Mar 17

Kirk Nieuwenhuis Having Miserable Spring; Vegas Bound

With two weeks to go before Opening Day, Kirk Nieuwenhuis should be thinking about where he would live in New York rather than Las Vegas.

Nieuwenhuis, who made a strong first impression with the Mets last year, came to camp penciled in as the center fielder and first in line to win the leadoff spot. However, a hitless streak at the start of the exhibition schedule punctuated with a rash of strikeouts followed by deep bone bruise on his left knee made this a washout spring.

NIEUWENHUIS: Taking that swing to Vegas.

NIEUWENHUIS: Taking that swing to Vegas.

It should be fun for a young player competing for a starting job.

“Fun?’’ Nieuwenhuis asked. “It should have been fun, but it’s no fun spending time in the trainer’s room. It’s no fun when you can’t get onto the field. This has been a very frustrating time.’’

Nieuwenhuis was injured two weeks ago, and yesterday participated in batting practice and outfield drills. Once he runs the bases, he’ll be cleared to play, but it will be a minor league game.

Perhaps early this week Nieuwenhuis will get in a game, but Collin Cowgill has already leaped past him as well as Jordany Valdespin. Matt den Dekker also made a strong impression defensively, and still has a chance to make the team if he finishes with a hot two weeks with the bat.

Nieuwenhuis doesn’t say it, but despite his youth and inexperience, he’s smart enough to know the score. All he has to do is look at the stat sheet and compare his at-bats to Cowgill’s.

“I haven’t seen a lot of pitches,’’ Nieuwenhuis said in about as direct an admission that he’ll open the season at Triple-A Las Vegas. “You need at-bats in spring training. You need repetition, and I haven’t gotten them.’’

Nieuwenhuis was brought up early last season after Andres Torres was injured and got two hits in his first game. Then he rattled off a seven-game hitting streak. Three times he had three hits in a game and at the end of April was hitting .325 with a .386 on-base percentage.

Nieuwenhuis remained productive in May – hitting .294 at the end of the month – and carried it into June and was emerging as an early Rookie of the Year candidate hitting .297 while playing a near flawless center field.

However, by the middle of the month, pitchers started figuring him out and his average plummeted. Anybody can hit fastballs, but Nieuwenhuis was having trouble with breaking balls and off-speed stuff and his strike zone widened for pitchers, who didn’t have to be so fine.

Nieuwenhuis sustained a hand injury in July and at the end of the month was optioned to Triple-A Buffalo, where he injured his foot and was lost for the remainder of the season.

At the time of his demotion, Nieuwenhuis was down to .252 with a .315 on-base percentage, and in 282 at-bats had more strikeouts (98) than hits (71).

Although general manager Sandy Alderson had his apprehensions with Nieuwenhuis, his early success last year coupled with the Mets’ wide-open outfield situation, enabled him to come to camp with a fresh start and high expectations.

“Strikeouts are acceptable to a point,’’ Alderson said. “If a player has a high on-base percentage and produces a lot of runs, you can take the strikeouts.’’

Nieuwenhuis got off to a slow start this spring with only one hit and seven strikeouts in 20 at-bats. He was quickly removed from the leadoff spot as manager Terry Collins searched for other options, including Valdespin and Cowgill.

“I know the strikeouts have been a problem,’’ Nieuwenhuis said. “I don’t want to strike out. I need to put the ball in play. Seeing pitches is very important, and you get that through repetition.’’

And, you don’t see pitches when you’re not on the field.

Mar 15

Jeremy Hefner Solid Against Braves

Jeremy Hefner, the likely replacement for Johan Santana in the rotation, gave up two homers this afternoon but rebounded to strike out the last six hitters he faced in the Mets’ 5-2 victory over Atlanta.

Hefner had a solid line of two runs on five hits and a walk with seven strikeouts in five innings.

HEFNER: Solid outing today.

HEFNER: Solid outing today.

Even so, Hefner wasn’t pleased, telling reporters he was concerned because he left the ball up in the strike zone. Hefner said he pitched with a chip on his shoulder the last two innings.

“I was less than thrilled about my performance before then,’’ Hefner said. “The ball was up, as evidenced by all the fly balls and hard-hit balls. I’m the guy that has to pound the bottom of the strike zone and get ground balls to be successful.’’

Hefner said earlier this week he will be ready to replace Santana at the start of the season but that’s my focus.

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Mar 14

Mets Lineup Against Tigers

The Mets are home to Detroit this afternoon in a game that will be seen on SNY. Here’s who’ll they’ll be watching today at Tradition Field:

Jordany Valdespin, lf

Justin Turner, 2b

Ike Davis, 1b

Marlon Byrd, dh

Mike Baxter, rf

Zach Lutz, 3b

Anthony Recker, c

Matt den Dekker, cf

Ruben Tejada, ss

Dillon Gee, rhp

LINE-UP ANALYSIS: If you examine it closely, only two players – Ike Davis and Ruben Tejada – figure to be in the Opening Day lineup. It is possible one of the three between Marlon Byrd, Mike Baxter and Jordany Valdespin, could also start. … I see Justin Turner and Anthony Recker making the 25-man roster as reserves. … I am pulling for Matt den Dekker to stick. … As far as the batting order goes in the regular season Tejada could hit second as easily as eighth.

NOTE: Later today I’ll post a projected everyday batting order. The word “awesome” doesn’t come immediately to mind.

 

Mar 13

Matt Harvey, Bobby Parnell Ripped As Mets Lose

Nearly flawless in his last start, Matt Harvey took his lumps today, but on a positive note rebounded and regained control.

HARVEY: Gives up homer to Harper.

HARVEY: Gives up homer to Harper.

Harvey gave up a three-run homer to Washington’s Bryce Harper in the first inning, but rebounded to throw three scoreless innings and strike out six in an 8-5 loss.

Harvey settled down to retire 11 of the final 12 hitters against him; a very good sign for any pitcher let alone a young one after a rough start.

“I struggled there in the first inning, obviously. I think I came out a little too excited and needed to tone that down a little bit,’’ Harvey told reporters. “I made one bad pitch and it cost me three runs.’’

Harvey said he came out pumped in trying to atone for a three-homer rocking by the Nationals last year in spring training.

Bobby Parnell had a rough outing, giving up four runs in the seventh inning, which included a run-producing error by left fielder Lucas Duda and RBI single by Harper.

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Mar 12

In Defense Of Matt Den Dekker

Do you remember when Citi Field opened the Mets vowed they they were going to build around pitching and defense? Then, they immediately signed Jason Bay, who played well defensively, but that wasn’t the point.

Enter Matt den Dekker, who doesn’t have the inside track at making the team as the center fielder despite being the their best defensive outfielder.

DEN DEKKER: Magic glove.

DEN DEKKER: Magic glove. (AP)

Terry Collins managed arguably one of the greatest defensive center fielders in history when he had Jim Edmonds. Collins said they compared favorably in their ability to chance down fly balls in the gap with their speed, “although nobody got a jump like Jim Edmonds … it seemed like he took two steps before the ball was hit.’’

That comes from knowing the hitters and the pitch, so maybe that part of it will come to den Dekker. However, and this is the rub, he’s not even close to Edmonds at the plate and it could cost him a spot on the roster.

Den Dekker made another spectacular catch Monday when he went against the wall in left-center to rob Detroit’s Austin Jackson of extra bases. It is one of several he’s made this spring, each one seemingly more scintillating than the previous.

Den Dekker told reporters later in Lakeland he was “just doing my job,’’ but for a team lacking in offense, that’s only part of what the Mets need from him.

“If you are going to be a platoon player, you got to be able to do something off the bench in the National League, and that’s not just play defense,’’ Collins told reporters.

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