Jul 05

It’s All About Learning For Zack Wheeler; Mets Need To Let Him Be

The New York Mets claimed they didn’t want to bring up Zack Wheeler and then send him back to the minor leagues. They said he was here to stay, but the qualifier is Wheeler has to pitch worthy of sticking.

Wheeler will be making his fourth start Friday at Milwaukee, but he’s gotten progressively worse since his debut in Atlanta.

WHEELER: Leave him alone and let him learn. (AP)

WHEELER: Leave him alone and let him learn. (AP)

The issue is command, which was exacerbated by Wheeler tipping off his breaking pitches. In his second start, the Mets called for more breaking balls, and he was simply a mess in his third start when he gave up five runs in 4.2 innings against Washington.

Manager Terry Collins said his staff has been tinkering too much with Wheeler, but remember he was part of that decision making process. Pitching coach Dan Warthen doesn’t construct a game plan without Collins’ knowledge, and catcher John Buck calls pitches predicated on his pregame talks with Wheeler and the staff.

With Wheeler, the Mets have been like the man with the barbeque who is always poking at the fire. They were doing him a disservice.

Now, Collins is advocating what was written here after Wheeler’s second start, which is the rookie must go more with his fastball and use that as his foundation.

“We’ve addressed a couple of issues,’’ Collins told reporters yesterday. “Once again, I don’t like handing out scouting reports. But it’s pretty basic: One of the things I really, really, really believe in – I don’t care if it’s a guy like Zack Wheeler who is strictly a power guy, or a guy like Dillon Gee – you have to pitch to your strengths.

“You can’t always pitch to the hitters’ weaknesses. I’ve had some of the greatest pitchers that ever pitched say the same thing. … That was my whole message to Zack: Don’t get away from your strengths. Just because so-and-so can’t hit a slider doesn’t mean you can’t get him out with your fastball.’’

Collins said the tip-pitching has been corrected. That, combined with throwing more fastballs, should give us a clearer pitcher of Wheeler. We will also learn tonight how well he rebounds from adversity.

Wheeler indicated he wasn’t happy with his latest bullpen session, but there isn’t always a correlation with that and how he does in a game.

Wheeler has had time to clear his head, study film of himself and go over the scouting reports. The early book on him was an ability to focus and not let things bother him.

That includes interacting with the media, which hasn’t always been smooth. There are times when he can get short and curt, but getting acclimated with the media will come in time, as will his level of comfort on the mound.

Right now, nothing is easy for Wheeler, but that’s part of the learning curve. Wheeler isn’t Matt Harvey and the Mets must have different expectations. The Mets are banking he’ll pick it up so he doesn’t have to see the minors again.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Jun 30

Was Wheeler A Premature Promotion?

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WHEELER: On an island (AP)

Can we stop pinning the greatness label on Zack Wheeler? If they hadn’t already, the New York Mets surely learned Sunday, Wheeler has a long way to go before he’s the next Matt Harvey, let alone the next Tom Seaver.

Nobody knows how Wheeler’s career will unfold, but there’s one camp believing he was rushed by the Mets. The arguments from that corner are carrying more weight after Wheeler was pounded by the Nationals in Sunday’s 13-2 rout.

Before Wheeler was brought up from Triple-A Vegas, there was the feeling of some scouts – and even a little from the phenom himself – he wasn’t ready. Contrary to the sentiments of his minor league manager, Wally Backman, Wheeler had problem with his command and secondary pitches.

Backman was wrong; Wheeler was not ready.

In his first two starts, Wheeler had problem with his command, and it surfaced in his second game he was tipping his breaking pitches. Tipping his pitches wasn’t no much the issue against the Nationals as it was simply making bad ones. The problem was again command.

“The first inning I was hitting my spots. Everything was working,’’ Wheeler told reporters after his first Citi Field start. “And then I just started leaving some balls up. I’m starting to learn the hard way you can’t get away with mistakes up here as much as you do down there.’’

Which only illustrates Backman was premature in his assessment.

Wheeler gave up four runs in the second, starting with a first-pitch homer leading off the inning by Adam LaRoche on a fastball. Jayson Werth took him deep in the third. Wheeler threw 80 pitches in 4.2 innings, a clear sign his command was nowhere to be found. He struck out five, which averaged to one an inning, but that was overshadowed by giving up five runs on six hits and two walks.

