May 15

Mets Notebook: Josh Thole, Kirk Nieuwenhuis

Terry Collins said this afternoon Josh Thole has been headache-free for┬áseveral days and is expected to go on a rehab assignment before he’s activated from the disabled list. The Mets haven’t had a drop off defensively and the pitchers like throwing to Mike Nickeas. However, Nickeas isn’t much of an offensive threat.

Lefty reliever Tim Byrdak is on pace to make over 90 appearances which could force the Mets’ hands and have them seeking another lefty reliever.

Terry Collins said Kirk Nieuwenhuis is feeling more comfortable. He feels as if he belongs. As I wrote earlier today, I believe the Mets’ first option is to rotate Nieuwenhuis when Jason Bay is ready to come off the disabled list.

In what is the least guarded secrets, MLB will announce the Mets to get the 2013 All-Star Game.

In scanning the box scores, I wonder how much the Mets now regret not signing pitcher Derek Lowe, who is winning big for Cleveland. You’ll recall the Mets eschewed the chance to sign Lowe and instead gave Oliver Perez $36 million over three years.

The tarp is off the field, and here’s the Mets’ lineup for tonight:

Andres Torres, cf

Kirk Nieuwenhuis, lf

David Wright, 3b

Lucas Duda, rf

Daniel Murphy, 2b

Ike Davis, 1b

Ronny Cedeno, ss

Mike Nickeas, c

Dillon Gee, rhp

 

May 10

Terry Collins Has Changed Culture

Several times this season the Mets answered a winning streak with a losing one. They have won five straight and you wouldn’t be wrong to wonder if the other shoe will drop this weekend in Miami.

Great timing to have Johan Santana start in the opener.

COLLINS: Getting it done.

While you and I might wonder, nobody in the Mets’ clubhouse is thinking along those lines. Terry Collins won’t allow it.

The book on Collins going in was he could get uptight and lose a clubhouse. There’s been nothing to suggest he’s going that way. It does show one can adjust, and even change, over time.

Collins came with little fanfare or declarations. There was no timetable to get the Mets into contention. Instead, he promised to change the culture. His teams are prepared and seldom come out flat, with the Houston debacle an exception.

We’ve seen hustle, better pitching and defense than expected, and a manager who sticks by his players. The Mets are hitting at an extraordinary clip with two outs and lead the majors in comeback victories with 11.

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May 10

Ike Davis Erupts As Mets Sweep

Yesterday, I suggested the Mets need to hone a killer instinct and complete the sweep of the Phillies when they were down. There won’t be a premature “Mission Accomplished” announcements because we’ve seen hot stretches cool before, but it was a significant step.

DAVIS: Breaking out (AP)

Five games over .500, somewhere they haven’t been since 2010. If I remember correctly, that was Jerry Manuel’s last big moment with the Mets which triggered their slide. It was when Jose Reyes was rushed off the disabled list and you know what happened next.

They won despite a poor outing from Dillon Gee – he called it his worst of the season – and overcoming a good start from Cliff Lee. It was also the 11th time they have come from behind (most in the majors) and Collins reiterated the idea of jumping on a team when it is down.

“We came in and got them at the right time and took advantage of playing hard,” Collins said. If something happened, there was a mistake, we capitalized on it. It was a great trip for us. We’ll enjoy it for a while and get ready for this weekend.”

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May 09

Mets Go For The Throat; Dillon Gee Gets Crack

The Mets have won 17 games this young season, ten of the come-from-behind variety and seven by one run. They have won six series, sweeping two. They go for the sweep today in Philadelphia.

Doing so will represent another step in their development. Contending teams close out games and close out series. Winning a series winning two of three is great, but sweeping is better.

Sweeping represents a sense of dominance and reinforces confidence. I know what you’re thinking; I’m being greedy. Maybe so, but doesn’t that signify a new attitude about this team?

Today it’s Dillon Gee going, and twice now Terry Collins let him pitch out of trouble when he was on the ropes. That demonstrates confidence, something you rarely saw Jerry Manuel give his pitchers.

I mention that not to rip Manuel as that would be piling on. I do say it to show the difference in attitude and culture between Manuel and Collins.

Manuel came on strong at first, taking out Jose Reyes in his first game. He then regressed, taking an unequal approach in dealing with players and afraid to be forceful with the deadwood. Then again, in all fairness, that message – in dealing with Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo – came from up top.

Things are different now. The Mets are infusing themselves with young, homegrown talent. You don’t often see guys not running out ground balls. There are occasional fundamental lapses, but they aren’t as frequent. That explains in part the winning.

The Mets haven’t hit this well with two outs in as long as I can remember. The defense from early questions – Daniel Murphy, Lucas Duda and Josh Thole – is better than anticipated, as is the starting pitching.

Something else the Mets have done, and this is another mark of a contender, is winning within the division and beating teams when they are done. They’ve won two series from the struggling Phillies, swept the Braves when they limped out of spring training without Chipper Jones, and swept the Marlins during their slow start.

Things have changed with the 2012, and that includes the expectations. Have yours changed?

 

May 05

Mets Bullpen An Issue

This is why you don’t make declarations during the first week of the season, or for all of April for that matter. The season opened with four straight victories and four strong performances from the bullpen.

After Opening Day, the talking heads as SNY – and that’s not the game broadcasting crew – started pontificating about how the bullpen would be a team strength this season.

Four weeks later, you don’t hear talk like that anymore.

Last night they threw away a strong effort from Dillon Gee. Once again, the focus in on control, as a walk from Tim Byrdak with a man on lead to Arizona’s three-run rally in the eighth inning. Yes, the walk was important, but it was also one batter.

“That’s the thing that sticks out the most,” Collins said. “The base on balls out of the pen have certainly come back to really bite us.”

The bottom is two-fold. One, walks kill and they always have. And two, these guys are major league pitchers and can’t fall apart after one bad at-bat. That’s been a problem with Mike Pelfrey, and it also applies to the bullpen.

Where the pen attacked hitters early, lately they’ve been working deep into counts and losing the at-bat. The pen has been worked hard in recent weeks with the starters not going more than six for the most part and the loss of Pelfrey.

Jon Rauch blew the save and took the loss last night, but wouldn’t blame it on an increased workload. He said it was poor pitching.

“You can’t come in and throw balls and expect to get everybody out after that,” Rauch said. “So we’ve gotta do a better job. I know personally I need to do a better job, especially coming in with guys on base and not letting inherited runners scored.”

Glad to hear there were no excuses, but it would be even better to see improved execution.

Once four games over .500 and sensing optimism about the season, the Mets have lost four straight and are counting on Johan Santana – the pitcher they seemingly refuse to score for- to stop the slide.

Regardless of what happens today, success this season largely depends on the bullpen holding up its end. And, that’s not a premature pronouncement, but a statement of fact that can be made any time of the year.