May 30

Ruben Tejada Issue Solves Itself

It appears the Ruben Tejada problem has taken care of itself.

On the day after hearing a wake-up ultimatum or risk being sent to Triple-A Las Vegas, Tejada strained his right quadriceps going after a ball he had no chance of catching in Wednesday night’s victory over the Yankees.

TEJADA: A head-scratching player.

TEJADA: A head-scratching player.

That left the Mets with the easy option of placing Tejada on the disabled list, where he could stay for two weeks. Once Tejada begins a rehab assignment, the Mets will have 20 days in which to activate him. That’s nearly five Tejada-free weeks.

Tejada ran a long way for the ball – one of the few bursts of hustle we’ve seen from him – but to risk injury in a blowout game was senseless. Even worse, was he nearly took out left fielder Mike Baxter in a sliding attempt at the ball.

It was the latest in a series of head-scratching plays from Tejada, who had a brain cramp in the sixth when he looked the runner back to third despite a big lead and didn’t get the runner at first.

It’s one thing to make a physical error, of which he’s had many, but shortstop is a thinking position and he gives the Mets nothing when his mind is elsewhere. In some ways, his wandering mind reminds me of Angel Pagan.

Tejada first tested Terry Collins’ patience when he didn’t report early to spring training in 2012. Collins reasoned with Tejada to replace Jose Reyes, the new shortstop would want to get a head start.

Collins was clearly annoyed that Tejada wasn’t in good shape, but had few options. Tejada made things easier for himself with a solid offensive season, but defense – supposedly his strong suit – was erratic.

Tejada opened the season with a handful of errors in the first two weeks and has been shaky since. At the plate, he couldn’t break the habit of hitting the ball in the air, which makes him an easy out.

Tejada has not been able to seize the leadoff spot, and when he does get on there are times he looks clueless on the bases, such as when he was picked off second Tuesday night.

The Mets won Tuesday giving Tejada another day, but even without the injury, his play Wednesday warranted a demotion.

The Mets are expected to promote Omar Quintanilla today. Quintanilla was a last-day cut in spring training when the Mets opted to keep Kirk Nieuwenhuis as an extra outfielder. To make room on the 40-man roster, they could move Frank Francisco to the 60-day disabled list.

The Mets won despite Tejada in large part because of Jeremy Hefner’s strong start. Hefner has pitched well, but in bad luck lately. He’s pitched well enough to stay in the rotation, but the Mets must make a move when Zack Wheeler is ready.

One demotion possibility is tonight’s starter, Dillon Gee (2-6, 6.34 ERA). If not him, then perhaps Collin McHugh would go. The underperforming Shaun Marcum isn’t leaving because he’s getting $4 million this year.

After the Pittsburgh series, I wrote how the following two weeks could define their season. It didn’t look good in St. Louis and when they were swept by Cincinnati.

However, they have sparked interest with this four-game winning streak, and with two series coming up against Miami, they could see relevance again.

ON DECK: Dillon Gee pitching for his job.

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May 20

Daniel Murphy Should Remain Leading Off

It doesn’t matter that Daniel Murphy hit the game-winning homer Sunday afternoon, or that he’s the Mets’ hottest hitter, he should be in the leadoff spot again Monday night at Citi Field.

Because of Murphy’s high on-base percentage, batting him leadoff is something I have advocated, and I’m glad Terry Collins was thinking outside the box enough to make the move.

MURPHY: Current leadoff choice. (MLB)

MURPHY: Current leadoff choice. (MLB)

He gets on base, because he can hit,’’ Collins told ESPN.com. “And, when he’s swinging good, he can get some walks. We’ve got to get some people on ahead of David [Wright]. That’s for sure.’’

Notice how Collins didn’t mention getting on base ahead of Ike Davis, but I guess he couldn’t say that with a straight face.

Murphy is the seventh Met to hit leadoff this young season, and of the previous six, is there one you can note with conviction will be here next year?

