Apr 17

Sweep Exposes Mets’ Pitching Concerns; Was Mistake To Pull Laffey

Assuming Terry Collins pulled Aaron Laffey in Tuesday’s nightcap to set him up to pitch on short rest this weekend against Washington, then it was a bad move.

Collins assumed his already shaky bullpen could hold a six-run lead, but you know what happens when you assume. Especially to go to a bullpen that has given no reason to believe it could hold a lead in that park. Collins should know never to give away a game seemingly in hand to chase another.

COLLINS: Juggling bullpen.

COLLINS: Juggling bullpen.

This isn’t to say Laffey couldn’t have blown the game by himself, but with a six run lead should have been given another inning or two. Collins should realize he has an unreliable bullpen and he should stay out of it as much as possible.

Collins’ job should have been to hold onto Tuesday and let Sandy Alderson worry about finding him a pitcher for Saturday. Frankly, I believe Laffey had a better chance of holding a six run lead for two innings than coming back to beat Washington on Saturday.

What already had been Mets concerns re-emerged in the rubble of Tuesday’s double-header sweep at Colorado. A good start to the season leveled off on this road trip by the back end of the rotation that has not been picked up by the bullpen.

Theoretically, Jeremy Hefner – tonight’s starter at Colorado – and Laffey, would be whom the Mets would be looking at if they wanted an emergency starter. Problem is they are already here because of injuries to Johan Santana and Shuan Marcum. Also injured is Jenrry Mejia, who appears to have fallen off the radar.

The back end is clearly not producing and the Mets remain adamant on not bringing up Zack Wheeler, who is not ready.

However, Collin McHugh has pitched well for Triple-A Las Vegas, and he’s had limited major league success. If not him or Wheeler, Logan Verrett and Rafael Montero have each made three strong starts for Double-A Binghamton.

The bullpen is harder to patch from the minor leagues, so it figures the Mets will attempt to hold things until Frank Francisco is able to pitch. When he returns he’ll likely be in set-up and situational roles while Bobby Parnell stays the closer.

Greg Burke gave up three runs as his struggles continued. Josh Edgin, who had been effective, gave up four runs. In fairness, it is hard to be sitting and then getting up and throwing in 30-degree weather.

However, there was nothing wrong with the weather in Philadelphia, so the pen is still to be scrutinized.

Two other red flags were raised in Denver.

The first was Ruben Tejada’s throwing error in the eighth inning of the second game that helped erase the Mets’ six-run lead.

To their credit, neither Tejada nor any other Mets used the weather as an excuse, although it clearly had an impact on the game. Yes, it was difficult to throw, but Tejada’s error was his sixth in 13 games, so his fielding has been a problem.

Every time Tejada makes an error the issue on not having a quality back-up emerges. The Mets are dragging their feet on bringing up Omar Quintanillia. It is easy enough to say he’ll replace Kirk Nieuwenhuis on the active roster, but the obstacle is finding somebody to remove from the 40-man roster.

Las Vegas shortstop Wilmer Flores is on the 40-man roster, but the Mets won’t start the service-time clock on a player who isn’t ready and needs the minor league at-bats.

Another issue is Lucas Duda’s back, which tightened up Tuesday in the cold. He said he’ll play today, but there’s no guarantee.

Apr 08

Mets Game #7 Wrap: Harvey And Buck Roll

The pre-game buzz was Matt Harvey being a growing hot property and Philadelphia’s Roy Halladay on a downhill slide. Both bandwagons got a little more crowded Monday night as Harvey was superb as his Mets pounded Halladay, 7-2. The Mets also received big nights from John Buck and Ruben Tejada in winning their third straight game.

HARVEY: On again. Very on.

HARVEY: On again. Very on.

ON THE MOUND: Harvey gave up a run in seven innings, giving up three hits and striking out nine to win his second start and lower his ERA to 0.64. With bullpen worked hard for 4.2 innings Sunday, the Mets received the innings they needed from Harvey. Harvey has struck out 89 in his first 12 starts.

