Apr 26

Niese Still Key In Mets’ Rotation

In the first two games of this series, the focus for the Mets was on their stud pitchers Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey, but I remain intrigued with Sunday’s starter, Jon Niese.

In the pre-Harvey years, when the Mets were forced to move from Johan Santana and Mike Pelfrey – wow, I hadn’t thought of him in a long time – Niese was in the driver’s seat of their rotation. Young, left-handed, and a hard thrower with a manageable contract, Niese not only was a Mets’ leader but coveted by other teams.

NIESE: Still important to Mets. (AP)

NIESE: Still important to Mets. (AP)

However, injuries – including a partial tear of his rotator cuff – sapped the effectiveness of Sunday’s starter against the Yankees. Last winter the Mets were open to trading Niese, but at 28, he’s young enough to reverse the perception of him and increase his value to the Mets for the long-term.

And, it definitely helps that he’s healthy, which only fuels his confidence.

“I haven’t been this confident in my arm in probably three years,’’ Niese said during spring training. “I feel really good. … I feel a lot stronger. My arm feels excellent.’’

That has translated to the mound, where Niese is 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA – and 1-1 with a 2.05 ERA in four starts against the Yankees. He is off to the good start he hopes will fuel a comeback season. It must keep playing out this way if Niese is thinking long-term, although the math remains in his favor.

On one hand, there’s Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz waiting at Triple-A Las Vegas to push him out of the rotation. On the other, figure on Bartolo Colon and Dillon Gee not coming back next season, and we won’t see Zack Wheeler until at least July.

Also, he’s still young and hard-throwing left-hander with a manageable contract (under their control for the next two seasons). In this scenario, figure on Niese returning.

However, the Mets aren’t just interested in him just holding a roster spot, but needing him to perform as he did in his last start, Tuesday against Atlanta, when he gave up a solo homer in 6.2 innings.

They will take that tonight and every night.

Apr 25

Was Harvey Showing Off For His Future Team?

As I watched Matt Harvey pitch for the Mets today against the Yankees, I couldn’t help but wonder: Was he showing off for his future bosses? I have little doubt from his body language there’s little question to the matter of showing up his current boss.

Please don’t say Harvey someday toiling for the Yankees has not crossed your mind. How could it not? It definitely must have crossed the minds of GM Sandy Alderson and the Wilpons. If you were to wager a hundred bucks with Titanbet on whether Harvey will be a Met or Yankee when he reaches free agency, seriously, who’d you bet on?

HARVEY: What is going on with him? (AP)

HARVEY: What is going on with him? (AP)

Harvey, who makes no secret he grew up in Connecticut a passionate Yankees fan, was superb in toying with his boyhood team for the better part of 8.2 innings as he gave up two runs on five hits and two walks with seven strikeouts.

However, what tells me Harvey will someday be gone is: 1) his youthful affection for the Yankees, which culminated in being photographed watching Derek Jeter last season from the stands when he was on the disabled list; 2) his attraction, like a moth to a light bulb, to the New York nightlife, which always has the light shining brightest on the Yankees; 3) his agent, Scott Boras, who has a reputation of getting every last dollar, and we all know the Yankees will outspend the Mets; and 4) we’ve never heard him passionately say he wants to finish his career in a Mets’ uniform.

He had a chance today to say something about that, but passed.

And finally, Mets’ management appears to be afraid to challenge their young, stud pitcher, who consistently pushes the envelope on about every issue. He sparred with Alderson as to where he would do his rehab and the issue of wanting to pitch last season.

Despite lip service in spring training, Harvey did nothing to dispel the notion there’s a divide when he refused to give up his start last Sunday despite being ill, and pitching the last month with a sprained ankle (Collins said he didn’t know about it until the middle of last week, which is unfathomable).

Harvey flat out said he didn’t want to give up the start last week and it was obvious he did not like Collins pulling him today. Even after Collins made up his mind, Harvey fought to stay in the game. Then, as he walked into the dugout he could be seen shaking his head.

Finally, in the handshake line after the game, he shook hands with Collins, but breezed past him and didn’t acknowledge what the manager said.

“I didn’t look at the board once to see how many pitches I had,’’ Harvey said, which would make him unique as pitchers always know. “I still felt good, I still felt strong. I thanked them for letting me come out for the ninth.”

The gratitude did not sound convincing.

Collins did all he could after the game to boost up Harvey and gave the impression nothing was wrong, saying he had a limit of 105 pitches. This was despite Collins saying coming out of spring training he’d try to limit him to 90 to 95 pitches. Collins said he chose to leave Harvey in after he left the mound following the eighth inning when the pitcher said, “I want this one.”

Managers often acquiesce to such requests, but usually not those coming off Tommy John surgery.

I appreciate the difficulty of Collins’ position, but fault him and Alderson for not defining a position for Harvey prior to the season. Had they been decisive then, and don’t forget Alderson comes across as knowing it all, this wouldn’t be an issue. Because they didn’t, Harvey’s innings will come to the forefront with every start.

Since Alderson and Collins have no intent to do something definitive with Harvey’s workload, I would have appreciated them not blowing smoke saying they wanted to conserve his innings, especially that for Harvey’s second straight start they didn’t take advantage of pulling him from a blowout victory.

They could have saved two innings last Sunday and three today. That’s five innings – enough for another start – they could have saved for September. Tell me, wouldn’t you rather have Harvey save his bullets now and use them later in a pennant race?

Growing up in Connecticut, Harvey watched Jeter, Paul O’Neill and Bernie Williams involved in pennant races and undoubtedly thought someday of pitching for them in the playoffs.

On this day, at least Harvey was smart enough to not let his past conflict with what’s happening around them today.

“I’m playing for the Mets, that’s who I play for,’’ Harvey said. “I’m a New York Met.’’

One almost expected to hear, “for now.’’

Apr 25

Mets Game Thread: Harvey Should Be Gone By Now

For his second straight start, the Mets gave Matt Harvey a 7-1 lead. He cruised through six and retired his last ten hitters. Again, and only because the Mets made a big deal of this, here was an opportunity to preserve his innings.

So, why am I not surprised he is still out there?

That he’s still pitching indicates the Mets never had any plan to limit his innings, and GM Sandy Alderson and manager Terry Collins were just blowing smoke. It also indicates they seem to be walking on egg shells around him. Yes, the tail wags the dog.

Mark Teixeira homered to lead off the seventh for the Yankees.

Harvey is pitching with house money today, so he shouldn’t have come out for this inning. With his pitch count down, I’d rather save Harvey’s bullets now and not worry about pulling him from a 3-3 game in September. If the Mets are as good as they say they are, they shouldn’t be afraid to go to their bullpen.

Compounding matters is nobody is warming up in the Mets’ bullpen, so Harvey will come out for the eighth.

Mets 7, Yankees 2 (8th)

Apr 25

Mets Game Thread: Mets Regain Lead

Situational hitting was a problem for the Mets in recent seasons, but that wasn’t the case today when they jumped on C.C. Sabathia in a four-run fourth. Juan Lagares had a two-out, RBI triple and scored on Wilmer Flores. Lagares and Flores extending the inning set up Kevin Plawecki‘s two-run homer, the first of his career.

In their dugout one sensed the Mets looking at Matt Harvey and thinking, “O.K., big guy, you have a lead, now hold it.”

I like how Harvey went after the Yankees as he eschewed the strikeout and challenged them to put the ball in play. By the way, that was nice sliding catch by John Mayberry Jr., in left to end the inning.

Mets 5, Yankees 1 (5th)

Apr 25

Mets Game Thread: On Attacking Harvey

The Mets got off to a fast start on Lucas Duda‘s first-inning homer off C.C. Sabathia. Now, we will see what Matt Harvey is all about. Pitching ill last Sunday and doing so on a sprained left ankle were key Harvey-related stories this week.

Jacoby Ellsbury swung at the first pitch and flied to center. Brett Gardner swung at two of the first three pitches and is behind in the count. Some not-so-smart hitting by the Yankees. With Harvey having a questionable ankle, I would have thought the Yankees would have tested him by laying down a bunt to see the strength of Harvey’s ankle.

I’m surprised the Yankees didn’t go after him right away just to see how Harvey would react.

Mets 1, Yankees 0 (2nd)