Ruben Tejada (12 times), Jordany Valdespin (10), Mike Baxter (eight), Collin Cowgill (seven), Justin Turner (two) and Kirk Nieuwenhuis (one) have all appeared without much success at the top or the order. Mets leadoff hitters have hit a major league low .185 with a 29th ranked .255 on-base percentage.

Collins was non-committal on how long he’ll use Murphy leading off, but considering he’s a .300 hitter with a .337 on-base percentage, he doesn’t have better options.

With their leadoff hitters and Davis, the Mets have two slots in the batting order hitting less than .200, and overall they have four positions in their regular lineup hitting below .240.

Collins thought about Murphy hitting first during spring training, but then he had to come up with a center fielder and decide what to do with Tejada. Meanwhile, Murphy, because of his willingness to take a pitch, also seemed suited to hitting second.

“I thought about it in spring training, to be honest, whether or not to lead Murph off,’’ Collins said. “We’ll just see how it goes. It might be something we’ve certainly got to consider as we get deeper into the season, because he can hit.

“He gets on base. If he does that, certainly we’ve got to keep our options open with Murph being the leadoff hitter.’’

Murphy hitting first seems the way to go for now, but slotting him there doesn’t alleviate all of Collins’ concerns. Rick Ankiel can be an answer defensively in center field, but the outfield remains subpar.

The Mets now need a No. 2 hitter, but because Tejada insists on hitting fly balls, he’s not an ideal fit there.

Let’s face it, currently Murphy and Wright are the only hitters in the lineup who are reliable.

Apr 17

Mets Getting Bullpen Help; Add Familia, Demote Burke

The beleaguered Mets bullpen is getting help tonight with the return of Jeurys Familia to the majors from Triple-A Las Vegas. With neither starter Dillon Gee nor Aaron Laffey getting through five innings in Tuesday’s doubleheader, the Mets’ bullpen threw a taxing 10.1 innings.

To make room on the roster, the Mets demoted submariner Greg Burke, who have up three runs in the doubleheader. Burke has a staggering 7.06 ERA in 7.1 in seven appearances.

Familia opened the season on the 25-man roster, but when Aaron Laffey was brought up to take Shaun Marcum’s spot in the rotation, he was optioned to Las Vegas. Familia has pitched five scoreless innings in four appearances for Las Vegas.

Familia could offer short term and limited innings support, but the Mets’ immediate bullpen need is for a long reliever, somebody who can come in and give them three innings. Depending on the move the Mets make when Marcum is activated, they could use either Laffey or Jeremy Hefner in a log relief role.

The Mets could be getting further support in the next two weeks if Pedro Feliciano is promoted from Single-A and Frank Francisco is activated from the disabled list.

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Apr 17

Sweep Exposes Mets’ Pitching Concerns; Was Mistake To Pull Laffey

Assuming Terry Collins pulled Aaron Laffey in Tuesday’s nightcap to set him up to pitch on short rest this weekend against Washington, then it was a bad move.

Collins assumed his already shaky bullpen could hold a six-run lead, but you know what happens when you assume. Especially to go to a bullpen that has given no reason to believe it could hold a lead in that park. Collins should know never to give away a game seemingly in hand to chase another.

COLLINS: Juggling bullpen.

COLLINS: Juggling bullpen.

This isn’t to say Laffey couldn’t have blown the game by himself, but with a six run lead should have been given another inning or two. Collins should realize he has an unreliable bullpen and he should stay out of it as much as possible.

Collins’ job should have been to hold onto Tuesday and let Sandy Alderson worry about finding him a pitcher for Saturday. Frankly, I believe Laffey had a better chance of holding a six run lead for two innings than coming back to beat Washington on Saturday.

What already had been Mets concerns re-emerged in the rubble of Tuesday’s double-header sweep at Colorado. A good start to the season leveled off on this road trip by the back end of the rotation that has not been picked up by the bullpen.

Theoretically, Jeremy Hefner – tonight’s starter at Colorado – and Laffey, would be whom the Mets would be looking at if they wanted an emergency starter. Problem is they are already here because of injuries to Johan Santana and Shuan Marcum. Also injured is Jenrry Mejia, who appears to have fallen off the radar.

The back end is clearly not producing and the Mets remain adamant on not bringing up Zack Wheeler, who is not ready.

However, Collin McHugh has pitched well for Triple-A Las Vegas, and he’s had limited major league success. If not him or Wheeler, Logan Verrett and Rafael Montero have each made three strong starts for Double-A Binghamton.

The bullpen is harder to patch from the minor leagues, so it figures the Mets will attempt to hold things until Frank Francisco is able to pitch. When he returns he’ll likely be in set-up and situational roles while Bobby Parnell stays the closer.

Greg Burke gave up three runs as his struggles continued. Josh Edgin, who had been effective, gave up four runs. In fairness, it is hard to be sitting and then getting up and throwing in 30-degree weather.

However, there was nothing wrong with the weather in Philadelphia, so the pen is still to be scrutinized.

Two other red flags were raised in Denver.

The first was Ruben Tejada’s throwing error in the eighth inning of the second game that helped erase the Mets’ six-run lead.

To their credit, neither Tejada nor any other Mets used the weather as an excuse, although it clearly had an impact on the game. Yes, it was difficult to throw, but Tejada’s error was his sixth in 13 games, so his fielding has been a problem.

Every time Tejada makes an error the issue on not having a quality back-up emerges. The Mets are dragging their feet on bringing up Omar Quintanillia. It is easy enough to say he’ll replace Kirk Nieuwenhuis on the active roster, but the obstacle is finding somebody to remove from the 40-man roster.

Las Vegas shortstop Wilmer Flores is on the 40-man roster, but the Mets won’t start the service-time clock on a player who isn’t ready and needs the minor league at-bats.

Another issue is Lucas Duda’s back, which tightened up Tuesday in the cold. He said he’ll play today, but there’s no guarantee.

Apr 08

Mets Should Consider Mike Baxter At Leadoff

Six games into the season and the Mets have used three different leadoff hitters. Evidently, there are answers to be found.

One who should get a longer look is Mike Baxter, who started Saturday and reached base three times on two hits and a walk.

BAXTER: The catch that saved Santana. (AP)

BAXTER: The catch that saved Santana. (AP)

A lead off hitter needs to get on base, and if not then take the count as deep as possible to give the following hitters a chance to learn what they can of the pitcher. Baxter usually runs up the pitch count, and if he plays a full game can see as many as a dozen pitches. That’s an in-game scouting report to those following him in the order.

Little League coaches like to say, “a walk is as good as a hit,’’ and there are times it is the same in the major leagues.

“He takes a base on balls,’’ manager Terry Collins said. “If he was a genuine base-stealer, he’d be dangerous. You look up, and he’s got a .375 on-base. It seems like he’s on first base all of the time.’’

Actually, Baxter’s career on-base percentage is .360, but Collins’ point is well taken. It is an on-base percentage representative of a productive leadoff hitter, as good as they received from Jose Reyes.

The stereotypical leadoff hitter is a base stealer, the kind the Mets enjoyed with Reyes early in his career. However, Wade Boggs didn’t steal many bases and hit .321 batting leadoff in over 900 games in his career.

They all can’t be Rickey Henderson, Lou Brock or Maury Wills.

Although the game has changed and there isn’t an emphasis on base stealing as there once was, the basic fundamental of a lead off hitter has always been the same, which is get on base to set the table for the run-producers.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis was penciled in as the leadoff hitter going into spring training, but has a propensity for striking out. He is still very much a work in progress. Other candidates Collin Cowgill and Jordany Valdespin never had full seasons as a starters.

Cowgill has homered twice and if he continues to flash power he might be needed lower in the order. Valdespin is fast, but can be an out-of-control free swinger. He doesn’t figure to last long at that position, and as a defensive liability, probably won’t get many starting opportunities.

Baxter has a decent glove – Johan Santana wouldn’t have his no-hitter without him – but has never had a full time chance.

So, as long as Collins is searching for answers, Baxter is worthy of an opportunity.

ON DECK: Contrasting pitchers Matt Harvey and Roy Halladay.

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