Apr 07

Early Impressions Of Mets Have Been Good

It’s always fun to examine the first impressions of a new season.

For example, it is safe to say John Buck will not finish with 292 RBI. However, you might get interesting odds if you believe the 4-2 Mets will continue their pace and outplay the 2-4 Yankees.

That being said, the measuring stick for success or failure is their starting pitching. If they get innings it keeps them in games and the bullpen off the mound.

DAVIS: Some anguish there/

DAVIS: Some anguish there

There’s absolutely no way the starters will continue with a 1.41 ERA, but if the front end of Jon Niese, Matt Harvey and Dillon Gee produce, and they get something from the back end, they’ll remain competitive.

However, if the starters run into stretches where they are batted around, it exposes the bullpen, which has been tested and performed well twice and poorly twice.

The most important start of the season was Jeremy Hefner as a replacement for Johan Santana. Currently, he’s the fourth starter, and Sunday’s starter, Aaron Laffey, is the fifth. A week in and already the Mets have two holes in the rotation. I have no expectations of Shaun Marcum.

The bullpen was on Saturday and Sunday. Scott Rice is a good story, but there’s a reason he’s bounced around. This is a make-or-break year for Bobby Parnell. I have confidence in Josh Edgin, but little in LaTroy Hawkins. Scott Atchison was superb Sunday.

GM Sandy Alderson has spent two years trying to build a bullpen and he might have to do it again.

Alderson is adamant about not rushing Zack Wheeler, and evidenced by him getting hit hard last week, that’s the smart call. However, it’s easy to say that now, but let’s see what happens if the back end of the rotation becomes a black hole.

One thing for certain is the injured Jenrry Mejia isn’t in the plan – as a starter or reliever. The way the Mets jerked him around might have irreparably damaged his career.

Offensively, two things always jump out: 1) their high propensity for striking out, and 2) long stretches of not hitting with runners in scoring position. Both have already come into play.

They’ve homered in each game, but that won’t continue, although the potential for greater power production is realistic.

Buck has been the best story, but let’s be honest, if he continues to be good and the Mets fade, teams will be calling for him by the July 31 trade deadline. By that time, Travis d’Arnaud could be here. In a perfect world, the Mets would continue to play well and d’Arnaud could be Buck’s caddy for half the season.

David Wright had three hits Saturday to break out of a dry stretch, but has yet to homer. He’s hit 30 before, but if he doesn’t and still drives in runs and has a high OPS, we shouldn’t worry about him. Wright has the same number of strikeouts as walks (4), which in today’s game is acceptable. As long as he has a high on-base percentage (.455 now), there’s no reason for concern.

The guy I wonder about is Ike Davis, who had two hits Saturday to get out of a 1-for-16 slide. Davis, with one homer, has a tendency to go into prolonged slumps. The red flag with him is he has more than twice as many strikeouts (7) to hits (3) and a .273 on-base percentage. Davis had a miserable first half last season and you must consider if his slow start is making him wonder.

So far, the most encouraging sign about Lucas Duda is he has more walks than strikeouts and a .500 on-base percentage. He’s staying within himself and if he continues to be selective, he’ll get his pitch to hit.

Daniel Murphy, despite not having much of spring training, is driving the ball. Murphy is strong, and I wonder if he concentrated more on turning on the pitch if he’d hit for more power. Wade Boggs always said he could hit a lot of home runs if he wanted. The same went with Tony Gwynn. Murphy isn’t in either class, but is a contact hitter.

If there’s been one disappointment it has been Ruben Tejada, who’s especially struggling with the glove.

The major offensive concern was the outfield, but so far it hasn’t been a problem. Collin Cowgill has hit for power, Duda has been on base and Marlon Byrd has been hitting. Mike Baxter reached base three times Saturday and should get a longer look in the leadoff spot, as that remains unsettled.

The Mets are playing better than expected, but the same cracks that haunted them in the past are still evident. After a week, yes, there is the potential for a long summer. But, also the potential for some fun.

Apr 06

Mets Looking For Breakout Game From Offense

Nobody expected the Mets to be an offensive juggernaut, and scoring 19 runs in the first two games should have done nothing to change that impression. Certainly the last two games proved it.

They scored five runs last night, but by that time the game had already been decided.

Manager Terry Collins is hoping for a breakout game today against the Marlins.

“We’ve got a couple guys, hopefully they’re gonna start breaking out of it here pretty soon,’’ Collins said.

The Mets’ hottest hitter has been John Buck (7-for-17). David Wright and Daniel Murphy are each 3-for-14 and Ike Davis is a frigid 1-for-16.

The Mets have homered in each of the first four games, with Buck leading with two. The long-time problem of hitting with runners in scoring position has raised its ugly head as they are 2-16 in the last two games after going 10-19 in the first two. They left 12 runners on last night after leaving 16 in the first three games.

Apr 06

Lineup Changes For Mets Against Marlins

Terry Collins put together an interesting lineup for this afternoon’s game against Miami Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco.

Collins promised to get starts for outfielders Mike Baxter and Kirk Nieuwenhuis and both are starting today, with Marlon Byrd and Collin Cowgill sitting. It the second straight game in which Cowgill is on the bench.

Somewhat surprising is John Buck  again behind the plate. The reasoning is he’s probably a better fit with Jon Niese. Anthony Recker could start Sunday.

Here’s the lineup:

Mike Baxter, RF: Gets his first start of the season, and in right field as expected. However, I didn’t expect to see him leading off.

Daniel Murphy, 2B: Hit a three-run homer yesterday. Still hitting second, and is doing it behind his third different leadoff hitter. With his patience, he’ll stay here for a while. Last night was his first homer; he didn’t get his first last year until June 27.

David Wright, 3B: Still looking for his first homer. Hitting .397 with six career homers and 17 RBI against Miami starter Ricky Nolasco.

Ike Davis, 1B: Is off to a miserable start and takes a 1-for-16 slide into the game. Overall is hitting .067 with one homer and two RBI. Is also hitting a dismal .167 (1-7) with runners in scoring position.

John Buck, C: Mets hottest hitter at .412, two homers and five RBI. Moved up to fifth to hit between strikeout prone Davis and Lucas Duda. For the second time this week is catching in a day game after a night game.

Lucas Duda, LF: Showed last night he’s still a weakness with the glove. He needs to hit more to compensate. Is batting .273 with one homer and three RBI. A positive so far is he’s working the count and taking some walks.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis, CF: Is getting his first start of the season. That he’s not leading off indicates Mets remain wary of his high strikeout totals and low on-base percentage. To get in the starting lineup he needs to get on base.

Ruben Tejada, SS: Has three errors in four games, and should have been charged with another last night when he dropped a ball trying to make a tag on a steal attempt. Throwing error last night opened door for Marlins’ five-run seventh inning. Is hitting better than his fielding, but is only at .231.

Jon Niese, LHP: In ten career starts against the Marlins, is 2-5 with a 4.60 ERA. Is coming off a strong Opening Day performance against San Diego.

Apr 06

Niese Must Grasp Role As No. 1 Starter

By definition, Jon Niese is correct, he is not a No. 1 pitcher, an ace if you will. However, in relation to his status on the Mets, he is the man.

There is no denying Niese’s importance, but his designation of being the leader of the staff should be emphasized more today against Miami than in the status of an Opening Day starter. After two victories to open the season, the Mets have dropped two in a row, and have not looked good in the process.

NIESE: Announcing his presence with authority.

NIESE: Announcing his presence with authority.

Today, the Mets need Niese to stop the losing. That’s the primary goal of a stopper. That’s what staff leaders do.

“As far as leading the staff, I really don’t want to fulfill that role,’’ Niese said. “Everybody, all the guys in the rotation, have something different to offer.

“So I’m willing to learn from them, and I’m sure they’re willing to learn from me. We all have a job to do. Each one of us has a different way of going about it.’’

I can’t buy for a second Niese doesn’t want that role or responsibility. He’s a competitor; you see that every time he pitches. Saying that gives the perception of him willing to be complacent with what he’s achieved, and his 13 career-high victories in not where he wants to peak.

Let’s give Niese the benefit of doubt and say it’s modesty or a reflection of his demeanor. He’s quiet, he’s modest, there doesn’t appear to be a brash bone in his body. But, he’s not a pushover on the mound who easily caves in to the hitter.

Niese wants that role, and manager Terry Collins indicated as much when he told him he would be the Opening Day starter almost a month ago.

“[Niese] said, `All right!’ That means he wanted it bad,’’ Collins recalled. “He got himself ready for it, for sure. He pitched a great game.’’

Niese held San Diego to two runs on four hits and two walks in 6.2 innings. He also had two hits himself.

“I’m not going to lie,’’ Niese said. “The adrenaline was pumping.’’

Catcher John Buck said Niese was easy to catch as everything fell into place for him.

“He had a good two-seamer going. His cutter in was working well for him,’’ Buck said. “So he was spreading the plate really well. And then that curveball, obviously, is a weapon to have with two strikes.’’

No. 1 starters don’t want to leave games. They want to start what they finish. Niese has gone the distance, but knows there have been too many times when he exits with the game still in the balance. That has to stop this year, says Niese, in acknowledging how he must continue to grow.

“I think last year was kind of a year where I kind of hit that sixth inning and had 95 pitches and they kind of shut me down,’’ said Niese, who pleaded for an extra inning and finished with 101. “I think this year I want to be that guy who goes back out and finishes my starts.’’

That won’t happen if Niese hits 100 in the seventh. He needs to be more efficient with his pitches. Too often he’ll work deep into the count, throwing four or five pitches to a hitter.

One less pitch to a hitter could mean two more innings. And, in their minds, staff leaders can’t throw enough innings.

Apr 05

Mets Waste Jeremy Hefner’s Effort

The Mets (2-2) received their fourth straight solid outing from the rotation, but Jeremy Hefner’s effort was wasted as the offense disappeared and the bullpen was hit hard for the second time in four games in tonight’s 7-5 loss to Miami. The Mets have lost two straight after opening the season with two victories over San Diego. Miami won for the first time.

MURPHY: Homered.

MURPHY: Homered.

ON THE MOUND:  Hefner surrendered a homer to Greg Dobbs, the only run he allowed in six innings. The Mets will take that every time. What they can’t accept was what the bullpen combination of Greg Burke and Scott Rice did, giving up four runs on three hits and a walk in the five-run seventh inning to break the game open. … Overall, the Mets’ pen gave up six runs.

AT THE PLATE:  Jordany Valdespin started in center and at the leadoff position and singled. He was also picked off first base. … Daniel Murphy hit a three-run homer in the seventh. … Ike Davis has started the season on a 1-for-16 slide. … The Mets stranded 12 runners.

IN THE FIELD:  Sparkling plays by David Wright and Ruben Tejada. Few make the barehanded scoop-and-throw as well as Wright. … Tejada made a costly throwing error that opened the door to the Marlins’ five-run seventh. It was his third in four games.

METS MUSINGS: Shaun Marcum was scheduled to return to Port St. Lucie and will be shut down for a couple of days. Don’t expect to see him any time soon. … Look for Anthony Recker to start in place of John Buck tomorrow afternoon.

ON DECK: Saturday, RHP Ricky Nolasco vs. LHP Jon Niese, 1:10 p.m., SNY/WFAN