With eight runners in less than five innings, Wheeler was continually in trouble. This is not the way it is supposed to be with a phenom who has it all together.

The bottom line is Wheeler doesn’t have it all solved. By his own admission, he has a lot to learn, and he’s trying to do it all on the fly. Wheeler was rushed to the Mets, and each pitch is a test, one he is not passing.

The Mets were adamant once Wheeler was brought up that he would stay, and with injuries to Jon Niese and now possibly Dillon Gee, that’s the way it appears it is going to stay. Wheeler is now here out of necessity.

Even if the promotion might have been a mistake in the first place.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Jun 30

For Best Results Mets Need To Turn Wheeler Loose

After what happened Friday night, it was impressive how the New York Mets rebounded yesterday. While the baseball cliché is “there’s always a game tomorrow,’’ there can be a carry-over. Now, let’s see if there is one today in Zack Wheeler’s Flushing debut.

WHEELER: Turn him loose.

WHEELER: Turn him loose.

In his first two starts, Wheeler is 1-0 with a 3.18 ERA. The Mets took him off the hook for what would have been a loss last Tuesday in Chicago, but they aren’t able to erase his wildness.

Foolishly, the Mets mandated Wheeler throw more breaking pitches against the White Sox. Unfortunately, he was tipping his pitches when he did.

Wheeler’s money pitch is his fastball. First things first: He should learn command of that pitch on the corners before going to his slider and curveball.

There are many – Wheeler included – who believe he’s being force-fed the major leagues. But he’s here now, so the Mets should put him in the best position to win. With their offense suspect and bullpen shaky at times, that means letting Wheeler go with his fastball.

There will be pressure on Wheeler this afternoon against the Nationals, but he’ll have third baseman David Wright available as a calming influence.

“It’s going to be one of the most enjoyable, memorable times for anybody making their home debut, especially as highly touted as Zack,’’ Wright told reporters at Citi Field yesterday. “Best advice is just enjoy it because it only happens once. Don’t go out and try to do too much. Don’t try to go out and impress. Do what’s got you to this point, and he obviously knows what he’s doing.’’

And, what got Wheeler here was his fastball.

NEWS NOT GOOD ON GEE: Dillon Gee gave the Mets six strong innings yesterday, but he did it with flexor tendinitis in his arm making the disabled list a possibility.

As most pitchers do, Gee said he’s fine.

“It actually felt pretty good lately,’’ Gee said after beating the Nationals. 5-1. “Hasn’t really been an issue.’’

Over his past six starts, Gee as limited opponents to one run in four of them.

METS MATTERS: One of the best pick-ups by the Mets has been outfielder Marlon Byrd, who is second on the team with 40 RBI. Ideally, you’d like to keep him in the hope the Mets will make a run toward respectability, but realistically he could prove valuable to a contender. … Terry Collins said Ruben Tejada has to beat out Omar Quintanilla when he comes off the disabled list. Quintanilla has played very well, and yesterday broke an 0-for-17 slide with two hits. … Jon Niese, on the disabled list with a partially torn rotator cuff, is scheduled for a follow-up MRI July 4, which could determine the need for surgery.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Jun 20

It Is Time Niese Prove His Worth

In all this talk about the New York Mets and their bright pitching future, Jon Niese has been overlooked. His upside has not been projected as high as that of Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler, but it was lofty enough at one time for the Mets to give him a long-term deal.

The Mets eschewed numerous trade overtures for him, instead opting to keep him as a building block because he’s a hard-throwing left-hander who experienced success and has a controllable contract.

However, he’s overlooked for a reason.

NIESE: Underachiever. (AP)

NIESE: Underachiever. (AP)

The Mets extended Niese’s contract with the expectation he’d lift them in games like tonight in Atlanta, where he’d be the difference between a winning and losing series. There’s not a high degree of confidence in him tonight.

After winning a career-high 13 games last year, Niese has not progressed. Yes, a case can be made to explain his 3-6 record because of a lack of run support, but there’s that sticky matter of a 4.15 ERA.

Niese pitched in consecutive sub-30 degree games in Minnesota and Denver and came away with stiffness in his back. No doubt, that is a contributing factor to his mediocre numbers, but what about his 1.57 WHIP?

In only four of his last ten starts has he gone into the seventh inning or further. The Mets have lost eight of those starts, and Niese has one victory in that span to his ledger.

One could argue Niese’s ERA is attributable in large part to giving up seven and eight runs in consecutive starts, but you could counter that by saying staff anchors must find away to minimize the damage, something Niese has yet to master.

This year Harvey, despite his limited experience, has proven more adept at escaping big innings than Niese. What Wheeler showed three times Tuesday night was something the Mets needed from Niese last weekend against the Cubs.

When the Mets had Johan Santana and Mike Pelfrey, Niese was projected as a No. 3 starter. Through attrition, he entered the season No. 1 and pitched like it in his first two starts.

Since then, he has been outpitched by Harvey consistently, and Dillon Gee and Jeremy Hefner over the past month. Currently, based on merit, Niese’s performance is indicative of a fifth starter at best, which is where he would be if the Mets dropped Shaun Marcum from the rotation.

I would still hold onto Niese for the same reasons: being a hard-throwing left-hander with a reasonable contract. There’s reason to believe there’s an upside to Niese, but he must start to outpitch his paltry support and perform to his expectations. He has to pitch better than his team, as all good pitchers must.

The Mets signed Niese to a long-term deal because they believed they could build around him. It is time Niese lives up to that faith.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Jun 20

Mets Should Trade Shaun Marcum; Others Also Available

Seriously now, these are the New York Mets. Did anybody really expect the euphoria of Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler to include Shaun Marcum?

Marcum is now 0-9 after Wednesday night and it seems ludicrous to keep him in the rotation, especially when Dillon Gee and Jeremy Hefner have pitched well.

MARCUM: After giving up homer last night. (AP)

MARCUM: After giving up homer last night. (AP)

Two strong relief outings suggest he could survive in that role, but is that the best option for the Mets? Marcum is giving the Mets around five innings a start and his strikeout totals have been decent. Most importantly, his neck and back issues seem to be over.

Marcum’s value to the Mets isn’t as a fifth, or sixth, starter, but as a trade chip to a contender. Much of his record can be passed off as from a lack of support, and with a reasonable $4 million salary – to any contender – the time is right to try to move him now.

He has some value in the trade market, but it won’t be any higher than it is now. Maybe they can get a mid-level prospect for him, which is better than the alternative of getting nothing when he leaves after the season.

Perhaps they can get more if they package him in a trade with others. Let’s see, whom else can the Mets trade?

John Buck:  Initially, he could have been had if Travis d’Arnaud hadn’t been injured. Buck has a connection with the young pitchers that is valuable and nobody can say with any certainty when d’Arnaud will be healthy, and how well he could play when he does. KEEP HIM.

Ike Davis: Is having a miserable year, but there’s always a team that believes he can be fixed with a change of scenery. The Mets are paying him over $3 million to strike out. As with Mike Pelfrey, they can opt to non-tender him and he’d walk and they’d get nothing. DEAL HIM.

Daniel Murphy: One of the few Mets who is hitting. I have this feeling the Mets believe they could do better. Prospect Wilmer Flores will have to play eventually. Murphy would have value to a contender as a second baseman, DH and first baseman. DEAL HIM.

Omar Quintanilla: Trouble is, if they deal him who would play shortstop with Ruben Tejada injured? Does it matter? They’ll find somebody, and if nothing else, could give time to a younger player. Question: Where does he fit into their future plans? Right. DEAL HIM.

Lucas Duda: Playing first now, where he’s more comfortable than left field. If they can move Davis, Duda could move over for the long haul. Isn’t the real decision here, Duda or Davis? KEEP HIM.

Marlon Byrd: One of the few Mets who is hitting, and is showing power. He’s like Scott Hairston was last year. Mets held onto Hairston and got nothing. Will they give Byrd more than a year this winter? Not likely. They can get something for him. DEAL HIM.

Jordany Valdespin: Didn’t grasp opportunity to be a starter at second base. Mets aren’t crazy about him and hard to envision him in their future. DEAL HIM.

LaTroy Hawkins: Veteran relievers are always in demand by contenders. He’s not coming back. DEAL HIM.

Justin Turner: On DL now but is a versatile infielder that does not give away at-bats. Could fill a need. DEAL HIM.

Some of the above, I’d like to keep, but you have to be realistic. If they can’t be projected to be in the organization beyond this season, why not see what they can get? The Mets aren’t going anywhere, so they might as well start preparing for 2014.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos