Apr 07

Early Impressions Of Mets Have Been Good

It’s always fun to examine the first impressions of a new season.

For example, it is safe to say John Buck will not finish with 292 RBI. However, you might get interesting odds if you believe the 4-2 Mets will continue their pace and outplay the 2-4 Yankees.

That being said, the measuring stick for success or failure is their starting pitching. If they get innings it keeps them in games and the bullpen off the mound.

DAVIS: Some anguish there/

DAVIS: Some anguish there

There’s absolutely no way the starters will continue with a 1.41 ERA, but if the front end of Jon Niese, Matt Harvey and Dillon Gee produce, and they get something from the back end, they’ll remain competitive.

However, if the starters run into stretches where they are batted around, it exposes the bullpen, which has been tested and performed well twice and poorly twice.

The most important start of the season was Jeremy Hefner as a replacement for Johan Santana. Currently, he’s the fourth starter, and Sunday’s starter, Aaron Laffey, is the fifth. A week in and already the Mets have two holes in the rotation. I have no expectations of Shaun Marcum.

The bullpen was on Saturday and Sunday. Scott Rice is a good story, but there’s a reason he’s bounced around. This is a make-or-break year for Bobby Parnell. I have confidence in Josh Edgin, but little in LaTroy Hawkins. Scott Atchison was superb Sunday.

GM Sandy Alderson has spent two years trying to build a bullpen and he might have to do it again.

Alderson is adamant about not rushing Zack Wheeler, and evidenced by him getting hit hard last week, that’s the smart call. However, it’s easy to say that now, but let’s see what happens if the back end of the rotation becomes a black hole.

One thing for certain is the injured Jenrry Mejia isn’t in the plan – as a starter or reliever. The way the Mets jerked him around might have irreparably damaged his career.

Offensively, two things always jump out: 1) their high propensity for striking out, and 2) long stretches of not hitting with runners in scoring position. Both have already come into play.

They’ve homered in each game, but that won’t continue, although the potential for greater power production is realistic.

Buck has been the best story, but let’s be honest, if he continues to be good and the Mets fade, teams will be calling for him by the July 31 trade deadline. By that time, Travis d’Arnaud could be here. In a perfect world, the Mets would continue to play well and d’Arnaud could be Buck’s caddy for half the season.

David Wright had three hits Saturday to break out of a dry stretch, but has yet to homer. He’s hit 30 before, but if he doesn’t and still drives in runs and has a high OPS, we shouldn’t worry about him. Wright has the same number of strikeouts as walks (4), which in today’s game is acceptable. As long as he has a high on-base percentage (.455 now), there’s no reason for concern.

The guy I wonder about is Ike Davis, who had two hits Saturday to get out of a 1-for-16 slide. Davis, with one homer, has a tendency to go into prolonged slumps. The red flag with him is he has more than twice as many strikeouts (7) to hits (3) and a .273 on-base percentage. Davis had a miserable first half last season and you must consider if his slow start is making him wonder.

So far, the most encouraging sign about Lucas Duda is he has more walks than strikeouts and a .500 on-base percentage. He’s staying within himself and if he continues to be selective, he’ll get his pitch to hit.

Daniel Murphy, despite not having much of spring training, is driving the ball. Murphy is strong, and I wonder if he concentrated more on turning on the pitch if he’d hit for more power. Wade Boggs always said he could hit a lot of home runs if he wanted. The same went with Tony Gwynn. Murphy isn’t in either class, but is a contact hitter.

If there’s been one disappointment it has been Ruben Tejada, who’s especially struggling with the glove.

The major offensive concern was the outfield, but so far it hasn’t been a problem. Collin Cowgill has hit for power, Duda has been on base and Marlon Byrd has been hitting. Mike Baxter reached base three times Saturday and should get a longer look in the leadoff spot, as that remains unsettled.

The Mets are playing better than expected, but the same cracks that haunted them in the past are still evident. After a week, yes, there is the potential for a long summer. But, also the potential for some fun.

Apr 06

Lineup Changes For Mets Against Marlins

Terry Collins put together an interesting lineup for this afternoon’s game against Miami Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco.

Collins promised to get starts for outfielders Mike Baxter and Kirk Nieuwenhuis and both are starting today, with Marlon Byrd and Collin Cowgill sitting. It the second straight game in which Cowgill is on the bench.

Somewhat surprising is John Buck  again behind the plate. The reasoning is he’s probably a better fit with Jon Niese. Anthony Recker could start Sunday.

Here’s the lineup:

Mike Baxter, RF: Gets his first start of the season, and in right field as expected. However, I didn’t expect to see him leading off.

