Apr 02

Injuries Solidify Mets’ Opening Day Roster

It would have been great had Michael Conforto made the Mets’ Opening Day roster as a starter. That was the case last season, but a blistering April quickly sputtered and for much of the season he rode the Las Vegas shuttle and bench.

The Conforto whom manager Terry Collins said last April when the left fielder was hitting well over .330 was going to the Mets’ “No. 3 hitter of the future,” appeared to open the season in the minors this winter after Yoenis Cespedes was brought back and they were unable to trade Jay Bruce.

CONFORTO: How will they give him ABs? (Getty)

CONFORTO: How will they give him ABs? (Getty)

However, when Juan Lagares – the Mets’ only natural center fielder – strained his oblique that meant Conforto would need to stick.

“I feel good. Confident,” Conforto told reporters. “It’s a different role for me starting the year, but I feel great. I’m excited about the opportunity to just get in there and hopefully influence some games late and give some guys rest and do what I can to help the team win.”

Conforto always says the right things, so won’t say what should be said. Conforto needs to play and get regular at-bats. He needs more than one token AB at the end of a game he entered as a defensive replacement.

Hopefully, Collins will come up with a rotation with Conforto, Bruce, Curtis Granderson, and yes, Cespedes. Even if the Mets plan to option Conforto when Lagares is ready is a few weeks, I hope he won’t fly to Vegas with only six or seven at-bats on his stat sheet.

An injury also cleared the way for Rafael Montero to make the Opening Day roster over Seth Lugo, and prompt one wonder whether the World Baseball Classic was the factor. Lugo, who pitched superbly for Puerto Rico in the WBC, has struggled with fatigue and soreness in his arm and then conceded he pushed himself too hard to win a spot on the staff.

Maybe none of that happens if there was no WBC this year.

I understand players want to compete for their country, but their first obligation should be to the teams that are the source of their livelihood.

The key is for the Mets to give him the time he needs to heal and regain his strength, and for Lugo to not be thinking he needs to get back to the majors right away because it is a long season.

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.

 

 

Sep 13

Mets’ Three Storylines: T.J. Rivera Steps Up

Pennant races aren’t just for guys like Yoenis Cespedes and Bryce Harper. They also belong to guys like T.J. Rivera, a undrafted free agent who carried the Mets on this night over their closest rivals.

RIVERA: Blast lifts Mets over Nats. (AP)

RIVERA: Blast lifts Mets over Nats. (AP)

Getting his first start in three weeks, Rivera had three hits including a tenth-inning homer that lifted the Mets over the Nationals, 4-3 in 10 innings, at Nationals Park Tuesday night. The victory, coupled with the Cardinals beating the Cubs in St. Louis, kept the Mets with a half-game lead for the second wild-card (they are even in the loss column).

“Somebody you don’t expect has to step up and tonight it was T.J.,” manager Terry Collins said. “He’s hit everywhere he’s been. He has a simple, short swing.”

In 45 at-bats since joining the Mets, Rivera his hitting .333 with his first career homer and six RBI. He’s also been solid defensively, regardless of where Collins starts him.

“It’s definitely not to hit a home run,” Rivera said of his thinking heading to the plate against Nationals closer Mark Melancon. “I just wanted to put the bat on the ball. When you haven’t been around the team much you want to contribute.”

With Neil Walker out for the season with a back injury and Wilmer Flores currently hurting following a home plate collision Saturday in Atlanta, Rivera should get more opportunities to play. Collins said it was a gut feeling to start Rivera, who won the Triple-A batting title for Las Vegas.

It’s probably a stretch to say Rivera could make the postseason roster, but he’s made enough of an impression to where he can compete for a job next spring.

Rivera was the main storyline, with the others being Noah Syndergaard’s wasted effort and Jerry Blevins picking up for Jeurys Familia.

TOUGH LUCK NOAH: Collins said with the Mets starting their best pitcher, this was a game they had to win. Syndergaard was poised to win his 14th game until Familia blew his fourth save opportunity in the ninth.

Syndergaard gave up one run on four hits with one walk and 10 strikeouts – including his 200th of the season – in one of his best outings of the season. Unlike previous outings where he ran up his pitch count, Syndergaard was extremely pitch efficient throwing 99.

“He was amped up,” Collins said. “He knew we needed to win this game.”

Syndergaard became the second-fastest Met behind Dwight Gooden to reach 200 strikeouts.

BLEVINS PICKS UP FAMILIA:  Familia blew his fourth save opportunity when the Nationals tied it on RBI singles by Anthony Rendon and Wilson Ramos (an infield chopper over Familia’s head).

After Rivera’s drive, the Nationals to tie the game again, but Blevins struck out Daniel Murphy on a wicked curveball to end the game.

It was his first save since 2012.

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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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Sep 06

Met On The Mound: Montero Gets Another Shot

Rafael Montero was brought up and will start today for the Mets in place of Jacob deGrom. At one time, Montero was in that grouping of the Mets’ young arms, but didn’t pitch well in Triple-A and was demoted.

Montero was 4-6 with a 7.20 ERA at Las Vegas, and was 2-4 with a 10.75 ERA in his last ten starts. He was better at Double-A Binghamton, going 4-3 with a 2.20 ERA in nine starts.

MONTERO: Worth developing. (AP)

MONTERO: Worth developing. (AP)

Do you remember Jenrry Mejia? The Mets went back and forth using him as a starter or reliever. They bounced him around to the point where he hurt his elbow. In the process his trade value was diminished.

They finally settled on him as a reliever. He panned out in that role, but it was determined his success was chemically related.

Here’s hoping the Mets settle on a role for Montero and stick with it. That’s the best way to showcase him if they are going to deal.

Although the Mets are searching for an explanation for why Montero hasn’t panned out, there’s nothing wrong with his arm, evidenced by a 108 strikeouts to 59 walks ratio.

He’s worth developing, but he walks are an issue as they were in his Aug. 29 start against Miami when he walked a career-high six in five scoreless innings. On a positive note, the walks forced him to pitch out of trouble, which he did. But, the general idea of pitching is to stay out of trouble.

Overall, Montero has made ten career starts in the majors in a spot-start role, going 1-3 with a 3.69 ERA. In that span he has 49 strikeouts to 28 walks.

If Montero can improve his command, he could have a place for the Mets, perhaps coming out of the bullpen. He’s worth the efforts in trying to develop him.

He has never faced the Reds.

ON DECK:  Three keys for Mets tonight.

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