Apr 23

Jon Niese Leaves Game With Leg Injury

Jon Niese left tonight’s game in the third inning after taking a hard ground ball on the inside of this right ankle off the bat of Mark Ellis.

Niese was not effective in his brief outing, giving up a run on three hits and three walks with 54 pitches in 2.1 innings.

The Mets announced he has a contusion on his leg and X-Rays were negative. It is not known if Niese will be able to make his next start, which would be Sunday against Philadelphia at Citi Field.

Niese was replaced by Robert Carson.

Apr 23

John Buck: From Trade Bait To Indispensable?

Several times this season John Buck’s fast start fueled speculation that with Travis d’Arnaud’s promotion the Mets might deal him at the trade deadline.

After all, who doesn’t want a hot-hitting catcher who calls a crisp game behind the plate? Most every team would and that includes the Mets, who, along with Buck exceeded early expectations.

BUCK: Proving very valuable.

BUCK: Proving very valuable.

It’s not as if Buck has gone from trade bait to indispensable, but he isn’t going anywhere any time soon. And, that has more to do than with d’Arnaud’s broken foot that will keep him out for two months. Buck is simply the Mets’ best offensive weapon and has been solid behind the plate, drawing raves from Matt Harvey and Jon Niese.

However, manager Terry Collins said it best: “John Buck seems to be in the middle of everything that’s good right now.’’

Buck homered in the Mets’ 2-0 victory over Washington Sunday, a comprehensive display of the fastest start of his career. There was the homer, giving him seven and a league-high 22 RBI, but also his defense and the game he called for Dillon Gee.

The Mets’ pride is their young pitchers, and Buck could be the same steading influence Jerry Grote once was to Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Jon Matlack.

Harvey has been the darling at 4-0 and a sub-1.00 ERA, swears by Buck. There’s no way the Mets break up that duo.

Harvey said he’s shaken off Buck maybe five or six times this year ins describing the same instinctual chemistry a quarterback would have with his best receiver.

“He already knows what’s coming,’’ Harvey said. “It’s really fun every time I take the mound and see him back there. It’s just positive energy. It’s more fuel.’’

It’s not luck or coincidence that has Buck putting down the correct fingers. It’s the culmination of hard work spent in the first nine years of his career. He keeps copious notes on his pitchers and opposing hitters, and they complement the game plan drawn up by pitching coach Dan Warthen.

On the day of the game Buck meets early with Warthen and the pitcher to go over the scouting reports and film. Later, he’ll meet with the pitcher privately. However, he talks to all the pitchers throughout the week, not just on the days they start. The communication is constantly flowing.

Harvey said Buck’s preparation is inspirational to the point where he’ll incorporate what he’s learned throughout his career.

“He knows what the hitters are going to do,’’ said Harvey. “The studying that he does and the video that he watches and the plan that he comes up with for each individual pitcher, it’s something that I’m learning still. And it’s awesome.’’

Buck and d’Arnaud’s lockers were side-by-side in spring training, and it wasn’t by accident, either.

“I like to pick his brain,’’ d’Arnaud said this spring. “He’s very easy to talk with and I’ve learned a lot from being around him.’’

Buck said in spring training he understood he was brought here to help d’Arnaud and that attitude hasn’t changed despite the latter’s injury. It’s not as if when he heard the news he moved out of his apartment and bought a house.

“My stance is still the same,’’ Buck said. “I truly feel if I do good, then he does good. I’ve been around too much to take positive thoughts out of something bad happening to someone else. … Until someone tells me otherwise, I’ll just keep going about my business.’’

Nobody will be telling Buck otherwise any time soon.

Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Apr 22

Parnell Must Stay As Closer When Francisco Returns

Most everything about the Mets these days is about the future. From Matt Harvey, to extending David Wright, to the trade of R.A. Dickey and protecting Zack Wheeler, we’re talking about 2014 and beyond.

Sure, it would be great to compete now, but 2013 is mostly for establishing the foundation. It is the development of Harvey and Jon Niese; giving Wheeler major league experience – while avoiding free agency for a year – and hope Ike Davis and Lucas Duda improve their offensive efficiency while still producing power.

PARNELL: Don't mess with him now.

PARNELL: Don’t mess with him now.

This trend should extend to the bullpen, where Bobby Parnell, despite limited save opportunities, has performed in the role that should hopefully define his career.

Manager Terry Collins told Parnell at the beginning of spring training he would be the closer if Frank Francisco were not ready. Collins should pull Parnell aside tomorrow at Citi Field – today is an off-day – and tell him he’ll have the job when Francisco returns.

Parnell spit the bit on previous chances, but is grasping the brass ring now. And, tightly. Parnell struck out two Washington Nationals in a perfect ninth Sunday to earn his second save of the season. Parnell is following up last year’s strong second half with a blistering start.

He has a strong traditional statistic in a 1.35 ERA – mostly overrated for relievers – with an even stronger new wave stat of a 0.45 WHIP.  He’s given up three hits and a run in 6.2 innings. He’s been virtually untouchable.

More to the point, he’s pitching the way the way the Mets always hoped.

Collins and GM Sandy Alderson saw that coming at the end of 2012, when with Francisco on the disabled list, Parnell went 3-1 with a 0.96 ERA and paltry .196 opponent’s batting average in 17 appearances.

The Mets might feel obligated to return Francisco to the closer role based on his $6.5-million salary, but they need to resist that temptation. It is not an obligation to return Francisco to the closer role, especially because it is anticipated he will not be re-signed this winter.

