Jul 19

Opening Day II For Mets Lays 2014 Foundation

Welcome to Opening Day II of the New York Mets.

This is the time last year when the great collapse began.  In early June in 2012 the Mets were eight games over .500, and seven games over heading into the last game of the first half, but were routed, 7-0, by the Cubs at home. They went on to lose 10 of 11 coming out of the break. The chance to upgrade was lost and the season spun out of control.

HARVEY: What's in store for second half? (AP)

HARVEY: What’s in store for second half? (AP)

That would be a valuable reminder for Terry Collins to tell his players. Nobody is thinking playoffs, but .500 is a reasonable and realistic goal. GM Sandy Alderson seems inclined to keep a pat hand to see if the Mets can sustain their recent play. Adding a bat would be helpful, if for no other reason, to demonstrate his confidence.

The Mets have had four straight losing seasons in which they finished in fourth place. The Mets open the second half 4.5 games behind third place Philadelphia and five behind second place Washington. Both are within reach.

If Matt Harvey can sustain and Zack Wheeler gains command of his fastball, improvement is possible. Yesterday, I asked several questions the Mets must answer in the positive if they are to lay the foundation for 2014.

“I don’t think there is any question about it,’’ manager Terry Collins said after the team won in Pittsburgh to close the first half. “We’ve been preaching, ‘Hey, it’s coming.’ We have to fix our minor leagues, we have to find some players, and they’ve done that.’’

The Mets have been surprised by Dillon Gee, Jeremy Hefner, Eric Young, Josh Satin and Omar Quintanilla. If these players have strong second halves, it could shorten GM Sandy Alderson’s shopping list.

We probably won’t see Rafael Montero in the second half, but maybe Jenrry Mejia can show he’s healthy and become a viable member of the bullpen. That would help that need.

Daniel Murphy has played well enough to warrant eliminating the need for a second baseman. Once and for all, they will not make a run at Robinson Cano. Not happening.

We’re not going to see Noah Syndergaard, but perhaps he can show he’s worthy of Triple-A next year.

The forecast wasn’t positive after the R.A. Dickey trade and coming out of spring training, but the Mets broke the gate at 7-4, then went on a long slide that had them bottom out at 15 games under .500. They are nine games under now, but it’s not totally gloomy.

“You have a star at third,’’ Collins said of David Wright “You have a star on the mound in Harvey and you have another one coming in Zack Wheeler. I plan on seeing a lot more games like the one [Wheeler] pitched the other night in San Francisco. The more confidence he gets, the better he is going to be.

“We’re not by any means happy where we are,’’ Collins said. “We know we have to get better.’’

Ironically, they have gotten better despite three major disappointments in what was to be their core. Ike Davis, Ruben Tejada and Lucas Duda have not come close to producing as expected. Davis is now in a platoon with Satin, Tejada is in Triple-A, and Duda is on the disabled list and they shouldn’t even be thinking about cutting into Young’s playing time.

Answers to those three players, and the center field platoon of Kirk Nieuwenhuis, are something Alderson wants to get. Plus, there’s the question of Jon Niese’s shoulder, whether the bullpen will continue to improve and if Marlon Byrd is worthy of an extension.

Not all of things will be answered in the positive. It rarely happens that way. But, if enough are getting out of fourth and a winning season are possibly, and that’s something few of us could have predicted.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Jul 17

How Mets Responded To Opening Day Questions

When the New York Mets broke camp this spring, they did so with a myriad of questions for manager Terry Collins. That’s not surprising considering the Opening Day roster featured only nine players from the 2012 first-game roster.

I broke the questions down to pitching and position players, limiting each category to just five questions. So, let’s go back and address each question to see how they’re being answered.

PITCHING QUESTIONS

 Q: Will Jon Niese assume the role of No. 1 with Santana done with the Mets?

NIESE: Key loss. (AP)

NIESE: Key loss. (AP)

A: Niese came out strong in his first two starts, including winning Opening Day. However, back-to-back high-pitch outings in freezing weather in Minneapolis and Denver caused tightness in his back. Niese’s inability to get loose caused a strain in his shoulder and eventual tear to the rotator cuff. He’s on the disabled list and not expected back until mid-August, if at all. The Mets won’t come close to getting the 200 innings they hoped from him. As far as being the ace, Matt Harvey grabbed that role and shows no signs of relinquishing it.

Q: Matt Harvey: Boom or bust?

A: The expectations are high, but high by Harvey’s standards. Harvey wants to be among the best and is living up to that desire. People might not recognize him as evidenced by his skit with Jimmy Fallon, but after his strong first half and starting the All-Star Game that will change. If Harvey isn’t recognized, that’s more a reflection of SNY’s ratings than anything else. The Mets are planning on cutting Harvey’s innings in the second half to 220. The Mets aren’t sure whether they want to skip starts or shave innings off each start.

Q: What will they get from Shaun Marcum?

A: Marcum started the season on the disabled list and is back on after losing feeling in his hand and fingers. The hope was he’d become an innings eater and win at least 12 games as the No. 4 starter. He’s 1-10 and will never pitch for the Mets again. Zack Wheeler replaced him in the rotation.

