Apr 12

Wheeler, Conforto Give Mets Glimpse Of Future

Sometime next season or the year after, Zack Wheeler and Michael Conforto will combine to lift the Mets. They did for awhile Wednesday night in Philadelphia until Hansel Robles sprayed graffiti on their near masterpiece.

i-5Wheeler, backed in large part by Conforto’s homer and Asdrubal Cabrera’s two-run single, cruised into the sixth with a five-run lead. It looked as if manager Terry Collins would let him pitch out of trouble, but pulled him with two outs and the bases loaded in favor of Robles.

Collins feared the Phillies would break through and spoil Wheeler’s night and he’d suffer an emotional setback. Instead, Maikel Franco turned around Robles’ first pitch for a monster grand slam that changed the complexion of the game, but the Mets held on to win 5-4 to complete the sweep.

In winning his first game since coming off Tommy John surgery in 2014, Wheeler gave up three runs on four hits with one walk and four strikeouts. He threw the target 85 pitches, but the key was working ahead in the count with his secondary pitches. Miami hurt Wheeler in his first start – of a cold damp day – when he fell behind in the count and waited on his fastball.

Wheeler coasted into the sixth but the Phillies worked him hard to load the bases.

“I was very happy with the way he pitched tonight,” Collins told reporters of Wheeler’s start. “He threw the ball as well as he could but he ran out of gas all of a sudden.”

Pitchers usually won’t admit to getting tired, but Wheeler was stand-up. He knows the score.

“I was a little tired at the end,” Wheeler said. “It’s all about building myself up. …I had better command. That’s what I needed from my first start. It felt good to bounce back after that rough outing. I was nice to go out there and do well.  It’s a weight off my shoulders.”

Conversely, it hasn’t appeared the Mets were all that interested in building up Conforto’s at-bats. They had a huge lead, but Conforto sat until the end. Conforto was a surprise start over Curtis Granderson and responded with two hits and a walk and scored three runs.

One of those hits was an opposite-field homer to give the Mets an early 2-0 lead.

Conventional wisdom has Conforto going to the minors when Juan Lagares is activated from the disabled list. He needs at-bats, but Collins would not commit to starting him Thursday in Miami.

Conforto hasn’t gotten a lot of playing time but responded with what little he has.

“I’m getting good pitches to hit and getting deep into the count,” said Conforto, who continues to refuse to get drawn into the debate on his immediate future.

Another positive note to the day was the report Matt Harvey, who strained his left hamstring Tuesday night, would be able to make his next start Sunday in Miami.

While Wheeler and Conforto were the headliners, Robles served as a reminder of one of the Mets’ biggest weaknesses, which is the bridge to the back end of the bullpen.

Apr 08

Reyes Sits Tonight

Five games into the season and Mets manager Terry Collins is juggling his lineup. Tonight, Collins sits third baseman Jose Reyes‘ 1-for-18 start.

Undoubtedly, Reyes endured longer dry spells, but he looked terrible Friday night. He’s looked horrible all season.

REYES: Sitting vs. Fish. (AP)

REYES: Sitting vs. Fish. (AP)

Even so, Reyes said it is premature for him to panicI don’t want to put pressure on myself going to the film like, ‘Oh, what am I doing wrong?’ ” Reyes told reporters. “Sometimes, you have to give credit to the pitcher. They’ve pitched me tough. Sooner or later it’s going to change.”

Curtis Granderson and Wilmer Flores will replace Reyes at the top of the order and third base, respectively. I have no problems with sitting Reyes tonight, but I’m not crazy about what Collins is considering next for Reyes.

Collins said he’s looking to spell another slumping Met, Granderson, in center field with Reyes. The issue is to get a right-handed bat in the lineup. Meanwhile, Michael Conforto – who had a pinch-hit single Friday –  has all of two at-bats. It was last April when Collins forecasted him as the Mets’ No. 3 hitter of the future and said he would hit against left-handed pitching.

Evidently, that’s not going to happen anytime soon, just as it appears Conforto won’t be playing in the near future. As I, and others feared, Conforto will languish on the bench until Juan Lagares is activated from the disabled list.

The Mets’ lack of a right-handed hitting outfielder smacks of two things: 1) Collins’ and GM Sandy Alderson’s marriage to the righty-lefty dynamics, and 2) Alderson’s inability to construct a team with a right-handed bat.

If Alderson had Babe Ruth he’d sit hit him against a lefty, and does this mean Lagares is the only acceptable right-handed outfield bat?

The bottom line: Conforto will never learn to hit lefty pitching until he gets the chance. You would think the game’s smartest general manager, would figure that out.

 

Mar 27

Mets’ Remaining Issues

OK, Matt Harvey had a good start Sunday, and for now, isn’t an issue for the 2017 Mets. However, that’s not to say they don’t have questions as they enter the final week of spring training. Manager Terry Collins and GM Sandy Alderson have a lot of thinking to do in this final week of spring training:

MATZ: What's the plan? (AP)

MATZ: What’s the plan? (AP)

ROTATION: Steven Matz was shut down Monday, but will throw on flat ground. The Mets say there is no structural damage or ligament damage, yet they have no plans for a MRI. I’ll never understand that logic.

Robert Gsellman will be the fifth starter, but the Mets have the resources in Seth Lugo, Zack Wheeler and Rafael Montero to fill in as Matz’s replacement. It seems the prudent option would be to put Matz on the disabled list or in an extended spring training to let him strengthen his elbow and get rid of the irritation. Rushing him back – as they have done with pitchers in the past – will only backfire.