Daniel Murphy, 2B: Hit a three-run homer yesterday. Still hitting second, and is doing it behind his third different leadoff hitter. With his patience, he’ll stay here for a while. Last night was his first homer; he didn’t get his first last year until June 27.

David Wright, 3B: Still looking for his first homer. Hitting .397 with six career homers and 17 RBI against Miami starter Ricky Nolasco.

Ike Davis, 1B: Is off to a miserable start and takes a 1-for-16 slide into the game. Overall is hitting .067 with one homer and two RBI. Is also hitting a dismal .167 (1-7) with runners in scoring position.

John Buck, C: Mets hottest hitter at .412, two homers and five RBI. Moved up to fifth to hit between strikeout prone Davis and Lucas Duda. For the second time this week is catching in a day game after a night game.

Lucas Duda, LF: Showed last night he’s still a weakness with the glove. He needs to hit more to compensate. Is batting .273 with one homer and three RBI. A positive so far is he’s working the count and taking some walks.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis, CF: Is getting his first start of the season. That he’s not leading off indicates Mets remain wary of his high strikeout totals and low on-base percentage. To get in the starting lineup he needs to get on base.

Ruben Tejada, SS: Has three errors in four games, and should have been charged with another last night when he dropped a ball trying to make a tag on a steal attempt. Throwing error last night opened door for Marlins’ five-run seventh inning. Is hitting better than his fielding, but is only at .231.

Jon Niese, LHP: In ten career starts against the Marlins, is 2-5 with a 4.60 ERA. Is coming off a strong Opening Day performance against San Diego.

Apr 05

Mets’ Jeremy Hefner Starts Against Marlins In Statement Game

John Buck started prepping Jeremy Hefner on tonight’s start with Miami hours ago. He started by meeting with Hefner and pitching coach Dan Warthen about how to pitch the Marlins’ hitters, of which Hefner saw this spring.

“How much that will help, I don’t know,’’ Hefner said. “I do know some things about them … and, they know some things about me.’’

HEFNER: Has an opportunity.

HEFNER: Has an opportunity.

After meeting with Warthen, Buck and Hefner will sit down and go over the signs and tonight’s game plan.

“I don’t want to put something down and have him be totally surprised by it,’’ Buck said. “We want to be thinking along the same lines.’’

What Buck is most interested in seeing from Hefner is how he reacts under pressure.

“That’s when you really get to know a pitcher,’’ Buck said. “It takes time.’’

Hefner will attempt to give the Mets a fourth straight strong start, following the efforts of Jon Niese, Matt Harvey and Dillon Gee against San Diego.

The Mets know Hefner from last season when he went 4-7 with a 5.09 ERA with them after injuries to Johan Santana and Gee. Hefner is getting another chance to stick in the rotation as a replacement for Santana, who is out for the season following shoulder surgery.

Is this a chance to show manager Terry Collins he deserves to stay in the rotation?

“No,’’ Hefner bluntly said. “All it means if I pitch well is that I may get another chance to pitch again in five days. If I pitch well then, I might get another chance to pitch in five days. There are no guarantees. Even if I pitch a no-hitter that doesn’t guarantee me a spot in the rotation for the rest of the year.’’

The following is tonight’s lineup for the Mets against Marlins’ starter Alex Sanabia:

Jordany Valdespin, CF: Collin Cowgill, who has struggled since his Opening Day grand slam get the night off.

Daniel Murphy, 2B: With Justin Turner getting three hits yesterday, this could be considered a surprise.

David Wright, 3B: Looking for his first homer.

Ike Davis, 1B: One game he strikes out four times; the next he homers. The production must go up.

Marlon Byrd, CF: A strong start to the season. How long will it go for the 35-year-old?

Lucas Duda, LF: His power potential could still be rattling around in the upper deck.

John Buck, C: Has a calming influence on the pitchers. Homered yesterday.

Jeremy Hefner, RHP: Has a chance to make a statement for staying in the rotation.

Apr 03

Matt Harvey Dominates Padres; Lucas Duda And Ike Davis Go Deep

Matt Harvey was everything the Mets hoped for as he dominated the San Diego Padres, 8-4, in frigid Citi Field tonight. Harvey gave up one hit with ten strikeouts in seven scoreless innings.

All San Diego’s runs came against the bullpen, which is expected to be a Mets’ Achilles Heel this season, but not even it could ruin this night.

HARVEY: Overpowering

HARVEY: Overpowering (AP)

Especially impressive was Harvey did it pitching with temperatures in the low 30s after the wind-chill. Harvey was in complete control, but at 94 pitches after seven, manager Terry Collins thought it was time to pull the plug.