If Francisco were in the Mets’ future plans, I might think differently. Parnell, however, is expected to be here next season and beyond. The Mets – namely Jerry Manuel – have jerked around Parnell to the point of messing with his confidence. They must not do it again by changing his role.

Perhaps this is nothing more than a hot stretch for Parnell; perhaps it is the beginning of something special. We need the time to see.

We don’t know to what degree Parnell will develop. What we do know is Francisco will not be here next year and Parnell will. Parnell must stay in the closer role, and remain there in good times and in bad.

That’s the way to build for the future, which is now for Parnell.

Apr 22

Collins Won’t Bat Duda Cleanup

lucas duda

After last night’s invigorating 2-0 shutout victory over the Nationals. Terry Collins said  he would not move Lucas Duda from the No. 6 slot to the cleanup spot in the batting order.

Despite Ike Davis’ Feats of Strength (I thought Festivus was in December) on Friday night when he and Duda each slugged a pair of home runs, the first baseman has gone 0-for-8 with four more strikeouts since, and continues to kill the team batting cleanup and posting a .167/.214/.323 slash in 60 at-bats. To put that into perspective, Marlon Byrd, Collin Cowgill and Jon Niese all have better slugging percentages. Get the picture? He’s even worse against lefthanded pitching which begs the question, when will the Mets realize he’s just a platoon player at best?

Back to Duda, remember all through spring and even just last week I spoke about what a huge role confidence is playing in the left fielder’s metamorphosis?

Here is what I wrote on Saturday:

Duda has been a revelation so far even though it’s still early. Knowing that Duda is so sensitive and shies away from any interview requests, I believe that he’s too tough on himself. He lacks the confidence that a big guy like himself should have. Once he starts to taste a little of that confidence, it takes a hold of him and his play improves dramatically.

We got to see him and spoke to Wally Backman about him last season after he was demoted. Duda was isolated from his teammates and would sit and sulk before and after games. He took the demotion hard and for a guy who had little confidence in himself to begin with, the fact that the team lost confidence him too sent him reeling.

However something happened this winter. When he hurt himself lifting furniture, it led to him reporting to St. Lucie a month early to work exclusively with Dave Hudgens. 30 days of exclusive one-on-one training and confidence boosting. When camp officially broke, Duda was transformed and bursting with confidence again. Duda was doing interviews, laughing, and having fun. He has reinvented himself and I credit the Mets hitting coach for what we are seeing so far.

Here is what Terry Collins had to say about Duda after the game:

“This game is all about confidence,” Collins said. “Lucas Duda is feeling pretty good. I don’t want to change that. One thing I don’t want to do right now is put him in a situation where he thinks he’s got to do more than he’s doing at this particular moment.

Collins gets it. Yes, Duda is leading the league with a .475 on-base percentage. And yes, his .659 slugging percentage is second only to John Buck. And yes, his 1.135 OPS leads the Mets. If it were anyone else, but Duda I’d say put him in the cleanup spot. But it is Duda, and we should leave well enough alone – at least for the time being. Let him keep building up that confidence, and let’s check back at the end of May.

Apr 18

A Rocky Series Comes To End After 11-3 Mauling

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The road trip that began with a stumble in Philadelphia mercifully ended with a fall this afternoon in freezing Denver. The Mets left Citi Field at 4-2 and will arrive home tomorrow at 7-7. After losing two of three to the Phillies, the Mets won two in Minnesota in brutal conditions, then lost three games in Colorado, including today’s 11-3 mauling of Jon Niese, and of course, the bullpen.

ON THE MOUND:

Niese was not effective, and in his worst start of the season gave up three runs on nine hits and a walk in six innings. Technically, that’s a quality start, but Niese would agree that it was not. The Rockies ripped the Mets’ pen for six runs after two outs in the seventh. For the series, the bullpen gave up 18 runs on 22 hits in 11 innings.

AT THE PLATE:

David Wright went 2-for-3 with two RBI. The top three in the order, Jordany Valdespin, Daniel Murphy and Wright each had two hits. The Mets had eight total. … Ike Davis went 1-for-4 to raise his average to .146. No, they did not stop the game to give him the ball after the hit. … Since his grand slam last Friday in Minnesota, John Buck has gone 2-for-16.

METS MUSINGS:

Matt Harvey wasn’t around to watch the carnage as he took an early flight to New York in preparation for Friday’s start against the Washington Nationals.

Frank Francisco pitched a scoreless inning Wednesday night in a rehab assignment. There is no timetable for his return.

Terry Collins said not to expect any prospect be brought up soon.

Shaun Marcum threw 41 pitches today in an extended spring training game today in Port St. Lucie. He was scheduled to throw 65 pitches. Collins said Marcum must throw 90 pitches in five days, and then possibly another game before he’s activated. The Mets aren’t scheduled to need a fifth starter until April 27.

Lucas Duda did not play because of tightness in his back. The Mets wouldn’t say if he would be available Friday.

Lefty reliever Josh Edgin gave up two runs and has been hit for six in his last two appearances.

Triple-A catcher Travis d’Arnaud will be in New York Friday to have his broken left foot examined. GM Sandy Alderson said he doesn’t know if surgery will be required. That should be determined tomorrow.

ON DECK:

The Mets are home Friday to start a three-game series against Washington, beginning with the marquee match-up of Harvey against Stephen Strasburg.