Q: Will Bobby Parnell seize the closer opportunity?

A: Parnell spit the bit before, but is holding tight and developing into a viable closer. He’s so good that we’ll never see Frank Francisco again. Parnell has drawn attention in the trade market and is coveted by Boston and Detroit.

Q: How good is the bullpen?

A: Parnell is the only one from last year’s Opening Day pen. The pen came out of the gate strong, faltered and is now showing signs of reliability. After 14 years in the minors, left-hander Scott Rice is among the league leaders in appearances. Josh Edgin broke camp with the Mets, but was sent down. He’s been better since his recall. LaTroy is a veteran presence, but struggling with a biceps issue. Bullpens come and go and the Mets have traditionally had problems.

HITTING QUESTIONS

 Q: Will David Wright respond to his contract?

A: Wright appeared in his seventh All-Star Game Tuesday night and a .300, 25, 90 year is within reach. He shows his captain stripes on a continual basis. Wright was in the middle of things trying to defuse the Jordany Valdespin powder keg. He also lobbied to keep Ike Davis from being sent down, but that didn’t work. He continues to play a strong defense and ranks among the NL leaders in on-base percentage.

DAVIS: It has been that kind of year.

DAVIS: It has been that kind of year.

Q: Can Ike Davis put together two strong halves?

A: No. Mets got little from him at the start last year and this season was more of the same. This time, the Mets had enough and sent him to Las Vegas. Davis rebounded to finish with 32 homers last season, but there are no signs of duplicating that this year. GM Sandy Alderson said the organization’s patience is wearing thin. If things continue as they have, the Mets are unlikely to tender Davis a contract for 2014.

Q: How will the outfield shake out?

A: Collin Cowgill’s stint in center field lasted roughly a week and he’s now out of the organization. Kirk Nieuwenhuis seems to be making the most of his opportunity. The team is also interested in seeing what they have in Juan Lagares. Marlon Byrd has exceeded all expectations in right field with 15 home runs, while Lucas Duda sputtered again. Duda is currently on the disabled list, but the team hardly misses him after picking up Eric Young.

Q: What will the Mets get from Ruben Tejada?

A: After a solid 2012, Tejada had a miserable spring training that carried over into the season. Compounding matters is his defense declined. Tejada’s offensive strength was getting on base, but that also declined. Tejada was replaced by 31-year-old Omar Quintanilla, who has been everything the Mets could have hoped for.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Jul 12

Jeremy Hefner On Roll For Mets

There is a likeable quality to New York Mets pitcher Jeremy Hefner. He’s modest and unassuming, and has been stand-up in the bad times.

However, recently it’s been good times for Hefner, Friday’s starter in Pittsburgh, who will be trying for his eighth straight strong outing. Hefner is coming off a one-run performance in seven innings last weekend in Milwaukee. Hefner has 12 quality starts, and had he any support earlier this year might have a winning record.

HEFNER: On a roll. (AP)

HEFNER: On a roll. (AP)

Roughly a month ago Hefner appeared the odd-man out in making room for Zack Wheeler, but his roster spot was preserved because of injuries to Jon Niese and Shaun Marcum.

Hefner told ESPN he knew he was vulnerable.

“I was maybe one or two bad starts from being in Las Vegas,’’ Hefner said. “So something had to change.’’

In seven starts since June 4, Hefner has a 1.64 ERA, which is better than Harvey over a similar span. He has given up two earned runs or fewer in those seven starts. The Mets have won his last five starts.

Hefner said he didn’t feel pressure in his turnaround: “It was a challenge for me. And I embraced it. And I’m doing pretty good.’’

Part of his turnaround is mechanical, in that he twists his torso to give the hitter a glance at his back. The intent was deception, but the bonus was increased velocity.

Hefner is one of the Mets’ bright spots this season. There’s some talk about him being dealt to a contender, but the Mets are better off keeping him because they don’t know if Niese will need surgery and Marcum is gone for the year.

Hefner moved up the pecking order for a promotion during spring training when it was apparent Jenrry Mejia wasn’t going to be healthy. Mejia is pitching in Double-A and is scheduled to pitch six innings Saturday. Apparently, there was no thought of bringing him up to replace Harvey that day.

Here’s the Mets’ lineup tonight behind Hefner against the Pirates’ Charlie Morton:

Eric Young, LF

Daniel Murphy, 2B

David Wright, 3B

Ike Davis, 1B

Marlon Byrd, RF

Kirk Nieuwenhuis, CF

Anthony Recker, C

Omar Quintanilla, SS

Jeremy Hefner, RHP

METS MUSINGS: Reliever Frank Francisco – remember him? – pitched one inning in a Gulf Coast League game over the weekend. He gave up an unearned run on one hit with on strikeout. Francisco is recovering from surgery to remove a bone spur in his elbow. Francisco is making $6.5 million this season and is not in the Mets’ plans.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Jul 11

Mets Should Hold On Tight To Bobby Parnell

The New York Mets are finally showing signs of life to the point where their rebuilding plan could be believable. So, what should their next step be? Hmmm, according to some they should trade Bobby Parnell.

Unless they are offered a knockout package – that would include the likes of Jackie Bradley – they should hang tight to Parnell.

PARNELL: Keep him.

PARNELL: Keep him.

Because of the save rule, which needs to be modified, the save is undervalued and the stock argument is a closer can always be found.

If that is the case, tell it to the Tigers and Red Sox. Tell it to the Yankees, who, if they haven’t already, will admit to being spoiled after Mariano Rivera retires.

Dave Robertson is the one who will slide into the ninth-inning role for the Yankees next year. But, he will learn there’s a vast difference between being the set-up man and THE MAN. There’s something about the ninth inning with no safety net that changes your perspective. It’s not as simple as measuring the basket in Hoosiers and discovering “it’s 10 feet, the same as in our gym back in Hickory.’’

There’s a mentality shift in becoming a closer and not everybody can make it happen like Rivera. Ron Davis found it a lot harder being the closer than the set-up man for Goose Gossage.

The fact is closers aren’t a dime a dozen. While it seems every team has somebody with 25 or more saves, then why are so many teams still looking?

It has taken time, but Parnell is finally grasping the ninth inning role. He’s spit the bit before, but this year it’s coming together for him and the contenders are noticing.

And, like vultures circling what they perceive as a dead carcass in the Mets’ season, they are waiting for Sandy Alderson to make Parnell available.

However, there’s no longer the inevitability this will be the Mets’ fifth straight losing season. The Mets were 15 games under .500 on June 15, and were losing in the ninth inning the following day when Kirk Nieuwenhuis homered off the Chicago Cubs’ once invincible starter Carlos Marmol.

They have scrapped back to eight games under today. In that span, Matt Harvey has won two games, lost one and had two of his ten no-decisions.

Harvey’s overall year, plus Zack Wheeler’s promise have painted the picture of the Mets being relevant in 2014. Will trading Parnell push them over the top?

No, because if they deal Parnell they will put themselves in position of needing a closer. Trading Parnell tells us the gap to competitiveness is a lot wider.

What the Mets should do is nothing. They should keep Parnell, keep Marlon Byrd and keep whatever other chips they might have and try to make something out of this season.

Will they reach the playoffs? Probably not, but if management lets them play out the season we would get a clearer picture of their needs heading into the offseason.

If the Mets traded Parnell and Byrd, it would signify surrender, which could lead into a tailspin and blur how good or bad they are.

Trading Parnell, or even suggesting it, displays a loser’s mentality.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Jul 05

Should The Mets Shut Down Jon Niese?

One had to wonder what the New York Mets were thinking when they said Jon Niese would undergo an MRI on July 4. The exam was re-scheduled until Monday because the doctor was, now get this, on vacation for the holiday.

Couldn’t somebody have figured that out ahead of time?

NIESE: Should the Mets shut him down? (AP)

NIESE: Should the Mets shut him down? (AP)

So, it won’t be determined until Monday whether Niese’s slightly torn rotator cuff will need surgery. Sending Niese to the mound without surgery or at least a longer period of rest with rehabilitation can’t be a good idea.

Sure, you want the Mets to be competitive, but not at the expense of Niese’s future.

With the way things currently are in the Mets’ rotation, they might need another starter because Shaun Marcum’s durability is in question, but its more prudent to dip below to Triple-A Las Vegas than it would be to go back to Niese.

Of course, Niese wants to pitch, but remember this is a transition year with little expected of the Mets. They are fourth in the NL East and 12 games below .500. With little reason to think they’ll suddenly flip a switch and become a contender, the prudent option might be to shut Niese down for the remainder of the season.

Rotator cuff surgery isn’t as debilitating as it once was, so if surgery were done know there’s a greater chance of him being ready next season, if not by spring training.

Remember, his injury isn’t deemed as serious as that of Johan Santana, so a shutdown might be the way to go. It is better to do it now when nothing is expected of the season than risk losing him later, perhaps next year when more is on the line.

PENDING ROSTER MOVES: The Mets must make a roster move to accommodate the promotion of first baseman Ike Davis. Optioning current first baseman Josh Satin isn’t going to happen.

One option is to send down Gonzalez Germen, however, the Mets are concerned about Marcum’s back for Saturday’s game and might need another pitcher.

ESPN reports a consideration could be sending out Kirk Nieuwenhuis or Jordany Valdespin, the latter whose playing time has greatly been reduced since the failed attempt at leaving him at second base for a week.

Reliever Greg Burke is returning on the Las Vegas shuttle after Brandon Lyon was designated for assignment after Thursday’s game.

SERIES ROTATION: Zack Wheeler (1-1, 5.06 ERA) goes against Johnny Hellweg (0-1, 20.25) tonight; Marcum (1-9, 5.03) is tentatively scheduled against Yovani Gallardo (6-8, 4.78) Saturday, and Jeremy Hefner (3-6, 3.54) starts against Wily Peralta (5-9, 5.27) Sunday.

Interesting but no pitcher in the series has a winning record. I wonder when the last time that occurred this late in the season.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos