Jul 20

Zack Wheeler Tries To Get Mets On-Track

Well, so much for that fast start out of the second-half gate for the New York Mets.

That great ERA Jeremy Hefner was sporting going into the game? Not so much anymore. The Phillies nailed him for eight runs on ten hits. The carnage was accumulated over 63 pitches, 38 of them in the first inning.

HEFNER: Hammered by Phils, again. (AP)

HEFNER: Hammered by Phils, again. (AP)

The first inning and the Phillies have not been a good mix to Hefner over the years, and before you knew it, the Mets were down 11-0.

Terry Collins tried to put a positive spin on the rout.

“I’ll tell you what, down 11-0, make it a game, pretty impressive by our guys,’’ Collins told reporters after the game, most of who had their storied written by the fifth inning.

Uh huh. Forty years in the game should know by now there are no morale victories in baseball. Few of them, anyway, and last night wasn’t one of them.

Unfortunately for the Mets, them chopping away at the lead provided the illusion there was a chance, and consequently Collins had to go to his bullpen for seven innings.

Otherwise, Collins might have left Hefner in to take his lumps for the team to save the bullpen.

Either way, it was a hot, muggy miserable night, one better spent watching The Great Escape on the Military Channel.

Nonetheless, it is only one game and the Mets have their two of their best, Zack Wheeler and Matt Harvey, going the next two games of this series. After that, it’s four more home games at home against Atlanta before hitting the road to Washington and Miami before the trade deadline.

So, there’s plenty of time for the Mets to make a run at .500 and make the second half of this season worthy of watching. The last four years after the break effectively ended the competitive part of their season.

Was there anything good out of last night’s game?

Juan Lagares had a good at-bat and Ike Davis had a couple of hits. Kirk Nieuwenhuis looked like Mr. Magoo in center field. Other than that, not too much.

I wasn’t crazy about Collins’ managing last night. David Wright did homer in the ninth, but after a busy All-Star break, he should have been pulled and given a rest. The same goes for John Buck, who cramped up.

Here’s today’s lineup against Cole Hamels:

Eric Young, LF

Daniel Murphy, 2B

David Wright, 3B

Marlon Byrd, RF

Josh Satin, 1B

Juan Lagares, CF

Anthony Recker, C

Omar Quintanilla, SS

Zack Wheeler, RHP

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

Jul 19

Opening Day II For Mets Lays 2014 Foundation

Welcome to Opening Day II of the New York Mets.

This is the time last year when the great collapse began.  In early June in 2012 the Mets were eight games over .500, and seven games over heading into the last game of the first half, but were routed, 7-0, by the Cubs at home. They went on to lose 10 of 11 coming out of the break. The chance to upgrade was lost and the season spun out of control.

HARVEY: What's in store for second half? (AP)

HARVEY: What’s in store for second half? (AP)

That would be a valuable reminder for Terry Collins to tell his players. Nobody is thinking playoffs, but .500 is a reasonable and realistic goal. GM Sandy Alderson seems inclined to keep a pat hand to see if the Mets can sustain their recent play. Adding a bat would be helpful, if for no other reason, to demonstrate his confidence.

The Mets have had four straight losing seasons in which they finished in fourth place. The Mets open the second half 4.5 games behind third place Philadelphia and five behind second place Washington. Both are within reach.

If Matt Harvey can sustain and Zack Wheeler gains command of his fastball, improvement is possible. Yesterday, I asked several questions the Mets must answer in the positive if they are to lay the foundation for 2014.

“I don’t think there is any question about it,’’ manager Terry Collins said after the team won in Pittsburgh to close the first half. “We’ve been preaching, ‘Hey, it’s coming.’ We have to fix our minor leagues, we have to find some players, and they’ve done that.’’

The Mets have been surprised by Dillon Gee, Jeremy Hefner, Eric Young, Josh Satin and Omar Quintanilla. If these players have strong second halves, it could shorten GM Sandy Alderson’s shopping list.

We probably won’t see Rafael Montero in the second half, but maybe Jenrry Mejia can show he’s healthy and become a viable member of the bullpen. That would help that need.

Daniel Murphy has played well enough to warrant eliminating the need for a second baseman. Once and for all, they will not make a run at Robinson Cano. Not happening.

We’re not going to see Noah Syndergaard, but perhaps he can show he’s worthy of Triple-A next year.

The forecast wasn’t positive after the R.A. Dickey trade and coming out of spring training, but the Mets broke the gate at 7-4, then went on a long slide that had them bottom out at 15 games under .500. They are nine games under now, but it’s not totally gloomy.

“You have a star at third,’’ Collins said of David Wright “You have a star on the mound in Harvey and you have another one coming in Zack Wheeler. I plan on seeing a lot more games like the one [Wheeler] pitched the other night in San Francisco. The more confidence he gets, the better he is going to be.

“We’re not by any means happy where we are,’’ Collins said. “We know we have to get better.’’

Ironically, they have gotten better despite three major disappointments in what was to be their core. Ike Davis, Ruben Tejada and Lucas Duda have not come close to producing as expected. Davis is now in a platoon with Satin, Tejada is in Triple-A, and Duda is on the disabled list and they shouldn’t even be thinking about cutting into Young’s playing time.

Answers to those three players, and the center field platoon of Kirk Nieuwenhuis, are something Alderson wants to get. Plus, there’s the question of Jon Niese’s shoulder, whether the bullpen will continue to improve and if Marlon Byrd is worthy of an extension.

Not all of things will be answered in the positive. It rarely happens that way. But, if enough are getting out of fourth and a winning season are possibly, and that’s something few of us could have predicted.

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

Jul 17

How Mets Responded To Opening Day Questions

When the New York Mets broke camp this spring, they did so with a myriad of questions for manager Terry Collins. That’s not surprising considering the Opening Day roster featured only nine players from the 2012 first-game roster.

I broke the questions down to pitching and position players, limiting each category to just five questions. So, let’s go back and address each question to see how they’re being answered.

PITCHING QUESTIONS

 Q: Will Jon Niese assume the role of No. 1 with Santana done with the Mets?

NIESE: Key loss. (AP)

NIESE: Key loss. (AP)

A: Niese came out strong in his first two starts, including winning Opening Day. However, back-to-back high-pitch outings in freezing weather in Minneapolis and Denver caused tightness in his back. Niese’s inability to get loose caused a strain in his shoulder and eventual tear to the rotator cuff. He’s on the disabled list and not expected back until mid-August, if at all. The Mets won’t come close to getting the 200 innings they hoped from him. As far as being the ace, Matt Harvey grabbed that role and shows no signs of relinquishing it.

Q: Matt Harvey: Boom or bust?

A: The expectations are high, but high by Harvey’s standards. Harvey wants to be among the best and is living up to that desire. People might not recognize him as evidenced by his skit with Jimmy Fallon, but after his strong first half and starting the All-Star Game that will change. If Harvey isn’t recognized, that’s more a reflection of SNY’s ratings than anything else. The Mets are planning on cutting Harvey’s innings in the second half to 220. The Mets aren’t sure whether they want to skip starts or shave innings off each start.

Q: What will they get from Shaun Marcum?

A: Marcum started the season on the disabled list and is back on after losing feeling in his hand and fingers. The hope was he’d become an innings eater and win at least 12 games as the No. 4 starter. He’s 1-10 and will never pitch for the Mets again. Zack Wheeler replaced him in the rotation.

Q: Will Bobby Parnell seize the closer opportunity?

A: Parnell spit the bit before, but is holding tight and developing into a viable closer. He’s so good that we’ll never see Frank Francisco again. Parnell has drawn attention in the trade market and is coveted by Boston and Detroit.

Q: How good is the bullpen?

A: Parnell is the only one from last year’s Opening Day pen. The pen came out of the gate strong, faltered and is now showing signs of reliability. After 14 years in the minors, left-hander Scott Rice is among the league leaders in appearances. Josh Edgin broke camp with the Mets, but was sent down. He’s been better since his recall. LaTroy is a veteran presence, but struggling with a biceps issue. Bullpens come and go and the Mets have traditionally had problems.

HITTING QUESTIONS

 Q: Will David Wright respond to his contract?

A: Wright appeared in his seventh All-Star Game Tuesday night and a .300, 25, 90 year is within reach. He shows his captain stripes on a continual basis. Wright was in the middle of things trying to defuse the Jordany Valdespin powder keg. He also lobbied to keep Ike Davis from being sent down, but that didn’t work. He continues to play a strong defense and ranks among the NL leaders in on-base percentage.

DAVIS: It has been that kind of year.

DAVIS: It has been that kind of year.

Q: Can Ike Davis put together two strong halves?

A: No. Mets got little from him at the start last year and this season was more of the same. This time, the Mets had enough and sent him to Las Vegas. Davis rebounded to finish with 32 homers last season, but there are no signs of duplicating that this year. GM Sandy Alderson said the organization’s patience is wearing thin. If things continue as they have, the Mets are unlikely to tender Davis a contract for 2014.

Q: How will the outfield shake out?

A: Collin Cowgill’s stint in center field lasted roughly a week and he’s now out of the organization. Kirk Nieuwenhuis seems to be making the most of his opportunity. The team is also interested in seeing what they have in Juan Lagares. Marlon Byrd has exceeded all expectations in right field with 15 home runs, while Lucas Duda sputtered again. Duda is currently on the disabled list, but the team hardly misses him after picking up Eric Young.

Q: What will the Mets get from Ruben Tejada?

A: After a solid 2012, Tejada had a miserable spring training that carried over into the season. Compounding matters is his defense declined. Tejada’s offensive strength was getting on base, but that also declined. Tejada was replaced by 31-year-old Omar Quintanilla, who has been everything the Mets could have hoped for.

