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.

Please follow me on Twitter

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.

Please follow me on Twitter

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.

Please follow me on Twitter

Aug 12

Mets Matters: Conforto Optioned; Lineups

Michael Conforto gave the Mets a spark last year in their second-half push toward the playoffs. He started this season in the lineup, but low in the order. Manager Terry Collins said Conforto’s future was third in the order, but that fizzled, as did the plan for him to play against left-handers.

When Yoenis Cespedes was injured, Collins said Conforto would get time in center. That didn’t happen, either. The Mets placed Conforto on the Vegas Shuttle today when they optioned him to Triple-A to make room for righty reliever Seth Lugo.

We’ll see Conforto again, perhaps even before the rosters are expanded Sept. 1.

Collins keeps saying Conforto is a big piece of the Mets’ future, so why doesn’t he show it?

WHEELER NOT CLOSE:  Perhaps the Mets should start thinking about shutting down Zack Wheeler for the season. The plan was to activate him from the disabled list around July 1, but he’s had several setbacks.

He made his first rehab start earlier this week, but it lasted 17 pitches before being washed away by rain. Today the Mets said Wheeler will be examined by orthopedic surgeon James Andrews because of persistent elbow discomfort.

There’s no reason to push him when he’s clearly not ready.

LINEUP vs. SAN DIEGO:  The Mets are supposed to beat up on the San Diego Padres, then again they were going to get back into the wild-card race against Arizona. Instead, they were swept and have lost 11 of their past 15 games to fall to .500 at 57-57.

On Thursday, Collins said, “starting tomorrow we’re going to go after it.” They try to do so with Logan Verrett (3-7, 4.66).

Here’s the lineup behind him:

Curtis Granderson – LF:  Batting .229 with 18 homers and 31 RBI. … Career .288 hitter (21-73) vs. Padres. … Hitting .135 (10-74) with RISP.

T.J. Rivera – 3B: Made his major league debut Wednesday and got a hit. … Was leading the International League with a .349 average.

Neil Walker – 2B: Is batting .275 with 20 homers and 51 RBI. … Lifetime .232 hitter (36-155) vs. Padres. … Batting .270 (20-74) with RISP.

Jay Bruce – RF: Is batting .257 with 27 homers and 84. … Lifetime .232 hitter (41-177) vs. Padres. … Overall, is batting .344 (33-96) with nine homers and 55 RBI with RISP.

James Loney – 1B: Is batting .277 with six homers and 25 RBI. … Lifetime .255 hitter (83-325) vs. Padres. … Batting .229 (11-48) with 16 RBI with RISP.

Travis d’Arnaud – C: Is batting .228 with three homers and 11 RBI. … Lifetime .235 hitter (4-17) against Padres. … Batting .147 (5-34) with RISP.

Alejandro De Aza – CF: Is batting .200 with three homers and nine RBI. … Lifetime .226 hitter (7-31) vs. Padres. … Is hitting .080 (2-25) with RISP.

Matt Reynolds – SS: Is batting .208 with two homers and 10 RBI. … Has never faced Padres. … Is hitting .294 (5-17) with RISP.

Verrett – RHP: Has no decisions in four of last five starts. … Hitters are batting .235 (20-85) with 14 strikeouts with RISP.


Saturday: RHP Jacob deGrom (7-5, 2.35) vs. RHP Jarred Cosart (0-1, 5.79), 7:10 p.m. ET

Sunday: LHP Steven Matz (8-8, 3.60) vs. LHP Clayton Richard (0-1, 6.46), 1:10 p.m. ET



Aug 09

Three Mets’ Storylines: Robles Loses It For Matz

The Mets still haven’t won back-to-back games since before the All-Star break. This time, the fault goes to Hansel Robles for kicking away another winnable effort by Steven Matz.

MATZ: Effort wasted. (AP)

       MATZ: Effort wasted. (AP)

Robles threw 32 pitches – few of them good – as he gave up three runs in two-thirds of an inning in the seventh of Tuesday night’s 5-3 loss to Arizona at Citi Field.

The Mets had taken a 3-2 lead in the sixth on Neil Walker’s two-run homer to give Matz a chance at the win.

However, manager Terry Collins allowed Robles to stay in the game to walk two hitters and give up three hits. The Diamondbacks also executed a double-steal It’s a close game, so it’s hard to understand Collins’ logic for leaving an ineffective reliever in the game that long.

“You saw him fall behind in some counts,” Collins said. “He had been so good. You think you have the perfect set-up. He just didn’t get it done.”

That was the main storyline of the night, with the others being Matz and injury updates.

MATZ’S EFFORT WASTED: Based on runs given up, Matz pitched well enough to win most games. Two runs in six innings should have beaten Zack Greinke.

However, those were six rough innings. He threw 28 pitches in the first inning and was nearing 50 after two innings.

“The first inning killed him,” Collins said. “After that, he settled down and pitched well.”

Here’s another question: Why would Collins allow Matz to throw 120 pitches?

Collins said he had no trepidation in letting Matz throw that many pitches. Matz didn’t have any problems, either.

“No, I felt really good,” Matz said. “I didn’t feel tired at the end. I felt strong.”

INJURY UPDATES: Yoenis Cespedes took batting practice. GM Sandy Alderson, as both he and Collins frequently do, said he expects Cespedes to be activated after the 15 days. You have heard that before, right? … The news isn’t so encouraging for shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera. He hit off a tee. … Jose Reyes’ right side remains sore. He was supposed to start a rehab assignment Tuesday. … Reliever Jim Henderson, whom the Mets pushed hard too soon following his surgery, will have his rehab assignment moved from Port St. Lucie to Triple-A Las Vegas. … Zack Wheeler will stay in Port St. Lucie to make a second rehab start.

NOTES: Alderson said he will talk with Walker’s agents about an extension. … The Diamondbacks stole five bases off Mets’ pitchers. “That’s something we have to clean up,” Collins said. … Logan Verrett will stay in the rotation and start Friday. … After the game, the Mets optioned Brandon Nimmo to Las Vegas. They did not announce a corresponding move, but speculation is it could be a reliever. … Matt Harvey watched the game from the dugout. … Bartolo Colon will start Wednesday. … The Mets fell to 2.5 games behind the second wild-card.

Please follow me on Twitter