Apr 04

April 4.10: Tomorrow’s line-up?

The first pitch of the season hasn’t even been thrown yet and there are already questions about Jerry Manuel’s line-up.

For instance, whatever happened to Angel Pagan leading off? If not Pagan, then why not Gary Matthews? Alex Cora was their best choice to lead off?

And, all that money for Jason Bay and he’s not batting cleanup? I would have gone Bay, Mike Jacobs and Jeff Francoeur as my 4-5-6 hitters.

I realize the line-up isn’t the same without Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes, but this was akin to pulling numbers out of a cap. Luis Castillo and David Wright are the only ones slotted where they should be.

Alex Cora, SS
Luis Castillo, 2B
David Wright, 3B
Mike Jacobs, 1B
Jason Bay, LF
Gary Matthews, CF
Jeff Francoeur, RF
Rod Barajas, C
Johan Santana, LP

Mar 29

March 29.10: Wrapping up the Day.

Jose Reyes took batting practice today, but didn’t do anything distinguishing against minor leaguers Mike Antonini and Dillon Gee.

Reyes hadn’t faced a pitch since last May, and the Mets are debating whether to force-feed him six at-bats a day in minor league games for several days before giving him a couple of exhibition games.

“I feel good. I don’t play since last May, so I can’t wait to get on the field,’’ Reyes said this afternoon. “Right now, I’ll take it one day at a time and see what happens next.’’

Reyes said he’s been running 100 percent for the past week without any problems to his hamstring. Even so, there’s a difference between running sprints in the outfield and the type of running – stopping and starting and changing of directions – done in a game.

NIESE NOT SHARP: Projected fifth starter Jon Niese had a rough day, giving up four runs on six hits and three walks in 4 2/3 innings against the Marlins.

Even so, Niese was given credit for the victory today over the Marlins by the official scorer.

NOTEBOOK: Today was supposed to be Johan Santana’s turn to pitch, but the Mets didn’t want to start him against the Marlins, the team he’ll face next Monday on Opening Day at Citi Field. Santana will get his work in minor league games this week. … Jenrry Mejia gave up a run in 1 1/3 innings today. … After a sluggish spring, Jeff Francoeur is starting to come around with three hits, including two doubles. … Infielder Ruben Tejada, who could stick with club if Reyes opens the season on the disabled list had two hits to raise his average to .339. … The Washington Nationals claimed reserve catcher Chris Coste on waivers.

Mar 29

March 29.10: Reyes still an Opening Day possibility.

They are playing the “maybe’’ game again with Jose Reyes, with GM Omar Minaya not discounting him for Opening Day.

“We haven’t ruled it out yet, no,’’ Minaya said. “He looks good. He wants to bring it to the next level.’’

Reyes took live BP this morning for the first time.

The Mets could put him in a minor league game, where he’d lead off each inning and get six or seven at-bats. But, isn’t that rushing him, something they said they wouldn’t do?

Reyes hasn’t faced a major league pitch since last May, and even with a full workload this week that might not be enough.

Reyes is too valuable to this team to fool around with him. Better be certain than risk a setback. By Minaya leaving it open, Reyes might push himself to where he shouldn’t go. Better for Minaya to say
something now and take temptation away from him.

MEJIA STILL POSSIBLE: Jenrry Mejia to the Mets bullpen still remains a possibility, and if it happens he would presumably take the spot of Kiko Calero, leaving him behind for an extended spring training.

ONE GAME BAGGED: The split squad game in Viera, Fla., against the Nationals was rained out. Jon Niese was scheduled to start, but instead will pitch today in Port St. Lucie, against the Marlins.
Oliver Perez was to start that game, but will start tomorrow instead.

Here’s today’s lineup against the Marlins:

Angel Pagan, LF
Alex Cora, SS
David Wright, 3B
Daniel Murphy, 1B
Jeff Francoeur, RF
Gary Matthews, CF
Henry Blanco, C
Ruben Tejada, 2B
Jon Niese, LP

Mar 24

March 24.10: It’s Murphy’s time.

You can read a couple of things into the Ike Davis demotion relating to Daniel Murphy.

One, there’s talk-show speculation Murphy was pressured by Davis’ presence and the possibility of him losing the position. Second, that the Mets still have faith in Murphy.

It’s the latter.

Jerry Manuel said Murphy is his first baseman, and it actually looks like that’s going to happen. For how long is another question.

