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 26

Encouraging News For Wright; Opening Day A Possibility

After he played in a minor league game today, the Mets softened their position on whether David Wright could be ready for Opening Day. When Wright was pulled from the World Baseball Classic last week, manager Terry Collins was thinking a month. Not any longer.

“I would not be surprised if David Wright is there Opening Day,’’ Collins told reporters today. “There will be a lot of things considered here on Thursday or Friday.’’

The Mets are doing the right thing in that both Wright and Murphy are playing in minor league games, so if there was a setback and they had to start the season on the disabled list it could be backdated into spring training.

Among the variables Collins will consider is the weather, as the intercostal muscles both are fighting could be vulnerable to further injury in the cold.

Both players were 1-for-5 today.

THE GAME: The Mets were ripped today, 11-4, by St. Louis, but the most thing to take from the game was Jeremy Hefner – who’ll replace Johan Santana in the rotation and on the roster – left early with a bone bruise on his right elbow.

On a bright note, Lucas Duda had three more hits, including his fifth homer, to raise his average to .302.

Mar 25

Pedro Feliciano Given Minor League Alternative

With Pedro Felciano told he won’t make the Opening Day roster and LaTroy Hawkins informed he would, the Mets’ bullpen appears set.

However, by no means is that cause for celebration.

FELICIANO: Reaching out for his last chance?

FELICIANO: Reaching out for his last chance?

Barring further injury, the Mets figure to keep seven relievers despite probably needed a dozen: Bobby Parnell is the closer with Frank Francisco going on the disabled list; lefthanders Josh Edgin and Robert Carson, both of whom made positive impressions last year; set-up reliever Brandon Lyon; submariner Greg Burke and situational righties Hawkins and Scott Atchison.

Only Parnell was on last season’s Opening Day roster.

For much of last year the Mets carried two lefthanders, but manager Terry Collins was left shorthanded and indicated that wouldn’t happen again.

The Mets burned out Feliciano in his first stint with them, but after he was released by the Yankees, they brought him back as a long shot.

It was thought Feliciano had a shot, but the Mets didn’t like his low 80s readings on the radar gun and offered him a minor league position so he could build up his arm strength. This appears to be a take-it-or-leave it proposal from the Mets, who did not give him a window to hook on with another major league team first.

The Mets had no alternative but to make a decision on Feliciano, because by tomorrow they would have been obligated to pay a $100,000 roster bonus. The Mets, or course, are counting every dollar.

“They told me I’m going to Triple-A for a month and get my strength back,’’ Feliciano told reporters this morning. “I have to talk to my agent first and then see what we’re going to decide.’’

Feliciano might feel slighted, but he’s not dealing from a position of strength and doesn’t have any alternatives. Given that, his best option is to accept the assignment.

Part of his decision-making process includes news left-hander Tim Byrdak, who is attempting to come back from shoulder surgery thinks he could be ready by June.

Things are more settled in the rotation with Johan Santana opening the season on the disabled list and Jeremy Hefner taking his spot in the rotation. The Mets were briefly concerned with Shaun Marcum, who received a cortisone injection in his shoulder last week.

Marcum responded and is scheduled to make his final exhibition start Thursday.

Barring complications, Marcum will start the Mets’ second game of the season, April 3, against San Diego at Citi Field.

The Mets-Padres matchups for the first three games are: Jon Niese against Edinson Volquez on Opening Day, followed by Clayton Richard against Marcum and Matt Harvey against Jason Marquis on April 4.

Mar 21

Mets’ Batting Order Analysis

Without David Wright and Daniel Murphy available because of strained intercostal muscles, manager Terry Collins doesn’t have much to work with regarding his everyday line-up, which seems to change every day.

Here’s today’s Mets-Cardinals lineup and how it might translate to the regular season:

Marlon Byrd, rf: If Jordany Valdespin makes the team as it appears, he’ll lead off. So, what’s Byrd doing here? I don’t know. He’s also hit cleanup this spring. Actually, if he has the skills to hit cleanup and leadoff, then why not give him a shot batting third? I’d much rather have Ike Davis hitting fourth, which is where he’ll be when Wright returns.

Ruben Tejada, ss: Tejada’s miserable spring has the Mets wondering whether last year was a fluke offensively. Second would seem like a reasonable slot since he’s had success there in the past. Also, having Davis behind him could enable Tejada to see more fastballs in the zone which could snap him out of his slide.

Ike Davis, 1b: Your No. 3 hitter should be your best hitter in terms of contact and power. That’s Wright when he’s healthy. It looks as if Davis will hit third at the start. Only question is will there be runners on base ahead of him.

Zach Lutz, 3b: Lutz is expected to open the season in the minors. His presence today at clean-up only indicates Collins will separate strikeout machines Davis and Lucas Duda, who conceivably in a full season could strike out a combined 300 times.

Lucas Duda, lf: With Wright out, Duda is the only other power to complement Davis, and the leftfielder has not had a good spring. He’s fifth today, but expect him lower in the order when the season comes, and definitely when Wright returns.

John Buck, c: Buck is a decent hitter, but nothing that makes you roll your eyes. He’s made for lower in the order. However, there are times I can see him moving up and slotted between Davis and Duda.

Matt den Dekker, cf: This is a major league glove headed to the minor leagues. Den Dekker drove in the game winning run last night and has been hitting better lately. If he’s consistent offensively he should be at Citi Field. Valdespin has had a good spring with the bat, but he’s never put it together for a full season. And, that includes his attitude and hustle.

Omar Quintanilla, 2b: With all the injuries in the infield and the expectation of Tejada being pulled for a pinch-hitter at times, Quintanilla should make the roster and have a defined role off the bench. He’s not much with the bat, so eighth is perfect for him.

Jeremy Hefner, rhp: Hefner is the fifth starter in place of Johan Santana, and if he’s effective could remain there for a month or more.


Mar 15

Jeremy Hefner Solid Against Braves

Jeremy Hefner, the likely replacement for Johan Santana in the rotation, gave up two homers this afternoon but rebounded to strike out the last six hitters he faced in the Mets’ 5-2 victory over Atlanta.

Hefner had a solid line of two runs on five hits and a walk with seven strikeouts in five innings.

HEFNER: Solid outing today.

HEFNER: Solid outing today.

Even so, Hefner wasn’t pleased, telling reporters he was concerned because he left the ball up in the strike zone. Hefner said he pitched with a chip on his shoulder the last two innings.

“I was less than thrilled about my performance before then,’’ Hefner said. “The ball was up, as evidenced by all the fly balls and hard-hit balls. I’m the guy that has to pound the bottom of the strike zone and get ground balls to be successful.’’

Hefner said earlier this week he will be ready to replace Santana at the start of the season but that’s my focus.

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