“Believe me, later in the season in a close game he’s not going to want to come out. There will be huge argument in taking him out,’’ Collins said. “He was getting stiff. He was cold. Under the circumstances he pitched a very impressive game. In weather like that, the ball feels like a cue ball.’’

Harvey said he doesn’t want to be just a major league pitcher, but a great pitcher, and to do that he’s not afraid of putting in the work as in running the steps in the Citi Field stands this winter. It’s easy to say you want to be good, but the key is to make the effort.

The victory was the first of Harvey’s career at Citi Field, and he became the fourth Mets pitcher to register at least 80 strikeouts in his first 11 starts with the team, joining Pedro Martinez, Dwight Gooden and Nolan Ryan.

“Today it was the fastball,’’ Harvey said of what was working. “I threw some good sliders when I needed and I threw my change-up in timely counts. … I said all spring training I wanted to pound the zone and I wasn’t about to let the cold effect me.’’

Harvey wore short sleeves and refused a jacket when he was on the bases: “In my mind, a jacket doesn’t belong on a baseball field.’’

That’s the mentality of an offensive lineman, and the Mets haven’t had that in a long time.

POWER PLUS: One of the pre-season concerns was if the Mets would hit with power. Collin Cowgill hit a grand slam in the opener, and Ike Davis, Lucas Duda and John Buck each hit two-run homers last night off left-hander Clayton Richard. That’s ten RBI on four homers.

“Duda and Ike hitting them off a lefty is huge,’’ Collins said. “If those two guys are hitting, it’s a tough line-up to get through.’’

The Mets have outscored the Padres, 19-6, in winning their first two games.

MARCUM UPDATE: Shaun Green returned to New York from Port St. Lucie to have his neck and shoulder re-examined. He’s already on the disabled list, and Collins said Aaron Laffey would start in his place Sunday against Miami.

“He has some real discomfort running from his shoulder up through his neck,’’ Collins said. “What that is, where it starts, what’s causing it, I think we won’t know until he sees the doctor tomorrow.’’

The Mets signed Laffey as a free agent in December. At 27, he’s also pitched with Cleveland, Seattle, Toronto and the Yankees. He went 4-6 with a 4.56 ERA in 22 games, including 16 starts with the Blue Jays last year.

“Hopefully he comes in Sunday and pitches very well,’’ Collins said. “If he does, he most likely will get another start. But we’re going to just take one start at a time right now.’’

Apr 03

Mets’ Collins Keeps Pat Hand; Roster Notes

True to his word, manager Terry Collins is keeping a pat hand. Of course, why would you change anything after scoring 11 runs?

COWGILL: Back on top of order.

COWGILL: Back on top of order.

However, too often in recent seasons the Mets lineup seemed to change daily, with no regard of who was hot or slumping. Granted, there are times when a slump or bad pitching match-up will force a change, but I like Collins’ intent of keeping an even keel.

Collins wants consistency and stability. The bench players will play soon enough, but now it is time for the starters to develop continuity.

Here’s what he has going tonight against Padres left-hander Clayton Richard. My intent is to follow each name in the lineup with a pertinent stat or note. Everybody posts a lineup, but I want to give you something more and a reason to come back:

Collin Cowgill, CF: Was surprise winner of center field job because he’s the best combination of offense and defense. Hit first career grand slam in opener.

Daniel Murphy, 2B: Has shown no ill effects from strained muscle that kept him out of most of spring training. Murphy’s patience makes him an ideal No. 2 hitter.

David Wright, 3B: Named fourth captain in team history. Had a hit and two steals in the opener. Wright will not give a statistical goal, but we all know he’s a .300 hitter with power potential to reach 30 homers and drive in close to 110 runs.

Ike Davis, 1B: Struck out four times in the opener. His swing it too long now. Davis said he doesn’t worry about hitting homers, saying he’s a home-run hitter and knows he must produce to off-set the times he walks back to the bench.

Marlon Byrd, RF: Played well Monday, but wasn’t talking later. He’s a veteran presence with some pop to his bat.

Lucas Duda, LF: Another with high strikeout and power potential. Everybody wants to say he has the power to hit 35 homers. Let him hit 20 first.

John Buck, C: The pitchers like how he calls a game. He’s been an upgrade over Josh Thole. Buck is far from an automatic out at the plate.

Ruben Tejada, SS: Doubled in a run after rough spring training at the plate. Collins said Tejada told him he would be ready and he lived up to his word.

Matt Harvey, RHP: Gave up five runs in five innings in only career start against San Diego. Harvey said commanding his secondary pitches will be the key for him.