Jun 05

Mets Matters: Is Kirk Nieuwenhuis An Upgrade?

I don’t understand all the hating of Rick Ankiel. Sure, he strikes out a lot, but he was brought here to plug a hole in the Mets’ shoddy outfield defense and hit the occasional home run. That, he’s done.

His throw in the ninth inning last night would have nailed Ryan Zimmerman at second had shortstop Omar Quintanilla been in position and stayed with the play. Had the play been made, perhaps the Mets would have won, but the point is no other outfielder’s throw would have made it close.

NIEUWENHUIS: On Mets' radar. (AP)

NIEUWENHUIS: On Mets’ radar. (AP)

I am all for playing the young players in a lost season, but Juan Lagares isn’t the answer. He has been clearly overmatched, but could get a chance against lefty Gio Gonzalez, who’ll replace Stephen Strasburg Thursday.

Terry Collins said Kirk Nieuwenhuis in back in the Mets’ thinking for a promotion, and I say, to do what? Strike out. The Mets already have enough of those hitters, including, Ankiel.

The rap on Triple-A Las Vegas is the climate makes it conducive for the long ball. That’s what Collins told Zack Wheeler, saying there would be less a premium on numbers. Using the same reasoning, why should Nieuwenhuis’ recent power surge of eight homers in 14 games – giving him ten overall – be regarded differently?

For his power, Nieuwenhuis only has 18 RBI, an indication he’s not hitting with runners in scoring position. Nieuwenhuis is still striking out at an alarming rate to prove he still doesn’t get it. He has more strikeouts (34) than hits (32) in 133 at-bats.

I don’t see where that is an upgrade.

PITCHING INJURY UPDATES: Jon Niese, who was scratched from his last start with shoulder tendinitis will throw in the bullpen this afternoon.

Niese hopes to start Saturday against Miami, but that is clearly in doubt. If his shoulder doesn’t respond, Niese could find himself on the disabled list.

Several weeks ago, Collins said back-to-back cold weather starts in Minnesota and Denver caused Niese’s back to tighten. It is possible this is a residual effect.

Also, Jeurys Familia will undergo surgery on his right elbow today to remove a bone spur.

PATRIOTIC OBLIGATION: As they always do when in Washington, the Mets will visit Walter Reed National Military Center this afternoon.

There are no reported exemptions from owner Fred Wilpon’s traditional, and urgent, request of his players.

IN TROUBLE: Cesar Puello isn’t in the major leagues, but the Double-A Binghamton outfielder is facing a suspension in the Biogenesis case now that founder Tony Bosch is willing to list names.

ON DECK: Tonight’s game.

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

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.

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

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.