting Dave Kingman, but there are signs he is not far off, such as 10 strikeouts to only four hits this year in only 27 at-bats this year. For his career, Davis has 320 strikeouts to 154 walks and 299 hits.

“I like to him home runs,’’ Davis said when asked if he considered changing his approach. “I’m going to strike out.’’

The Mets are seeking their fourth straight victory tonight behind Dillon Gee, who is coming off a masterful performance last week in a 2-1 loss to San Diego in which gave up a run on three hits in 6.1 innings.

Gee’s changeup was especially good that day, and must be so again tonight as he is 1-1 with a 9.00 ERA in four games against the Phillies.

Here’s tonight’s lineup:

Collin Cowgill, CF: Struggling at .176 with two homers and five RBI, with most of it on his Opening Day slam. Hitless in two at-bats Monday.

Daniel Murphy, 2B: Has eight hits, five for extra bases. Was 5-for-16 with two doubles off Lee last year. Is riding an eight-game hitting streak in Philadelphia, going 12-for-36.

David Wright, 3B: Including two hits and an RBI Monday, has hit .413 in his last 19 games in Philadelphia.

John Buck, C: His 12 RBI is a club record through the first seven games of a season. Lifetime is a .292 hitter with three homers against Lee. Said Buck: “The key is I just feel good and I’m not trying to do too much.’’

Marlon Byrd, RF: Hitting .278, but .375 with runners in scoring position.

Lucas Duda, LF: With Davis sitting, Collins wisely chose not to move Duda, instead giving him more time to learn the outfield.

Justin Turner, 1B: Starting for Davis. Turner had three hits in his first start of the season, April 4, vs. San Diego.

Ruben Tejada, SS: In both fielding (four errors) and hitting (.211) slumps.

Dillon Gee, RHP: Has gone at least five innings in 47 of 50 career starts.

I will have another post following tonight’s game.

Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

 

Apr 04

Dillon Gee’s Comeback One Of The Good Stories

The cold didn’t bother Matt Harvey last night, but the Mets will pay close attention this afternoon to Dillon Gee if the temperatures drop during his start against the San Diego Padres.

In the quest of rooting for good stories, Gee is up there in his attempt to come back from emergency surgery to repair a blocked artery in his shoulder that caused his right hand to go numb. Simply, you can’t throw if you can’t feel the ball.

GEE: Takes a big step today.

GEE: Takes a big step today.

“I’ve had no setbacks, zero,’’ said Gee during spring training, where the temperatures were thirty degrees higher than the mid-40s expected today in New York, where the Mets go for a sweep of their season-opening three-game series.

Gee will throw his first major league pitch since undergoing surgery at last year’s All-Star break. He had many of his fears quelled because he was able to throw last September.

“I didn’t want to spend the off-season wondering if I could throw again,” Gee said. “It took a lot off my mind.”

The feeling returned to Gee’s hand, but today will be the coolest weather in which he’s had to pitch. In preparation, Gee is on nitroglycerin tablets to expand the blood vessels and maintain circulation. Command will be the issue if the cold makes it difficult for him to grip the ball.

“I think I’ll be fine,’’ Gee said. “It hasn’t been an issue.’’

Gee will attempt to give the Mets their third straight strong starting effort, following Jon Niese in the opener and Harvey’s 10-strikeout performance last night.

His start is part of the progression that began when he was drafted in the 21st round of the 2007 draft. His first work was out of the bullpen, but by the end of his first season with Single-A Brooklyn he was starting and had a 3-1 record with a 2.28 ERA. Gee moved up to Double-A in 2008 and Triple-A in 2009, but that year ended not with a September call-up by the Mets, but with a torn labrum in his shoulder.

Gee returned strong in 2010 and was brought up by the Mets to make his debut, Sept. 7, and was brilliant in taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning. He eventually gave up a run on two hits. Gee stayed in the rotation and finished 2-2 with a 2.18 ERA in five starts. That first impression wasn’t a fluke as he won his first seven decisions in 2011, and finished at 13-6 with a 4.43 ERA and firmly entrenched in the rotation.

Gee doesn’t have the physical make-up of Harvey or Zack Wheeler, but the Mets like his poise and resiliency. He doesn’t get rattled when things go wrong, as they did in 2012 when he was hit hard and often to have a 5.65 ERA in his first seven starts.

The clot in his shoulder didn’t appear to be the cause of his problems as he rebounded with nine-strikeout games against San Diego and Baltimore and improved to 6-7 at the break. He was supposed to open the second half against Atlanta, but it never happened because he complained of numbness in his arm.

Then came the wonder if he’d ever pitch again. Now there’s no pain, no numbness. Just anticipation.

Mar 30

Mets’ Spring Training Booms And Busts

It is the same in every spring training camp with winners and losers. Booms and busts. With camp ending today, the Mets had their share of both.

THE WINNERS

Jon Niese: With Johan Santana a question going in, Niese entered camp No. 1 in the rotation and pitched deserving of that title. Not surprisingly, he was named Opening Day starter. With Santana gone for the year, he’s the de facto ace, at least until Matt Harvey takes over.

NIESE: A good spring.

NIESE: A good spring.

Matt Harvey: He took some lumps, but was far more good than bad. Most importantly, he didn’t show any signs of being overwhelmed. With Shaun Marcum hurting, Harvey is now No. 2.

Zack Wheeler: He strained an oblique muscle, but when he pitched he showed a glimpse of things to come. Wheeler was never going to make the Opening Day roster, but should be in Flushing soon enough.

Jeremy Hefner: Reported as a contender for the Triple-A rotation, but with Santana’s injury is now scheduled to be the No. 4 starter.

Jordany Valdespin: Here’s a guy who wasn’t in the Mets’ plans, but took advantage of injuries to Daniel Murphy and Kirk Nieuwenhuis to earn a spot on the roster. That is, unless something dramatic happens today.

Marlon Byrd: He was a spring training pick-up who not only won a spot on the roster, but in the Opening Day lineup.

Travis d’Arnaud: He was always going to open the season in the minors, but stayed healthy and opened a lot of eyes. He’ll be up before the All-Star break. The pitchers like throwing to him.

Lucas Duda: Surprised, aren’t you? Duda had a miserable start with an extraordinary number of strikeouts, but finished strong to give him confidence going into the season.

LOSERS

Johan Santana: It was a rocky spring for Santana, who responded in anger at criticism from GM Sandy Alderson about not being in shape by throwing off the mound ahead of schedule. He never got on the mound again and it is possible he never will.

Shaun Marcum: He didn’t endear himself to the Mets by showing up to camp in poor shape and could open the season on the disabled list.

Frank Francisco: He has not responded from elbow surgery and will be on the disabled list. Francisco might not get his closer role back if Bobby Parnell doesn’t spit the bit.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis: He was penciled in as the leadoff hitter in center fielder, but missed most of camp with a bruised knee. Amazingly, because of the Mets’ dismal situation in the outfield, he still has a chance despite hitting less than .100.

Dillon Gee: He came to camp a health question, and while he says there are no complications from surgery to repair an artery in his shoulder, he had several rough starts. He had a good one toward the end, but wasn’t consistent, especially with his change-up.

Ruben Tejada: He hit better than expected last season, and didn’t hit at all this spring. In most camps, hitting less than .100 would be a ticket to the minors, but the Mets have little alternatives.

Mar 28

Mets Have More Questions Than Days Left Before Opening Day

With four days until Opening Day, most teams have their rosters, rotation and batting order set. The Mets are not most teams.

Their three remaining exhibition games will do little to answer questions for manager Terry Collins, who undoubtedly won’t be satisfied with what he sees Monday and will be mixing and matching for weeks.

The Mets think David Wright and Daniel Murphy will be ready, this after serious doubts just days ago. How things can change so quickly is puzzling.

Also, head scratching is the decision today to play Murphy at second against Washington in his first major league game of the spring. If something happens, it will be at least two weeks on the disabled list. If they play him in a minor league game, like they are with Wright, if he were re-injured they could backdate his time on the disabled list.

If this is about facing major league pitching, why against left-hander Gio Gonzalez?

This is asking for trouble.

The original plan was to replace Wright with Justin Turner, but he has a strained left calf – could it be residual from his sprained ankle? – and seems headed for the disabled list.

With their infield concerns, conventional thinking had Omar Quintanilla making the 25-man roster as a reserve, including backup to shortstop Ruben Tejada. This idea was heightened when Brandon Hicks was optioned.

The Mets also have concern with their defense in center field. Matt den Dekker is out with a broken wrist, so they are again considering Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who entered spring training penciled in as the leadoff hitter playing center field. However, he missed most of spring training with a bruised left knee. When Nieuwenhuis wasn’t taking treatment, he was mostly striking out (11 times) in his 26 at-bats (with only two hits). Those numbers will preclude Nieuwenhuis leading off should he make the team.

What is apparent is Jordany Valdespin, who leads the Mets with 21 hits, will make the team. But, where will he play if Nieuwenhuis and Murphy are both on the Opening Day roster? It should be center, but do they really want to put Nieuwenhuis on the bench for late-inning defense when he’s hit so poorly and should be getting at-bats on the minor league level?

The batting order is also unsettled.

Valdespin, by virtue of his hot spring, should bat leadoff, and if he’s ready, Murphy would likely hit second. With the way Tejada is hitting – .080 with just four hits – there’s no way he should be at the top of the order. Put him eighth.

If Wright is ready he will bat third, followed by Ike Davis, perhaps catcher John Buck or right fielder Marlon Byrd and then left fielder Lucas Duda, who has 16 strikeouts. Assuming Wright does not play, Byrd could bat third.

Collins wants to separate lefty strikeout machines Davis and Duda. Collins could sandwich both Byrd and Buck ahead of Duda, but that would leave him at the bottom of the order with Tejada and the pitcher.

Neither scenario is appealing.

The rotation would open with Jon Niese, Matt Harvey and Dillon Gee. Jeremy Hefner would get the fourth start and if Shaun Marcum’s neck injury isn’t better, they would bring back Niese. If Marcum goes on the disabled list as expected, it would enable Collins to carry an extra reliever, presumably Jeurys Familia.

The Mets will open with Johan Santana, Jenrry Mejia and Frank Francisco on the disabled list. Marcum could be another, and regardless of their optimism, Wright and Murphy remain possibilities.

Four days, but a lot more questions.

Mar 21

Shaun Marcum Added To Mets’ Injury List; Long Season Already Here

The worst-case scenario seems imminent for the Mets.

They faced a myriad of pitching questions entering spring training, including: Johan Santana’s availability after shoulder surgery; Dillon Gee coming off surgery to repair an injury to his shoulder; and injury-prone Shaun Marcum.

All three have been answered in the negative.

One would think a free agent would report to camp in shape, but Marcum didn’t and insisted a long-tossing program was what it took instead of the normal routine pitchers use in spring training.

Marcum said all he needed was four starts, and he might not even get that as he flew to New York on the off-day to have his shoulder examined.  He was diagnosed to have an impingement and received a cortisone injection.

Marcum will not make his start today against St. Louis and Jeremy Hefner will get the ball. Marcum is penciled in as the No. 2 starter, but if he isn’t ready left-hander Aaron Laffey is the likely candidate to replace him.

It will be interesting to see how the relationship develops between manager Terry Collins and Marcum if the pitcher misses several starts. Collins, who doesn’t have a contract after this season, already is dealing from a short deck and doesn’t need another injured pitcher.

While the Mets hope Marcum will miss just today, there’s no doubt they will indefinitely be without Santana, who hasn’t thrown in weeks and has no timetable to return. Forget Opening Day, the Mets might now be thinking May 1.

Think about it, it takes six weeks for a pitcher to get ready for the season with two weeks of long-toss and bullpen work prior to the games where he’ll get six starts to build up to 100 pitches. Santana has had none of that preparation. So, at age 34 he’s going to be ready in a few days? Hardly.

Meanwhile, Gee says he’s fine physically, but his last two starts have been painful to watch. Gee gave up five earned runs in last night’s 7-5 victory over Houston. Gee gave the Mets length last night, just not results. He insisted he’s had no setback and his mechanics are off. He might get two more starts to refine them.

The Mets hoped Jenrry Mejia could be a replacement for Santana and possibly evolve as a fifth starter if Marcum flamed out. However, Mejia has forearm tendinitis and isn’t close to being ready and will open the season at Triple-A Las Vegas.

All this leads to the inevitable question of when Zack Wheeler could be called up. Wheeler is working himself back into shape after straining an oblique muscle, so it isn’t imminent. Alderson is adamant about not rushing Wheeler for two reasons, 1) to not hindering his development, and 2) to not put him on the clock for his service time, thereby delaying the arbitration and free-agent process.

The bullpen hasn’t been immune from injuries, either. Frank Francisco has not progressed following elbow surgery last December to remove a bone spur and inflammation.

Everybody’s injuries are different and there is no set formula to handle them, but you can’t help but wonder why Francisco, who did not finish the season, waited for December to have the surgery. Having it in late September or October would have given him more time for rehabilitation.

As for Santana, he took it easy over the winter after two off-seasons of rehab. Alderson said he didn’t come to camp in shape, prompting Santana to take it upon himself to throw off the mound the first week of March when it was thought he was ten days away from throwing.

The Mets pitching is currently a mess. Thankfully, everything is all right elsewhere. Oh, wait a minute. David Wright and Daniel Murphy will likely open the season on the disabled list and the outfield remains a house of cards.

It’s only March and it is already seems a long season for the Mets.