AT THE PLATE:  Buck hit a three-run homer in the second and the Mets never looked back. … Tejada hit a two-run single in the fifth when the Mets broke the game open. … David Wright and Lucas Duda also drove in droves. … Daniel Murphy doubled twice.

METS MUSINGS: Manager Terry Collins said Aaron Laffey could be in the rotation indefinitely. His next start will be a week from Tuesday at Colorado. … Shaun Marcum threw today in Port St. Lucie, but Collins said he’s not close to pitching in a game. … Also not close is reliever Frank Francisco. Collins said he must twice throw in consecutive games to prove he’s ready.

Apr 02

Mets Still Loaded With Questions

David Wright was all smiles yesterday.

“If you like grand slams and scoring lots of runs, what’s not to like?’’ Wright said. “Of course, we’re not going to score 11 runs every game.’’

COLLINS: Over/under date when he stops smiling.

COLLINS: Over/under date when he stops smiling.

His qualifier continued: “It’s only the first game.’’

That it was, and as good as they looked in mauling the Padres, the Mets remain loaded with questions.

When the Mets introduced their team, only nine players were the same time last Opening Day.

One question is not Johan Santana, and in several respects that’s a good thing because the Mets won’t have to deal with the lingering questions of about when, or if, we’ll see him. Or, was he worth the money.

All three can be answered in the negative.

Actually, there was a Santana sighting. He’s on the cover of the media guide. So is Terry Collins with a broad smile. Wonder how long that will last?

It depends on the answers to the following questions, five each on the mound and at the plate:

PITCHING QUESTIONS

 Q: Will Jon Niese assume the role of No. 1 with Santana done with the Mets?

A: Niese downplays the ace title, but that doesn’t alter the fact he is No. 1. He showed what he is capable of yesterday. The Mets need 200-plus innings and for him to exceed his career high of 13 victories.

Q: Matt Harvey: Boom or bust?

A: The anticipation for Harvey is intense after just ten starts last year. Fans want him to be another Dwight Gooden or Stephen Strasburg. His teammates expect it of him, too. Not fair, but that’s the way it is.

Q: What will they get from Shaun Marcum?

A: He’s on the DL, but expected to come off and pitch Sunday. He needs to win at least 12 games as the No. 4 starter in the rotation and be an innings eater. The Mets got him on the cheap, but he must outpitch his contract.

Q: Will Bobby Parnell seize the closer opportunity?

A: He’s had chances before and did not. Frank Francisco figures to be out at least a month and Parnell can take this job for good. If he does, and Francisco is healthy and pitches well in whatever role he is in when he returns, he gives the Mets a trade chip.

Q: How good is the bullpen?

A: Parnell is the only one from last year’s Opening Day pen. GM Sandy Alderson has built a pen with the combination of unproven and veteran arms. Basically, it is Parnell and six questions. Come to think of it, Parnell is also a question.

HITTING QUESTIONS

 Q: Will David Wright respond to his contract?

A: Wright is not one who will coast. Looking for .300, 25-30 homers and over 100 RBI.  That’s the minimum requirements for your best hitter. Wright said he didn’t feel any differently being named captain. That’s because he’s had the role long before it became official.

Q: Can Ike Davis put together two strong halves?

A: Mets got little from him at the start last year, but he rebounded to finish with 32 homers. With his power 40 is reasonable. Unfortunately, so are 160 strikeouts. He had four yesterday.

Q: How will the outfield shake out?

A: Collin Cowgill beat out Kirk Nieuwenhuis, but nothing is etched in stone. Yesterday’s grand slam is a good start, but the key is sustaining. Marlon Byrd and Lucas Duda are in the corners. The Mets desperately need Duda’s power. If he hits 20, he could out-homer the rest of the outfield.

Q: When will we see Travis d’Arnaud?

A: For future free-agent considerations, he shouldn’t be here before June. However, Alderson said if he’s needed that wouldn’t be a barrier. We’ll see.

Q: What will the Mets get from Ruben Tejada?

A: He was solid last season, but hit less than .100 in spring training. He’s good with the glove, but Mets need something from him and his double yesterday was a good sign. He’ll never replace Jose Reyes’ numbers, but if he fields the position and hits around .275 the Mets will be happy.

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 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.