With Murphy hitting below the Mendoza line this spring, and him not having much power to begin with, first base could be a black hole offensively for the team.
Murphy, at this stage of his career, is not a power hitter, but that’s not to say he can’t develop more power.

All along we’ve heard how the Mets rush some players and don’t have patience with others. Murphy has gone through a lot, enough to earn the Mets’ patience for now.

With David Wright ahead of him, Murphy, a natural third baseman was moved to another black hole, left field, at the end of the 2008 season.
He showed enough to where he was the starting left fielder last season, but it didn’t take. The Mets once considered him as a possible second baseman, but saddled with Luis Castillo’s contract, that didn’t work either.

So, it was on to first base a couple of months into last year, where Murphy played surprisingly well considering. The only problem is he doesn’t hit for the prototypical power of a first baseman.

But, he’s only 24 with one full season on his resume. But, after he settled in at first, he become more comfortable at the plate, made some adjustments, and hit .282. He also hit 38 doubles, which is an indication of some pop, and led the team with 12 homers.

Who knows? Maybe he’ll develop into a .300 hitter and hit 20 to 25 homers. It could happen.

But, if the season hinges on Murphy hitting for power, then the Mets are in big trouble anyway. Theoretically, they’ll get power from Wright, Carlos Beltran, Jason Bay and Jeff Francoeur. All should hit close to 30 homers.

If Murphy doesn’t, then so what?

Let’s take a look at this team. There are questions in the bullpen and the rotation has been horrid this spring. The Mets need a bounce-back year from Wright, and Beltran, and possibly Jose Reyes will open the season on the disabled list.

So, Murphy not hitting more than 20 homers seems to be low on the priority list.

Mar 22

March 22.10: Questions down the stretch.

When pitchers and catchers reported Feb. 18, I posted five key questions the Mets faced heading into spring training. With two weeks remaining, there are issues with four of those five concerns.

Question: What is this team’s attitude?
Assessment: By all accounts, it is good and positive. The Mets aren’t rolling through their spring schedule, but there have been no issues of lack of hustle and laziness. David Wright said the Mets need to use last year’s embarrassment as a motivator. Jason Bay is fitting in and Jeff Francoeur has been a positive influence. So far, so good, but they haven’t played any games that count yet.

Question: How healthy is this team?
Assessment: Injuries sabotaged the 2009 season, and already two of the team’s core will open the season on the disabled list and likely won’t be ready until May. Carlos Beltran’s knee is responding well to rehab and Jose Reyes’ hamstring feels good. However, Reyes’ issue is his thyroid and one wonders how that will be with the riggers of the season. Reliever Kelvim Escobar, penciled in as a set-up man, has missed the entire spring with shoulder pain. There have been no problems physically with Francoeur, Oliver Perez, Johan Santana and John Maine, all with recent surgery on their resume.

Question: What is the status of the three pitching questions, Mike Pelfrey, Oliver Perez and John Maine?
Assessment: These three guys represent the season’s key. If they do well, then the Mets can contend. The Mets didn’t make any rotation additions this winter because they believe in the upside of these three. It has been an up-and-down spring for all three, but Perez has been refreshingly positive. However, none have performed to where the Mets can say they are in the clear. The concerns remain.

Question: Who is fifth starter?
Assessment: Fernando Nieve, Jon Niese, Nelson Figueroa and Hisanori Takahashi are in the mix. Takahashi has looked the best, but he hasn’t pitched enough to be stretched out. Niese has options remaining, so they could do the safe thing and send him out and protect someone else. Jerry Manuel said he’ll use a fifth starter from the start, so there will be no hiding him with the off-days in April. This is the biggest decision remaining in camp.

Question: What is the make-up of the bullpen?
Assessment: The biggest sub-question is whether Jenrry Mejia goes north in the pen and what role he would have. With his stuff, he’s a closer in waiting, which makes me think eighth-inning set-up. But, will the Mets expose him to that or put him in a low-pressure role. To me, that’s defeatist thinking. If you’re afraid to use him, then why carry him? Losing Escobar went a large part in opening the door for Mejia. So has, the general ineffectiveness of the relievers. If Takahashi doesn’t make it in the rotation, it could be him. Any of the losers for the fifth-starter could also fit as the long man. Bobby Parnell is still around, but he might be a casualty if they keep Takahashi in the pen. Kiko Calero and Ryota Igarashi will make the roster. Pedro Feliciano is still the only lefty of substance.