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.

Apr 24

Mets Bail Out Harvey On Valdespin’s Slam

Matt Harvey’s anointment to superstar status must wait another start or two, if not another year or so. Harvey struggled Wednesday night, but was saved from his first loss of the season on David Wright’s two-out RBI single in the ninth. The Mets went on to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers, 7-3, in 10 innings on Jordany Valdespin’s grand slam off Josh Wall. It was the Mets’ sixth walk-off grand slam in franchise history and first since Kevin McReynolds in 1991 (from Elias).

VALDESPIN: Knows it is gone. (AP)

VALDESPIN: Knows it is gone. (AP)

ON THE MOUND: Harvey wasn’t sharp as he gave up three runs on four hits and a walk with seven strikeouts in six innings. It was a quality start by definition, but Harvey would say it was not. … The Dodgers broke through in the first on back-to-back singles by Mark Ellis and Adrian Gonzalez and Matt Kemp’s groundout. … After the Mets tied it in the fifth on Ruben Tejada’s single, the Dodgers regained the lead on Kemp’s two-run homer in the sixth on a play that required instant replay.

AT THE PLATE: The Mets won it in the 10th against Wall on John Buck’s leadoff single, a walk to Ike Davis and Marlon Byrd’s sacrifice. Then, after an intentional walk to Lucas Duda, Valdespin went deep. “He seems to relish these moments,’’ manager Terry Collins said of Valdespin. … Mike Baxter doubled in the ninth off Brandon League, took third on Tejada’s sacrifice and scored on Wright’s single to right-center. … Harvey doubled and scored on Tejada’s single in the fifth, but the threat died when Davis struck out with runners on first and second. … Justin Turner, batting for Harvey in the sixth, hit a sacrifice fly. … The Mets stranded nine runners and went 3-for-14 with runners in scoring position.

METS MATTERS: Collins is concerned with lefty reliever Josh Edgin, who has a 10.80 ERA in 10 appearances and could be optioned to Triple-A Las Vegas when Shaun Marcum is activated from the disabled list Saturday. … Jon Niese, who took a hard comebacker off his right ankle Tuesday, still hopes to start Sunday against Philadelphia even if he skips his bullpen Thursday. Niese said he might do a light session Friday. … Valdespin’s slam was the Mets’ third of the season (Collin Cowgill and Buck had the others). … The Mets improved to 1-1 in extra-innings.

BY THE NUMBERS: 17. At the end of spring training Collins expressed a desire to keep a set lineup. Last night he wrote his 17th different batting order in 19 games. So much for continuity.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “The way Baxter took second, at that moment I knew we’d win the game,’’ Harvey said of Baxter hustling for a double in the ninth and scoring the tying run.

ALL-STAR GAME: Major League Baseball announced the start of All-Star voting early Wednesday. By game time there were already scoreboard promos to vote for Buck and other Mets. … FanFest will be July 12-16 at the Jacob Javits Center.

ON DECK: Dodgers lefthander Hyun-Jin Ryu (2-1, 4.01) vs. Jeremy Hefner (0-2, 7.07) tomorrow afternoon in the series finale. The Phillies come in Friday to start a weekend series.

Apr 24

Jon Niese Hoping For The Best After Ankle Injury

It is the morning after and the Mets will hopefully know more about Jon Niese’s injured right ankle. Niese was knocked from Tuesday night’s 7-2 loss to the Dodgers in the third inning after being struck by a hard comebacker off the bat of Mark Ellis.

Niese fell to the ground and had to be helped off the field. X-Rays were negative and he was diagnosed with a bruise.

NIESE: Will he make next start? (Getty)

NIESE: Will he make next start? (Getty)

“It felt kind of like a stinger, like it hit a nerve,’’ Niese told reporters. “It obviously was painful. But then it kind of locked up down there. I couldn’t move my toes. It was kind of scary at first. But then, coming in here, letting it settle down, it’s just a bruise.

“What are the odds that ball hits my ankle? It’s one of those things where I’m glad it’s not as bad as what it could have been. I’ll just move on, shake it off and get ready for my next start.’’

Niese did not say where he earned his medical degree, but knows he won’t be sure until he tests it on his throw day Thursday.

The right ankle is Niese’s landing foot and if he feels any sharp bursts on pain then, he will likely be scratched from his scheduled start Sunday against Philadelphia.

“Certainly the fear was as soon as he couldn’t move his foot … [it] was a bad sign for us,’’ manager Terry Collins said. “Obviously, he’s fine. He’s walking around. He’s getting better as the night goes along. So he’ll be OK. He shouldn’t miss a start.’’

Not known is the number of times Collins has said after an injury that a pitcher won’t miss a start or throw day, but he did.

Whatever the number, bet the over. Also, bet the worse when it comes to Mets’ pitching injuries.

Thinking along those lines, the Mets will have to scramble to find a starter to replace Niese if he can’t go. Aaron Laffey, who was designated for assignment to make room for Robert Carson, was signed by Toronto.

The Mets are adamant about not going to Zack Wheeler, saying he’s not ready, and his control supports their worries.

Next up from Triple-A Las Vegas will be Collin McHugh, who was 0-4 with a 7.59 ERA in eight appearances. However, his Vegas numbers of 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA in four starts indicate he’s pitching better.

Chris Schwinden at 2-2 is also available and pitched for the Mets last season.

The Mets could also decide to dip down to Double-A Binghamton for Rafael Montero, who is 3-0 with a 1.59 in four starts.

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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