May 27

Jon Niese Tries To Get It Right Against Yankees

The Mets did it right in how they honor the veterans this Memorial Day. If Major League Baseball doesn’t do it already – and I believe they might – all veterans should be allowed free admission to any regular season game they choose.

It is only a small way of saying thanks and showing respect for those who gave this country so much. Personally, I think any family who lost a member in a war should have tax-exempt status. They have already given more than their fair share.

NIESE: Tries to get it back tonight.

NIESE: Tries to get it back tonight.

But, that’s just me.

Growing up, Memorial Day meant parades, picnics and softball games. Today, I know it means a lot more.

Baseball is a Memorial Day tradition, especially the doubleheader. They don’t do them anymore because the owners want the two gates. However, on this day, and maybe also on July 4, I wish Major League Baseball would go back and honor not only the veterans, but all fans who have supported it for years, to give us back the traditional doubleheader.

So many of baseball’s great traditions have faded, from the uniqueness of the Opening Days in Cincinnati and Washington, to Sunday doubleheaders, to the diminishing of the All-Star Game and to interleague play.

Baseball has always been part of the fabric of our country – James Earl Jones’ Field of Dreams speech – and that includes the traditional holiday doubleheaders.

Just once, can’t the commissioner of this sport and its owners do something right for its fans and give us back the holiday doubleheader?

Of course, that wouldn’t work with Mets-Yankees, a gimmick that might be losing its steam. If both teams were competitive it could be different, but there are plenty of tickets available for the two Citi Field games against the Yankees.

The Mets won Sunday night to snap their third losing streak of the season of at least five games.

And, it is just May.

The Mets have Jon Niese and Matt Harvey going against the Yankees, which is their best. Niese is going through an awful stretch. The Opening Day starter and de facto ace with Johan Santana done, Niese won two of his first three starts, but it took him six starts before he won his third game.

Niese is on pace to pitch 186.1 innings, but for that workload he’ll go 10-17 with a 4.80 ERA.  Currently, hitters are batting .270 off him.

Harvey’s projected numbers are off the charts, but how long will it continue?

And, once he falters, who picks up the slack?

 

 

May 23

Where’s The Accountability With The Mets?

Matt Harvey has it. So does David Wright. Ike Davis tried to show it Wednesday, but only had warning track power.

It is accountability, which is the backbone to admit screwing up. We certainly didn’t see any the past few days from the Knicks, so let’s turn to the Mets. After losing Thursday to the Reds, Harvey was front-and-center about his performance and threw high-heat at himself.

ALDERSON: Who is to blame?

ALDERSON: Who is to blame?

“It was a tough day – whether it was the changeup I couldn’t necessarily throw for a strike when I wanted to – and everything just crept over the middle,’’ Harvey told reporters at Citi Field. “It was one of those days. I didn’t execute. I didn’t do a good job. I’ve got to be a lot better than that. Nine hits is unacceptable for me. Obviously I wasn’t happy giving up any runs. We needed a big win, and I wasn’t able to do that.’’

What a reporter wants is for a player to be stand-up, to answer questions when the heat is on. Davis tried, although sometimes it seemed as if the listener would get frequent miles for following along with the answer.

I’ve never been enamored with Davis’ approach to hitting and explanations of his approach and thought process. This time, I didn’t care for his defensive explanation, although I appreciated the effort.

With runners on the corners in the ninth inning, Brandon Phillips dribbled a ball down the first base line. Davis, who misplayed a similar ball in the seventh that allowed a run to score, seemed confused on how to play the ball.

“I couldn’t get the guy at home,’’ Davis said. “[Shin-Soo] Choo runs really fast. And it was really slow to my backhand side. I was trying to get off the bag to get in the hole because it was a right-handed hitter.

“They usually don’t hit it down the line like that. The second bounce … I thought it bounced foul. In my head, I can’t turn two. I can’t catch it, touch the bag and then throw it to second and get the guy out, because then it’s a tag play and the guy [Choo] scores anyway.

“So, in my head, when I thought I saw it bounce foul, I pulled my glove back, because then we’d be 0-2 on Phillips [if it were foul] and the run wouldn’t score. That was my thought process on that. I still can’t tell if it was foul or fair on replays. But I definitely did think it bounced foul right before I got it. He made the call fair.’’

With no interpreters in the Mets’ clubhouse, let me attempt to boil it down: Davis said he couldn’t get the runner at home or get the 3-6-3 double-play, so he thought his best play was for the ball to go foul.

Only, Davis couldn’t tell if it was fair or foul. Given that, Davis’ mistake was letting the ball go and hoping for the right call. As a hitter, Davis wouldn’t stay at the plate and wait for the call, but run the ball out. So, why didn’t he do the same on defense? Why would he let the ball go on such a close play and hope for the best?

Maybe he wasn’t asked, but even so, he should have known what to do and admit the mistake of giving up on the play. What we got was a roundabout analysis that sounds like an excuse. Just catch the damn ball. If it is fair and a run scores, so be. Letting it go by opened the door for three to come in.

And, let’s cue the violins when he said, “everything that could go wrong for me now is going wrong.’’

Terry Collins is in a rough place, between telling the truth and not throwing his players under the bus. But, when his team is already ten games under .500, I’d like to see him go to the whip a little more. Didn’t he also promise a culture change and emphasis on fundamentals?

Where’s the fundamentals when all but two players in the normal starting lineup are on pace to strike out over 100 times? Where’s the emphasis on getting a good pitch to hit?

Two walks is a stretch in saying Davis is showing come-out-of-it signs. And, I don’t buy Collins saying Davis is not taking his offense to the field. His fielding has been miserable lately, so how could his offense not be a connection?

Collins didn’t get on Jon Niese for letting the first inning get away from him Tuesday. Nobody on and nobody out and he walks three and let three runs in. That’s inexcusable on any level.

Collins wasn’t forceful on getting on Jordany Valdespin last week when he should have been in full rip mode. And, I would have liked for him to get on Shaun Marcum more for not coming to camp in good condition. He did the previous spring with Ruben Tejada.

However, in fairness to Collins, it is hard to come down on a player if he doesn’t get the backing of the front office. Sandy Alderson, who over the weekend said the minor leagues wasn’t imminent for Davis, echoed that Tuesday, saying: “ … at this point we’re going to live with Ike for a little longer.’’

When Alderson came on the job, he promised a change in culture and stressed accountability. Immediately, we knew he was talking about Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo and both would be gone the following spring. Alderson also knew Jason Bay‘s lack of production after three years shouldn’t net him a fourth. Bay was a good guy, yes, but wasn’t hitting.

So, why be hesitant with Davis, especially if he’s considered a building block?

Alderson speaks like a lawyer with the way he dances around questions. All, I want to hear is: “I didn’t do a good job of putting together the bullpen,’’ and “I didn’t do a good job putting together the outfield,’’ and, “I should have handled things differently with Johan Santana this spring,’’ and, “If I stocked the farm system better, maybe I’d have more options to replace Davis.’’

And. ownership should show more accountability, if for nothing else, letting the Ponzi scandal distract the Mets and influence their off-season moves the past two years. Not to mention, signing off on contracts given to Perez and Bay.

And, don’t deny it hasn’t.

Be accountable. We deserve that much.

Apr 30

Jeremy Hefner Tries To Stop Mets’ Slide

Jeremy Hefner: Streak stopper.

Some clairvoyant on television said this morning, “the Mets have lost five straight for the first time this season.’’  He’s probably right, but that’s an awful assumption.

All streaks must end somewhere, and while Matt Harvey didn’t stop the slide last night, the Mets will ask Hefner to do it tonight.

Hefner, who hasn’t been consistently good this season, is coming off a solid start in which he gave up a run in seven innings, April 25, against the Dodgers.

The Mets, losers of five straight and nine of their last 12 games, will need Hefner to contain two horrible statistics: he’s walked at least three in each of his last three starts, and he’s given up seven homers in 21 innings

A big Ouch! on that last number.

“It bugged me a little more than I let on,’’ Hefner said of the homers allowed after the Dodger start. “If I’m successful, I’m getting groundballs. … So that’s something I’ve still got to work on.’’

A case can be made Hefner saved his job last week against the Dodgers, but then again, just whom do the Mets have to replace him? They won’t bring up Zack Wheeler before he’s ready, and he’s not close.

Hefner was thrust into the rotation when Johan Santana went down, but he’s become a mainstay. Hefner matter-of-factly says his objective with each game is to give the Mets a quality start, which is three runs given up in six innings, something he’s done twice in four starts.

The offense has to shoulder some of the blame for the Mets being 0-4 in Hefner’s starts as it has given him eight runs in 20 innings.

Hefner is what he is, and that’s a fifth starter. His outpitched his job description in his last start, but he’s not living up to his stated goal of six innings.

The bullpen worked 9.1 innings last night, and with the short turnaround before Wednesday afternoon’s game, the Mets need six from Hefner tonight. His job would be a little easier if the Mets scored some runs, too.

Just saying.

Apr 29

Has Mets’ Freefall Begun Early This Year?

Rocky might be sugar coating what is going on with the Mets these days. Do you remember the beginning of the month when the Mets were off to a semi-good start and the Yankees – beset by injuries – stumbled out of the gate and the talk was could they actually finish with a better record?

Not happening. We are looking at a fifth straight losing season, and please, don’t delude yourselves into thinking the Mets will suddenly go on a spending spree this winter. Now that the Mets have substantially reduced their payroll and after this year will be finally rid of the contractual anchors of Johan Santana and Jason Bay, do you honestly believe they’ll be writing a lot of checks this winter?

HARVEY: Bright spot. (AP)

HARVEY: Bright spot. (AP)

Next year could be more of the same.

After being swept over the weekend by Philadelphia, going 3-6 on their recent homestand and losers of nine of their last 12 games overall, all appearances have the Mets are packing it in before the All-Star break this season. I’m not saying the effort isn’t there, just the talent.

The weekend proved the Mets don’t need Arctic conditions to play their worst. Without Matt Harvey to protect them against the Phillies, the Mets had breakdowns with their rotation, bullpen, defense and hitting this weekend. It was as complete a sweep as can be.

* The Mets are 5-0 when Harvey starts and 5-13 when he doesn’t. He goes tonight at Miami against fellow phenom Jose Fernandez.

* The last two winters GM Sandy Alderson made rebuilding the bullpen the priority. However, this year’s nightmarish edition is the major league’s worst with an ERA nearing 5.50. It doesn’t even matter how close Frank Francisco is to returning as he proved he’s not the answer, either. Typical Mets. Their best reliever is closer Bobby Parnell and they can’t even get to him.

* Terry Collins said at the beginning of the season he wanted to use set line-ups. Twenty-three games later he has used 20 different batting orders/line-ups. That’s not even close to being stable.

* The outfield remains fluid, with something different each day. Jordany Valdespin provides a spark and then sits. Does anybody really think Juan Lagares is the answer? Collin Cowgill won the starting center field job coming out of spring training, but was sitting by the fourth game of the season and only has 47 at-bats.

* Ike Davis continues to flounder and look overmatched at the plate with half as many hits (13) as strikeouts (26). He’s on pace to strike out 183 times. He’s also on track to hit 28 homers, but drive in only 56 runs. Need I say he’s hitting less than .200?

With the way the Mets are playing, there’s no guarantee they’ll get better with three games in Miami. About the only encouraging thing you can come up with concerning this series is even if the Mets are swept, they can’t fall into the cellar behind the Marlins.

Ah, good times.

Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

ON DECK: David Price vs. Tom Hallion

Apr 27

Sluggish Mets Need Boost From Their Pitching

Dillon Gee didn’t pitch that badly last night, but the Mets’ struggling offense – five straight games of scoring three or fewer runs – brought nightmarish memories of last year’s second-half offensive drought.

The Mets made Kyle Kendrick look untouchable as they lost for the seventh time in their last ten games.

MARCUM: Makes first start today.

MARCUM: Makes first start today.

With their offense stagnant, the Mets will need a boost from their already stretched pitching staff. This afternoon they’ll ask journeyman pick-up Shaun Marcum to come up big in his first start of the season.

“I’m sure I’ll have a little bit of adrenaline, a little more than I had in the extended spring game,’’ Marcum said last night. “At the same time you got to know how to control it and use it to your advantage and know when to back off and when to add on a little bit. I’m looking forward to it and I’m definitely excited to get out there and get in situations in real games.’’

Marcum was signed to a free-agent contract in the offseason, but didn’t endear himself to manager Terry Collins when he reported to spring training in poor condition and attempted to justify matters by saying he only needed to make four exhibition starts. He didn’t even make those as he was sidelined with neck and shoulder pain.

“It’s been a while,’’ Marcum said. “Definitely looking forward to getting out there.’’

Marcum will be on a pitch count of 90, and if his command is off, he can get there by the fifth inning. If he does, the Mets would be in trouble. They could also be in trouble Sunday if Jon Niese isn’t able to make his start.

Niese took a hard-hit comebacker off his right ankle Tuesday, but said he felt fine after a light bullpen session Thursday. Yesterday he just played catch and ran in the outfield.

If Niese can’t go, he’ll be the third pitcher of the Mets’ projected five to miss a start, joining Johan Santana, whose career with the team is over, and Marcum.

Even so, the Mets remain adamant about not bringing up Zack Wheeler, whose wildness continues to be an issue. In his last two starts, Wheeler has walked nine batters over 9.1 innings.

The reports Collins is getting from Triple-A Las Vegas have not been encouraging. First, there was Wheeler’s blister problem, followed by his control. When Wheeler was optioned in spring training, he said he was told to concentrate on is his control.

However, concentrating on his control and getting command of it are two different things.

“What worries me the most is that he’s not pounding the strike zone,’’ Collins said. “We’ve got to have some strikes out of him because his stuff is going to play. If he’s in the strike zone, you’d be surprised at the outs because his stuff is just that good.’’

Then again, when he’s out of the strike zone it doesn’t matter how good his stuff is.