Don’t do it.

Wheeler and Lugo will work Monday in split squad games, but the Mets remain undecided as to how to use Wheeler. Starter or reliever? Does anybody remember how they juggled Jenrry Mejia?

It was first 110 innings, now it is 120-125, and recently told reporters “we’ll worry about those innings limits in the middle of the summer.’’ You have to love a man with a plan.

BULLPEN: The names and roles have to be determined, but the Mets have the numbers. Either Lugo or Montero could be placed in the pen if they don’t go into the rotation.

Because of the up-and-down, inconsistent nature of relievers, using Wheeler in that role could be a mistake.

Hansel Robles, Josh Edgin and Sean Gilmartin figure to have worked their way into Collins’ pen. Paul Sewald has pitched well and could have won a spot.

Fernando Salas is back with the Mets following a visa issue. He pitched in the WBC, but there’s concern if got enough work.

THE OUTFIELD: Juan Lagares has a strained left oblique, but said he’s feeling better. That’s an injury that tends to linger, so the likely option is for him to open the season on the disabled list and use Michael Conforto as the center field back up.

If Conforto makes the Opening Day roster, I would hate to see him linger on the bench. He needs to get consistent at-bats and it won’t be coming off the bench, but will the Mets devise a playing rotation in the outfield with Curtis Granderson, Jay Bruce and Yoenis Cespedes? I’m not seeing it.

 

 

Feb 16

What’s The Hurry In Signing Walker?

What’s the hurry? That was the first impression after hearing the Mets and second baseman Neil Walker had preliminary discussions on a possible multi-year contract.

WALKER: No hurry? (AP)

WALKER: No hurry? (AP)

I hope those discussions entail waiting to see how Walker copes coming off surgery to repair a herniated disk in his back. After with what the Mets have gone through with David Wright, and his persistent pain and lack of playing time, why would they hurry into another long-term contract with a player coming off back surgery?

“We’ve had some discussions and nothing has come to fruition,” Walker told reporters in Port St. Lucie. “But for me, looking at this, there is no place I would want to be, and looking down the road at what is here and what the next [few] years look like, this is an exciting place to be as a big league ballplayer. I feel confident in my health, and they do, too.”

That’s all good, but there’s a difference between a one-year, $17.2 million qualifying offer and a reported three-year, $40-million contract.

Despite consecutive playoff appearances, the Mets remain a penny-pinching bunch. In addition to Wright’s deal, they are tied to a four-year, $110-million anchor with Yoenis Cespedes.

The Cespedes deal has been an obstacle in dealing either Jay Bruce ($13 million) or Curtis Granderson ($15 million), although both will be off the books after this season. They are also in the middle of a long-term contract with Juan Lagares, but he’s not even starting.

They are apparently in no rush to sign any of their pitchers to long-term contracts, which is just as well since four of them are coming off surgery. Even so, in two years they’ll have to deal with Matt Harvey’s free-agency. Then come the rest.

Make no mistake, Walker had a terrific year, batting .282 with 23 homers and 55 RBI, but he only played in 113 games, but said he was in persistent pain.

“I’d probably wake up every single morning and as soon as I’d throw my feet over the side of bed, I could tell whether it was going to be a good or bad day,’’ Walker said.

Even that, one would think the Mets would operate with some hesitancy in this case.

Jan 25

Mets Name Bruce Starter In Right; What Becomes Of Conforto?

It became clear nearly a month ago Jay Bruce would not be traded and would make the Opening Day roster. The no-brainer now has been realized with The New York Post and several other media outlets reported Bruce would be the starter in right field. What else did you expect? The Mets weren’t going to pay him $13 million to sit on the bench.

“Obviously, the market for certain players, certain free agents and therefore trade has been slow at best, nonexistent at worst,” GM Sandy Alderson told reporters about the lukewarm-to-cold market for Bruce. What Alderson neglected to say, however, is a major reason for the sluggish market for Bruce was when the general manager announced his intention to deal him if Yoenis Cespedes returned.

CONFORTO: Could he open season in minors? (Getty)

CONFORTO: Could he open season in minors? (Getty)

There have been several reports stating manager Terry Collins will try to fit four outfielders – Bruce, Cespedes, Curtis Granderson and Michael Conforto – into three slots. That’s not accurate. The fourth outfielder is Juan Lagares being the fourth outfield and not Conforto.

With Granderson to move to center, the Mets need an accomplished player to play center, and that’s Lagares, who won a Gold Glove at the position. It’s inconceivable, if not flat out irresponsible, to go into the season without an accomplished center fielder.

So, where does that leave Conforto?

I’m thinking there are four options regarding Conforto:

FIFTH OUTFIELDER: They could carry him as the fifth outfielder, a role that would give Conforto limited at-bats. Conforto, whom Collins anointed the Mets’ No. 3 hitter of the future, needs regular at-bats.

TRADE HIM: I’m sure you could get something substantial for him, including a reliever, but this is the worst option to me. Long after Bruce and Cespedes are gone, Conforto could be whistling line drives all over Citi Field.

DEFINITIVE PLAYING FORMAT: Rotating Conforto to spell Cespedes, Granderson and Bruce at least once a week could give Conforto up to three games a week, which is doable. Collins could have done the same last year with Wilmer Flores in the infield, but couldn’t manage the juggling. I can’t see Collins doing this successfully with Conforto in the outfield.

MINOR LEAGUES: I hate to say it, but I’m thinking it is more likely Conforto will wind up in Las Vegas. It’s the option that will give Conforto the most at-bats and playing time.