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

Jul 14

Mets To End First Half Standing Pat

The first half of the season for the New York Mets, despite losing their last two games in Pittsburgh, ends today on the plus side with comments from GM Sandy Alderson his intent to keep Bobby Parnell and Marlon Byrd.

Alderson said not to expect a second-half makeover. It would easy to trade either, but doing so would create further holes. Doing so would be taking a step in reverse.

BYRD: Looks like he's staying.

BYRD: Looks like he’s staying.

Regarding Byrd, Alderson told Newsday: “We’re not looking to move Marlon. Obviously, we have our eye on the future, but we want to be as good as we can be this year as well. Now, if what we can get for the future exceeds the value of the present, we’d have to look at that. But we’re not anxious to do it.’’

The Mets entered spring training needing an outfielder, and Byrd has produced 15 homers while playing strong defense. Nobody would be saying anything if he were ten years younger, but production is production, and they are getting it from Byrd. They are also getting a sense of professionalism.

Maybe Byrd will ask for two years in the offseason as Scott Hairston did and the Mets will let him walk. But for now, they aren’t going to do much better.

As far as Parnell, if the Mets are to compete next season as they anticipate, they will need a closer who is an economic bargain. That would be Parnell, who after several stumbles, is finally grasping the brass ring.

“We’ve been looking for a closer for two years. Looks like we’ve found one,’’ Alderson said. “Why would we want to give him away immediately? This is not a guy we’re looking to move, either.’’

If the Mets are blown away with offers for either, they should look at them. But, they shouldn’t trade just because somebody called their phone.

The statement the Mets are making is to see how good they can be this season, so they’ll have a clearer picture of their off-season decisions. Trading what commodities they already have will be taking a step back. And, the Mets have made enough of those in recent seasons.

After Saturday’s loss, the Mets optioned Jordany Valdespin, who was on a 2-for-36 slide, to the minor leagues. With Kirk Nieuwenhuis playing well, and before him, Juan Lagares, plus Byrd and the acquisition of Eric Young, there was less playing time for Valdespin after his failed audition at second base.

The Mets were never enamored with Valdespin to begin with, and it wouldn’t be surprising if we never saw him again. I would suggest trading him, but Valdespin’s value is clearly diminished.

The Mets end the first half excited about Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler, and before long could have two other young pitchers in their short-term plans as prospects Rafael Montero (World Team) and Noah Syndergaard (Team USA) will start in today’s Futures Game at Citi Field. We could see Montero before the season is over.

In addition, 2011 first-round pick infielder Brandon Nimmo is on the Team USA roster.

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

Jul 12

Jeremy Hefner On Roll For Mets

There is a likeable quality to New York Mets pitcher Jeremy Hefner. He’s modest and unassuming, and has been stand-up in the bad times.

However, recently it’s been good times for Hefner, Friday’s starter in Pittsburgh, who will be trying for his eighth straight strong outing. Hefner is coming off a one-run performance in seven innings last weekend in Milwaukee. Hefner has 12 quality starts, and had he any support earlier this year might have a winning record.

HEFNER: On a roll. (AP)

HEFNER: On a roll. (AP)

Roughly a month ago Hefner appeared the odd-man out in making room for Zack Wheeler, but his roster spot was preserved because of injuries to Jon Niese and Shaun Marcum.

Hefner told ESPN he knew he was vulnerable.

“I was maybe one or two bad starts from being in Las Vegas,’’ Hefner said. “So something had to change.’’

In seven starts since June 4, Hefner has a 1.64 ERA, which is better than Harvey over a similar span. He has given up two earned runs or fewer in those seven starts. The Mets have won his last five starts.

Hefner said he didn’t feel pressure in his turnaround: “It was a challenge for me. And I embraced it. And I’m doing pretty good.’’

Part of his turnaround is mechanical, in that he twists his torso to give the hitter a glance at his back. The intent was deception, but the bonus was increased velocity.

Hefner is one of the Mets’ bright spots this season. There’s some talk about him being dealt to a contender, but the Mets are better off keeping him because they don’t know if Niese will need surgery and Marcum is gone for the year.

Hefner moved up the pecking order for a promotion during spring training when it was apparent Jenrry Mejia wasn’t going to be healthy. Mejia is pitching in Double-A and is scheduled to pitch six innings Saturday. Apparently, there was no thought of bringing him up to replace Harvey that day.

Here’s the Mets’ lineup tonight behind Hefner against the Pirates’ Charlie Morton:

Eric Young, LF

Daniel Murphy, 2B

David Wright, 3B

Ike Davis, 1B

Marlon Byrd, RF

Kirk Nieuwenhuis, CF

Anthony Recker, C

Omar Quintanilla, SS

Jeremy Hefner, RHP

METS MUSINGS: Reliever Frank Francisco – remember him? – pitched one inning in a Gulf Coast League game over the weekend. He gave up an unearned run on one hit with on strikeout. Francisco is recovering from surgery to remove a bone spur in his elbow. Francisco is making $6.5 million this season and is not in the Mets’ plans.

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