Sep 23

Three Mets’ Storylines: Is Conforto In Mix Again?

Not only was there a Michael Conforto sighting tonight, but he carried the Mets with a three-run homer and double. He did what the Mets have hoped since May. With how they are ignoring Jay Bruce, you have to wonder if Terry Collins plans to use Conforto for the remainder of the season to groom him for the postseason.

A double and homer is a great way to stay in the lineup.

CONFORTO: He does exist. (AP)

CONFORTO: He does exist. (AP)

“It changes it a lot,” Collins said about his plans for Conforto. “What we saw tonight is what we’ve used to seeing. We’ll give him another shot and see how he responds [Saturday].”

Should Conforto hit again tomorrow, it’s pretty hard to imagine Bruce getting another start soon, and a likely bit-player for the postseason.

Conforto had a hot April – Collins projected him as the Mets’ No. 3 hitter of the future – but after going into a slump in mid-May, spent a lot of time on the Vegas shuttle, but despite playing well in the minors, he’s played sparingly since coming back.

“I’ve been sticking with my drills and staying locked in mentally,” said Conforto on how he’s tried to stay sharp despite seemingly needing a GPS to find the plate.

Conforto laid off a couple of tempting pitches, then went the other way to break open the game with a three-run homer in the fifth to power the Mets to a 10-5 victory over Philadelphia.

So, in answer to the question whether Thursday’s dramatic victory had a magical carry-over effect, let’s say, tonight was a decent encore.

Conforto was the easy main storyline, with the others being the patchwork pitching and Asdrubal Cabrera’s leg injury.

BULLPEN CARRIES BIG LOAD: Spot starter Gabriel Ynoa gave the Mets two innings (43 pitches), which could make him available for Saturday with Noah Syndergaard not available because of a strep throat.

With Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia not available, Collins got significant contributions from Logan Verrett (two innings), Josh Smoker (one), Erik Goeddel (1.1), Josh Edgin (two pitches) and Hansel Robles (2.2 innings for the save).

The game’s turning point came with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh and the Mets up by two, but Robles got pinch-hitter Tommy Joseph to ground into an inning-ending double play, with Jose Reyes making a nifty pick-up and throw.

The patchwork bullpen enabled the Mets to also rest Fernando Salas.

“It was a good night,’’ Collins said of his bullpen. “Hansel stepped up and got us through it.’’

For the most part, Robles has had a rough second half, but if tonight was any indication, this is a good sign for the playoffs.

CABRERA BRUISES KNEE: Not so fast, was how Cabrera responded to Collins’ post-game thoughts of resting the shortstop tomorrow because of bruise to his right knee.

Cabrera, who is playing with a sore left knee, fouled a ball off his leg in the fifth.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen,’’ Cabrera said. “I will be there tomorrow.”

Collins said his initial plans for to play Reyes at shortstop and play Kelly Johnson (who drove in the tying run in the fifth) at third.

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Sep 13

Backman Tells His Side; Could Have Helped Collins This Week

Speaking on WFAN this afternoon, deposed Las Vegas manager Wally Backman insisted the decision to leave was his, and he vehemently refuted published reports citing unnamed Mets’ sources claiming he was insubordinate.

Backman said he would have accepted a coaching position on Terry Collins‘ staff or stayed with Vegas if asked. Whether he would have fired if he didn’t leave hasn’t been reported, but based on what Backman told WFAN one can presume he would have been canned by GM Sandy Alderson.

ALDERSON: In center of Backman sacking.  (AP)

ALDERSON: In center of Backman sacking. (AP)

Backman, who managed in the Mets’ farm system for seven years, including the last five on the Triple-A level with Buffalo and Las Vegas, said he wants to pursue options to manage in the major leagues but didn’t say he had anything immediately on his radar.

“I left on my own,” Backman said. “It didn’t look like there was any future for me in New York. When you work for an organization and do everything, you want to be respected for what you do. I just felt for my time being there the respect wasn’t there. I could be wrong. They could say different.”

Backman defined respect as more than simply guiding Las Vegas to three consecutive winning seasons prior to this year. He said it should include being acknowledged by Alderson in directing the Mets to James Loney, Rene Rivera and Jose Reyes; the last coming after a two-hour conversation that acted as a screening process.

All three paid dividends this summer.

In addition, many current Mets – from Noah Syndergaard to Michael Conforto to Jacob deGrom – played under Backman. He also was instrumental in turning around Lucas Duda and Travis d’Arnaud when they were on rehab assignments last year.

Backman was livid at reports citing unnamed sources he went rogue and disobeyed instructions on playing Conforto against left-handed pitching and batting Brandon Nimmo in the leadoff spot.

“Whoever put that out there, the source within the system, they lied,” a clearly agitated Backman said. “And that’s the part that pisses me off because I did nothing but try to help these guys.”

As for not playing Conforto against left-handers, Backman said he played in 31 of 33 games, hitting .488 (20-for-41) with three home runs against lefties. One game that Conforto didn’t play in was a day he was sent down and didn’t arrive until the fourth inning. The other came on a day prior to an off-day as to give Conforto two straight days off, which is commonplace.

Backman also said Nimmo hit first or second in 84 out of 97 games.

Backman said he got along with Collins and spoke to him frequently. Regarding his relationship Alderson, Backman took a diplomatic approach.

“I’m not going to say we never got along,” Backman said. “I thought he respected me as a baseball person. I guess I wasn’t the prototypical guy he liked.”

That became clear when the Mets bypassed Backman in favor of Dick Scott last December to be Collins’ bench coach.

We haven’t heard much about Scott this year until this past week, which hasn’t been a great one for Collins, who had three major brain cramps, all of which should have been preventable.

First, on Saturday he failed to pinch-run for Wilmer Flores, who was then subsequently thrown out at the plate, injured and hasn’t played since. On Sunday, he admitted screwing up. He said he was preoccupied talking with pitching coach Dan Warthen about setting up his pitching.

Finally, when it was apparent Rafael Montero didn’t have it Monday, Collins kept the shell-shocked starter in the game too long. He could have pulled Montero in the first or pinch-hit for him. He did neither and Montero let the game away. Would the Mets have won had Montero been pulled? Who knows, but it can’t make Collins feel any less angst.

All three events should fall under the responsibility of a bench coach, but not once did Collins point blame in his direction. That fits in with Collins’ makeup. He’s not one to throw his staff or players under the bus. For that matter, he doesn’t take shots at Alderson for leaving him shorthanded at times.

Frankly, too many times.

We don’t know what Scott said, or didn’t say. What we do know, based on reputation, Backman – no shrinking violet – wouldn’t have been shy to make a suggestion.

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Aug 31

Walker’s Season Likely Over; What Of Career With Mets?

UPDATED: Walker facing surgery.

Before leaving the podium, Mets manager Terry Collins dropped the other shoe. After all, they wouldn’t be the Mets if they didn’t encore good news with bad. This time, it was the sobering news Neil Walker was facing having season-ending back surgery to repair a herniated disk in his neck.

“This is a big disappointment,” said a dejected Collins. “He’s had a big year for us.”

The announcement came moments after Kelly Johnson‘s three-run double in the eighth inning proved the difference in the Mets’ 5-2 victory over Miami. The other two runs came on Wilmer Flores‘ two-run homer. Ironically, Johnson and Flores figure to get the lion’s share of the time at second base with Walker gone.

WALKER: Status unknown. (AP)

WALKER: Facing surgery. (AP)

With the victory, the Mets have won nine of their last 11 games to climb back into the wild-card race. They are in it, also in large part, because of what Walker gave them in April with nine homers and 19 RBI and his hot streak in early August.

In April, there were numerous reports about the need to bring Walker back for 2017, because with Yoenis Cespedes expected to opt out, the Mets couldn’t afford to lose both.

With Walker’s season over, one must wonder if the same can be said of his Mets’ career. Walker can leave as a free agent this winter, but the injury takes away whatever leverage he had because a bad back represents a terrible credit report.

As good as Walker played, perhaps an even longer-lasting impression is David Wright. Looking at how long Wright struggled might have been a deciding factor in Walker’s decision. After all, having surgery now might enhance his chances of playing next season considering a six-month recovery time.

Somebody will sign Walker, but it will likely be a one-year deal with incentives based on games played. Considering what they’ve gone through with Wright, I’m not sure they’ll go in that direction with Walker.

Walker was having a tremendous season, hitting .282 with 23 homers and 55 RBI. In 23 games since July 27, Walker was batting .440 with seven homers, 15 RBI and 19 runs scored. That’s a significant loss for a team in a pennant race.

For the short term, the Mets are in decent position at second base with Flores and Johnson.

When Daniel Murphy left, there was speculation Flores could inherit second base, but that notion was quickly dashed when the Mets signed Walker. Then, when Wright went down, Flores was to play third, but that changed when Jose Reyes was signed.

Now, with Walker gone, Flores might finally be getting his chance.

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Aug 30

Three Mets’ Storylines: Lugo Gives Big Effort

On a day the Mets received sobering injury news on left-hander Steven Matz, they also got a positive outing from Seth Lugo in his third career start.

Lugo gave up two runs on five hits in six innings Tuesday night in a 7-4 victory over Miami to help the Mets leapfrog the Marlins in the wild-card race.

LUGO: Gives big start. (AP)

LUGO: Gives big start. (AP)

Lugo has averaged just under six innings in his three starts, which means he’ll stay in the rotation.

The Marlins got to Lugo with Christian Yelich’s two-run homer in the first, but the Mets responded for three in their half of the inning on Asdrubal Cabrera’s two-run homer and Wilmer Flores’ RBI single.

“It was really big,” manager Terry Collins said of the quick response. “Just getting on the board was important.”

Lugo said the three runs allowed him to look at the rest of the game from a different perspective.

“That was big time,” Lugo said. “It helped me with my confidence. I looked at it as a 0-0 ball game.”

Lugo worked out of jams in the third and fourth innings and retired the last seven hitters he faced.

With Matz injured and Jacob deGrom needing to be skipped for rest, Lugo has been terrific with three straight strong starts. Lugo left his previous start with a cramp in his right calf, but showed no ill-effects. He is on schedule to pitch Sunday against the Nationals.

I chose Lugo as the main storyline because of the Mets’ current pitching situations. The two others were the resurgence of Curtis Granderson and Hansel Robles’ positive appearance.

GRANDERSON SHOWS A PULSE: Granderson hit for Lugo in the sixth and homered, and also homered in the seventh. He became the third Met to hit two homers in a game he did not start. The others were Scott Hairston in 2011 and Hawk Taylor in 1964.

Granderson hasn’t had a good season according to his expectations but still has 22 homers with 38 RBI, not a good ratio.

If Granderson is getting on track, it will give Collins leverage as he sorts out his outfield alignment down the stretch. Yoenis Cespedes’ strained right quad limits him to playing only left field and Jay Bruce – despite a double Tuesday – continues to struggle.

Cespedes will need a rest eventually.

Things will get tighter when Michael Conforto is brought up from Triple-A Las Vegas.

ROBLES MUCH BETTER: Robles was superb in June and July, but gave up 15 runs in 13 innings this month before giving the Mets two strong innings Tuesday.

Robles gave up one hit in two scoreless innings for a positive sign the Mets desperately needed. Robles in perhaps their most versatile reliever, and by going two innings, it enabled Collins to avoid using the overworked Addison Reed.

EXTRA INNINGS: With the victory, Collins had to use Jeurys Familia when the Marlins got to Jim Henderson for two runs in the ninth. … Jose Reyes continued to rake with his second four-hit game of the month. Reyes, along with Cabrera (who had two hits) are forming a formidable 1-2 combination at the top of the order. … With the victory, the Mets moved to four games over .500, their best record since they were 56-52 after beating the Yankees, Aug. 4. … Bartolo Colon starts against David Phelps Wednesday night.

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Aug 29

Mets’ Lineup, Aug. 29, Against Miami

Asdrubal Cabrera – today named the NL Player of the Week, and Neil Walker, will sit out tonight’s game against Miami at Citi Field. Citing his recent performance in his last two starts, Jacob deGrom‘s start is being skipped and Rafael Montero will pitch.

Montero was recalled from Class AA Binghamton to make the start. Montero, 25, was 4-2 with a 1.70 ERA in eight starts at Binghamton. Montero appeared in two games with the Mets in April and gave up three runs in 2.1 innings.

Here’s the Mets’ order behind Montero:

Jose Reyes – SS: Was 0-4 Sunday vs. Phillies. … Hitting .360 (9-25) with RISP.

Alejandro De Aza – CF: Was 1-4 Sunday. … Has 13 RBI in August.

Yoenis Cespedes – LF: Did not play Sunday. … Hitting .337 (31-92) lifetime vs. Miami.

Kelly Johnson – 3B: Went 1-4 Sunday. … Hit pinch-hit grand slam Saturday. … Has four pinch-hit homers this year.

Curtis Granderson – RF: Went 0-2 is last game. … Is hitting .160 (19-119) over his last 32 games.

Wilmer Flores – 2B: Went 1-3 in hlast game. … Hitting .282 (33-117) lifetime vs. Miami.

James Loney – 1B: Went 1-3 in last game. … It’s been 88 at-bats since his last homer.

Travis d’Arnaud – C: Went 1-4 in his last game. … Mets are 25-29 when d’Arnaud starts.

Montero – RHP: Last major league start was April 28, 2015 at Miami.

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