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

 

Apr 30

David Wright Questionable For Tonight

The bad news about the Mets keeps getting worse. David Wright, who was supposed to rest his stiff neck last night, was used as a pinch-hitter and now he’s questionable for tonight’s game at Miami,

While it is conjecture Wright might have done something to aggravate his condition, the question can’t help be asked. Seriously, is winning a game in April worth losing Wright for a period of time? That’s the perception today and considering the Mets’ history in handling injuries, it is warranted.

WRIGHT: Questionable for tonight vs. Marlins.

WRIGHT: Questionable for tonight vs. Marlins.

The Mets played fast and loose with injuries to Carlos Beltran, Ryan Church, Pedro Martinez, Johan Santana and Wright in the past several times only to have it come back to bite them. Perhaps I am being an alarmist, but following the Mets does that to a person.

“I would say it’s better now than it was when I woke up this morning, which is a good thing,’’ Wright told reporters in Miami after the Mets’ 15-inning loss to the Marlins. “So I think the treatment that I got on it during the day helped and was beneficial. I’ll wake up tomorrow and see how it feels. I’d like to play as soon as possible, so we’ll see.’’

That the Mets used Wright when they didn’t only indicates the panic mode the team – and manager Terry Collins? – must be in with their losing streak now at five.

The Mets’ heretofore lousy bullpen blew two leads last night. Sure, it is semantics to say Shaun Marcum is a reliever, but he was used in that role. First Bobby Parnell, who had been the Mets’ only reliable reliever, and then Marcum.

Blame the pen if you want, but the Mets went 1-for-18 with runners in scoring position and left 14 runners.

Compounding matters, the Mets not only wasted numerous opportunities to win the game, but squandered a Matt Harvey outing, one in which he threw 121 pitches to boot.

The Mets can’t afford to waste games pitched by Harvey and Jon Niese, but that’s what they’ve done the last two times through the rotation with them, winning only Harvey’s no-decision last Wednesday against the Dodgers.

While not as bad as it was for a month stretch last summer, the Mets’ offense is in tatters.

* Ike Davis struck out three more times last night and is on pace to fan 196 times this season. That’s more than once a game. He has more strikeouts (29) than walks (12) and hits (13) combined, and there are no signs of him breaking out of his funk.

* Speaking of funks, after hitting over .300 for most of April, Daniel Murphy is on a 5-for-31 slide (.161 average with only one walk in that span).

* Wright’s on-base percentage is up, but needs to produce more than two homers and 19 RBI.

* Overall, the Mets have scored just ten runs in their last five games, and on the season have scored four or fewer runs in 13 of 25 games. They are averaging 8.5 strikeouts per game.