May 12

Mets Waste Another Matt Harvey Start

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METS CAN’T AFFORD TO WASTE HARVEY (AP)

Terry Collins said the Mets are a different team with Matt Harvey, and that he gives them a presence a chance to win once every five days.

That makes it is especially troubling when they waste one of his starts, as they did in Sunday’s 3-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Harvey, who flirted with perfection in his previous start Tuesday against the White Sox, has given up two runs over 16 innings in his last two games. After winning his first four starts, he’s had four no-decisions in his last four, giving up just five runs.

“He did his job,’’ Collins said of Harvey. “He can’t do the hitting for us. We needed him to take us deep into the game and that’s what he did. Matt did exactly what we wanted.’’

In defeat, the Mets lost three of four to Pittsburgh – a team they thought they should to beat, or at least compete against – and finished their homestand 2-4. They didn’t score more than three runs in any game of the homestand, and scored four or fewer runs in 15 of their last 17 games.

Since beating the Dodgers, April 24, the Mets have gone from 10-9 to 14-20. The Mets will try to get better Monday when they begin a four-game series at St. Louis, which has the best record in the National League.

RECORD/STANDINGS: 14-20, 4th place NL East.

ON THE MOUND: Harvey did not have his best stuff, but gave up only two runs on five hits in seven innings. He walked two, but struck out a season-low four. It was still a quality start, and one the Mets would take every time.

“That’s what we’re going to come to expect from that guy,’’ Collins said.

The Mets’ bullpen wasn’t able to pick up Harvey, with the Collins inexplicably letting lefthander Scott Rice in to walk Andrew McCutchen with one out in the eighth.

AT THE PLATE: Collins juggled his batting order once again, making it 30 different lineups in 34 games. For the first time this season he had Ike Davis and Lucas Duda back-to-back. He said he’ll leave it that way for the immediate future.

Duda homered, but Davis continued to give them nothing, striking out two more times, including taking three miserable swings on balls out of the strike zone with one out and the tying run on third in the eighth.

THEY SAID IT: “It was a disappointing at-bat for him,’’ Collins said of Davis’ strikeout in the eighth.

BY THE NUMBERS: 28: Strikeouts by Mets’ hitters the past two games.

ON DECK: Jeremy Hefner (0-4), Dillon Gee (2-4), Shaun Marcum (0-3) and Jon Niese (2-4) is the schedule rotation as the Mets begin a four-game series Monday in St. Louis. That’s a combined 4-15 before Harvey starts again.

Following the Cardinals, the Mets have a three-game series at Wrigley Field before three games each against Cincinnati and four against the Yankees.

May 11

Jon Niese’s Injury-Related Bad Habits Root To Rout

Including today’s 11-2 flameout loss to Pittsburgh, the Mets have lost Jon Niese’s last five starts, with him giving up 22 runs and not getting out of the fifth inning in three of them. He has not come close to resembling what the Mets think he should be, and that’s the No. 1 starter in their rotation.

The first game in that slide, April 18 at Colorado, and the one preceding it, April 12, at Minnesota, were played in temperatures in the high 20s. Manager Terry Collins said the cold might have had a residual effect on Niese. Niese beat the Twins, but was given double-digit runs of support.

“I think there might be. He’s had some stiffness in his back,’’ Collins said when asked if there is a connection between working in the cold and his following ineffectiveness. “He’s had trouble getting loose and (prior to his May 5 start at Atlanta) he didn’t have a good bullpen session.’’

The only thing surprising about this issue with Niese is the injury wasn’t worse and there haven’t been more weather-related injuries. This has always been one of my pet peeves about playing in lousy weather. The owners have such steep investments in their players, and yet they have no qualms about playing games in precarious conditions. This is also an issue the Major League Baseball Players Association has glossed over. Playing conditions have never been high on the MLBPA’s pecking order in negotiating with the owners.

It’s usually about money and drug testing, but working conditions somehow get ignored.

Niese, who gave up eight runs in 4.1 innings today, said to compensate for the soreness and stiffness he developed the bad habit of dropping his arm angle during his release. Consequently, hitters have been able to pick up the ball out of his hand earlier.

“I think it’s to the point now where I created a bad habit with dropping down my arm angle, and I’m kind of opening everything up,’’ Niese said, adding he wasn’t bothered by pain today. “It’s something I’m going to work on in the bullpen to get it back.’’

Niese said there’s no deception in his delivery and hitters aren’t chasing the pitchers they normally might. They are able to pick up his release point earlier, and that split second makes a tremendous difference to the hitters.

Niese is hopeful of working his release point issue out in the bullpen this week before making Thursday’s start in St. Louis against Adam Wainwright.

May 09

Mets Shouldn’t Even Think Of Extending Ike Davis

During the offseason and in spring training I wrote in the interest of financial certainty, that the Mets should consider signing Ike Davis to a long-term contract as to bypass his arbitration years.

After 32 homers last season because of a strong second half, I thought Davis might be a keeper and they should do for him what they did for Jon Niese and David Wright. Lock up your investments early to keep them out of arbitration and the free-agent market is sound business. Lots of teams sign their can’t-miss youth at prices they can control in the future. In 2006, the Mets did it with Jose Reyes and Wright.

DAVIS: Another stroll to the dugout. (AP)

DAVIS: Another stroll to the dugout. (AP)

Only problem is Davis isn’t a can’t miss, but a swing-and-a-miss.

When he first arrived, Davis showed great power potential, but also was able to be selective and go to the opposite field. He showed an ability to act like a hitter. He did it the other night when he drew a walk in the tenth inning and scored the winning run in the Matt Harvey game.

“In that situation the pitcher knows the batter will be trying to hit it out of the park,’’ manager Terry Collins said. “He’ll be trying to get the batter to chase after a bad pitch, but Ike resisted.’’

It was a good piece of hitting, but one we’ve not often seen from Davis, who tries to go for the homer, even on pitches low and away.

Davis’ slow start should definitely cause the Mets to resist the temptation of signing him to a multi-year extension. Davis is hitting a paltry .170 with a .270 on-base percentage. He already has 35 strikeouts with just 17 hits and 13 walks. He has four homers and eight RBI.

None of those numbers warrant giving Davis an extension, or even thinking of it.

We know Davis has the potential to hit 32 homers because he’s already done it. However, whatever run production Davis is capable of providing isn’t worth his 186 projected strikeouts. Davis said earlier this spring that “I’m a home run hitter and strikeouts are going to happen,’’ which illustrates a refusal to work on the finer points of hitting.

That sizes up Davis in one short, compact stroke, something we don’t see from him at the plate.

Mechanically he’s a mess, with a dramatic hitch and propensity for lunging at pitches. His mental approach is much worse. You just have to watch a few at-bats to know he has no plan or patience at the plate. Davis is supposed to be a young lion, a future face of the franchise, but they are already starting to pinch-hit for him.

For this, any talk of a long-term deal is not only premature, but absurd.

Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

 

May 05

Niese’s Struggles Continue; Mets Have Lost His Last Four Starts

There will be days like today, where the meltdown is complete in all phases, beginning with Jon Niese’s inability to get hitters out, an offense offering little resistance to Tim Hudson, and a porous defense.

NIESE: Didn't have it. (AP)

NIESE: Didn’t have it. (AP)

It’s not alarming the Mets couldn’t do anything to Hudson, but what should be a source of concern is Niese, who was hit hard in his fourth straight start – all lost by the Mets, today 9-4 at Turner Field.

Manager Terry Collins said Niese was too strong and overthrew his pitches, leading to his lack of control. Collins gave his pitcher an out, but Niese didn’t take it, saying he can’t afford to have games like this.

ON THE MOUND: Niese gave up seven runs on seven hits and six walks in four innings, and has been rocked for 14 runs in his last four starts, totaling 19 innings. One of those games was April 23, when he took a hard comebacker off his right ankle and lasted 2.1 innings. With Saturday’s rainout and tomorrow’s off day, the four innings worked by the bullpen shouldn’t be too taxing.

AT THE PLATE: David Wright had two hits, including another homer. That’s three in three days. … Mets had a chance in the eighth inning, but Marlon Byrd struck out swinging on a pitch that would have been ball four to end the inning.

IN THE FIELD: The official scorer was kind to the Mets, giving hits on balls misplayed by Lucas Duda and Wright. … John Buck failed to block two pitches in the dirt.

HARVEY PUSHED BACK: With Niese’s start rained out Saturday, Collins had the option of going with Niese, or starting Matt Harvey on normal rest. However, with Harvey throwing 121 pitches in his last start, Collins opted for extra rest, which was the right call. Harvey will start Tuesday against the White Sox. “You try to keep them as prepared as you can,’’ Collins said. “I don’t like it. That’s one of the issues we’ve talked about. We talked about it on the road trip in Colorado. This game is about routines and repetitions. When you get these guys out of these routines and their reps, it’s a problem.’’

BY THE NUMBERS: 6: Walks issued by Niese, tying a career high.

THEY SAID IT: “They were flat today.’’ – SNY analyst Ron Darling describing today’s loss that wasn’t as close as the score indicated.

ON DECK: The Mets are off Monday, and then open a two-game series Tuesday against the Chicago White Sox.

May 03

Shaun Marcum Has Chance To Make Amends

The first impression was not a good one for Shaun Marcum, but now he has the opportunity to make amends in a big way.

MARCUM: Gets the ball tonight. (AP)

MARCUM: Gets the ball tonight. (AP)

Marcum, signed to a free-agent contract last winter, did not report to spring training in good shape and tried to convince Terry Collins he only needed four exhibition starts instead of the normal six to get ready for the season. Marcum started the season on the disabled list, and his absence became a focal point as the back end of the Mets rotation became an issue.

Marcum wasn’t sparkling in his return, but with the Mets heading into a tailspin and in a marathon game Monday night in Miami, he volunteered to pitch in relief. He lost, but If nothing else, it caught the attention of his teammates. When reporters asked David Wright about pinch-hitting despite a stiff neck, he deflected the attention to Marcum.

“I would say Shaun Marcum was a much bigger situation, because you don’t see every day starting pitchers go down to the bullpen and kind of voluntarily want to do that to try to help us out,’’ Wright said. “That’s huge. All of us know how important wins are.’’

The Mets will give the ball to Marcum tonight in a place where wins have been scarce – Turner Field in Atlanta. Should he win, that would be two important outings in a week and could smooth over the poor first impression.

Marcum (0-2) said working in relief was akin to a between-starts bullpen workout, claiming the 28 pitches he threw Monday night were close to what he would have done in the bullpen.

“The bullpen was kind of running out there toward the end,’’ Marcum told reporters this week. “I told them if they needed me I was available and I’d be more than happy to go down there and give these guys whatever I had.’’

Marcum said the neck and shoulder pain that shelved him at the start of the season has dissipated, and he’s ready for tonight.

In looking at how he lost to the Marlins, Marcum said he made the pitches he wanted, but credited the hitters. That was another positive – no excuses.

“I made some pretty good pitches, especially when I went back and looked at the video,’’ Marcum said. “I guess you just tip your hat and move on.’’

The early pitching identity of the Mets has been good outings from Matt Harvey, decent starts from Jon Niese, and not much from the back end of the rotation. Jeremy Hefner’s last two starts have been good, and Dillon Gee has been erratic. It has added up to a lot of innings from the bullpen.

The Mets snapped a six-game losing streak Wednesday, but aren’t close to righting things. With Niese and Harvey working the last two games of this series, should Marcum give them a good game tonight, it could stabilize the pitching staff.

ON DECK: I’ll have a series preview against the Braves and the continuation of the Summer of 1973 Series.

Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos