Apr 27

Syndergaard, Cespedes Lost … Is Season Far Behind?

Welcome, my friends, to Panic City, where your mayor, GM Sandy Alderson and his deputy, Terry Collins, have some serious scrambling to do before they take their last place Mets into Washington for a three-game series with the Nationals.

While Alderson was in his office after today’s 7-5 loss to the Braves – the Mets’ sixth straight – weighing his limited options, Collins was delivering his annual, closed doors, “nobody is going to feel sorry for you … it’s time to grind it out, starting now,” address to his shell-shocked team, losers of ten of their last 11 games.

CESPEDES: Yes, things can get worse. (AP)

CESPEDES: Yes, things can get worse. (AP)

Collins was in a testy mood following a day when starter Noah Syndergaard and outfielder Yoenis Cespedes were lost.

Syndergaard has biceps tendinitis and the Mets hope he’ll be ready for Sunday, but they are accomplished at wishful thinking. Cespedes, whom the Mets gambled was back from a tight hamstring, significantly pulled it legging out a double in the fourth inning and will be lost for an extended period.

Cespedes will get another MRI Friday and likely will be placed on the disabled list before facing Max Scherzer in Washington. There, he will join Lucas Duda, Wilmer Flores, David Wright, Steven Matz, Seth Lugo and Brandon Nimmo.

Collins, his voice getting louder with each name, ticked them off one at a time, Duda, Wright, Matt Harvey, Neil Walker, Asdrubal Cabrera, Cespedes, Matz, Jacob deGrom and Travis d’Arnaud, and said the Mets eventually pulled it together to reach the playoffs.

“I told them, ‘We can do it again, but it’s got to start now,’ ” Collins said. “OK, so the weather is gonna start changing. That can no longer be the excuse. It’s now time to go out and grind it out as we did last year.

“It’s still April, I understand that, but, we can no longer sit back and say, ‘It’s ugly weather, we’ve got some guys hurt.’ No one cares. [The Braves] don’t care, the Nationals don’t care. The only thing that matters are the guys in [the clubhouse], because that’s the product. They’ve got to care. They’ve got to come out, play with some energy and get this going and I truly believe they can do it.”

When asked the timing for this message, Collins played the perception-reality card, Collins said he’s aware of the talk energy is down, but that’s to be expected when your team batting average is .184 and on-base percentage is .268 during this slide.

“Look, it’s just April, I get it, but it’s time,” Collins said. “We’ve got a tough road trip ahead. … We’ve got to grind it out. We can do it, but we’ve got to start now.”

Now, is best defined as Friday in Washington, where the Mets, currently 7.5 games behind the Nationals, will try to stop their free-fall. As of now, deGrom, Zack Wheeler and to-be-announced will start, but Collins can’t say whether the offense will show, especially with Cespedes out.

“We’ve got to go out there and have energy,” said third baseman Jose Reyes. “We know we are going to better than this. … We’re going to see what we’re made of. It’s only April, we have five more months. We don’t want to go too deep in the standings. We have a good ballclub and we’re going to turn it around.”

It’s going to be difficult without Cespedes and Syndergaard. Collins said losing Cespedes “is a big hole.”

Losing Cespedes could have been prevented had the Mets acted proactively, which they did not. Instead, they kept hoping he’d get better. By putting Cespedes immediately on the disabled list, he might have missed both Washington series. Instead, foolishly gambling on a player with a history of muscle pulls, they not only miss Cespedes for both Nationals series, and for possibly up to a month.

“No,” a defiant Collins said when asked if he had any regrets by not putting Cespedes on the disabled list a week ago.

“He did all the things that were required to get in the lineup,” Collins said. “It just happens. It’s easy to say you should have put him on the DL. Well, you know what? Every time you turn around for every little thing, if you keep putting guys on the DL, we can’t run anybody out there.

“The guy pulled a hamstring. He’s wound tight. I am going to go with that. Now he’s going to be out for awhile.”

In saying Cespedes is wound tight, and especially after last season, are specifically the reasons why he should have been put on the disabled list. But, Collins doesn’t make those decisions; he’s there to shield GM Sandy Alderson from the flack he deserves.

As for Syndergaard goes, the Mets can afford a few extra days in making a decision because as a pitcher he works every five days. Syndergaard was supposed to start Wednesday, but was scratched because “I wanted to,” said Collins, not because he felt something in his arm while shagging fly balls before the game.

Syndergaard said the discomfort is in his shoulder and biceps area and isn’t a reoccurrence of the bone spur that bothered him last season.

“It’s quite obvious we can’t take a chance on him,” Collins said. “He’s a big piece of the puzzle.”

Prior to the game, Syndergaard said, “it’s a little thing right now, but we definitely don’t want to become a big thing,” but after the game got testy with a team official for not preventing reporters from questioning him.

Harvey started in place of Syndergaard and was lit up by the Braves. He got a phone call early today saying he would start.

“I really physically prepared for starting today,” said Harvey, who lifted weights Wednesday. “Having those workouts that I did yesterday and the throwing that I did yesterday, I just definitely wasn’t prepared.”

That’s odd because had he paid attention Wednesday when Syndergaard’s arm was barking and he was scratched, should have realized something was going on. Of course, that wouldn’t have taken away the workout, but Harvey could have been more mentally prepared.

Should have, could have, would have can’t turn this thing around for the Mets, who are in desperate need of something to go right.

“We need to be cognizant, when things aren’t going your way, not to go through the motions,” said Jay Bruce, one of the few bright spots for the Mets. “We’re up to the challenge.”

They better be, because 21 games into a season they all believed a World Series was possible, they are looking at that opportunity slipping away.

Apr 16

Harvey Continuing To Be Bright Spot

One of the Mets’ biggest concerns coming out of spring training is turning into one of the early season’s bright spots, which is Matt Harvey’s comeback from thoracic surgery.

HARVEY: Another positive step. (AP)

HARVEY: Another positive step. (AP)

Harvey took the loss in an emotional rollercoaster of a game today in Miami, losing 4-2 to the Marlins. The Mets’ third straight loss had them being no-hit going into the eighth inning, then rally in the ninth to tie but lose the game in the bottom of the inning.

Harvey was done by then, but his third straight strong start was extremely satisfying to the pitcher who some wondered would ever be special again.

“Being able to go against that lineup, and kind of controlling the damage for the most part, is definitely uplifting for me,” Harvey told reporters.

Harvey gave up two runs – one unearned – on seven hits with five strikeouts in six innings. He wasn’t close to dominant, but worked out of trouble several times and cranked up his fastball to 97 mph.

Early in spring training he was in the low 90s, but vowed his velocity would return. It’s not important that he throw 97 on every pitch, but reach it when he needs it to get out of trouble.

“Going back to spring training, I knew throwing in between starts that is was slowly creeping back,” said Harvey, whose ERA is down to 2.45. “Being able to paint the outside corner and kind of control both sides of the plate was big. When I needed to ramp up and throw a little bit harder, I was able to do that. It’s definitely a good positive.”

Harvey still has a way to go, but for now, he’s looking good.

Apr 15

DeGrom Start Wasted; Let Second Guessing Begin

Sooner or later you had to wonder when the Mets’ overworked bullpen would betray them.

It happened tonight.

Fernando Salas, working for the eighth time in 12 games, surrendered eighth-inning, back-to-back homers to Christian Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton, to power the Marlins over the Mets, 5-4, and trash another superb start from Jacob deGrom.

DeGROM: Start gets wasted; generates debate. (AP)

DeGROM: Start gets wasted; generates debate. (AP)

Not only has Salas been overused, it must be remembered he arrived in spring training late because of a visa issue.

Salas retired his first two batters and then walked Miguel Rojas. When a reliever walks a hitter on four straight pitches, he needs to be pulled.

Yelich is already a slugging star, and the Mets had lefties Jerry Blevins and Sean Gilmartin manager Terry Collins could have gone to in that situation. Considering how much Salas has worked lately, why did Collins keep him in the game?

“I didn’t want to go with Blevins because he has pitched in five of the last six games,” Collins testily barked to reporters.

However, Gilmartin, who was brought up after the 16-inning game Thursday for the sole purpose of pitching late in a game, was fresh.

Salas fell behind 3-and-1 before grooving a pitch Yelich couldn’t help but crush. Over-managing and stubborn to the end, Collins let Salas face Stanton.

You knew that wasn’t going to end well.

Collins said he wanted Salas to face Stanton, but what does that say about his confidence in Addison Reed and Hansel Robles?

The second-guessing of Collins began before Salas entered the game. DeGrom got off to a rocky start, giving up back-to-back homers in the second to Justin Bour and Marcell Ozuna, then regrouped to retire the next 11 hitters. The Mets really needed deGrom’s effort considering how their bullpen has been taxed recently, including throwing 11.1 scoreless innings Thursday.

DeGrom gave up two runs on four hits and one walk and tied his career-high with 13 strikeouts in seven innings. He was on cruise control and had only thrown 97 pitches. He struck out his last four hitters.

“He was pitching great,” Collins said. “It’s easy to second-guess. We made a commitment to protect these guys. … If I let him stay in and he got hit you’d be asking me, `Why did I let him pitch?’ ”

That’s fair, but it comes with the territory with managing in the major leagues. DeGrom could have, but did not, throw his manager under the bus.

“Honestly, I didn’t know how many pitches I had,” deGrom said. “I thought I was out after that inning anyway.”

As far as stretching out his start, deGrom said: “The goal is to stay healthy. Salas had been doing a good job. I felt comfortable handing the ball over to the next guy.”

One of the beautiful aspects of baseball is it being ripe to second guess and discuss and debate strategy. Few basketball fans will second guess Gregg Popovich, but what baseball fan doesn’t feel comfortable scratching his head about the manager he follows?

CONFORTO DELIVERS: One of the hardest things in baseball to do is to pinch-hit, and it is even harder when all eyes are on you and you’re expected to produce in order to stay. Well, that’s exactly the case with the Mets’ Michael Conforto, who drove in the go-ahead run in the seventh inning.

Sure, Conforto wants to start, what young player doesn’t? But, when things haven’t gone his way, he’s stayed quiet and gone about his business. Overall, he’s hitting .400 with two homers and six RBI, including 2-for-4 with a double and two RBI as a pinch-hitter.

Neil Walker lead off the seventh with a bunt single to third against Marlins starter Adam Conley, and scored on a triple by Curtis Granderson, who scored on Conforto’s deep fly to center.

Asdrubal Cabrera homered with one out in the eighth against reliever Junichi Tazawa. It marked the 11th straight game in which they homered and gave them a major league-high 22.

LOVE THOSE BUNTS: The other night it was Jay Bruce laying one down towards third against the shift. Tonight it was Walker leading off the seventh with a bunt single. Last year Collins made a big deal out of calling his team a “home run hitting team,” and that they aren’t built to manufacture runs. This year, they lead the majors with 22 homers but have shown the ability to scratch out runs.

Walker also doubled in the Mets’ first run in the first.

EXTRA INNINGS: Lefty-hitters Bruce, Lucas Duda and Conforto did not start against Conley. … All players wore No. 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson Day. Granderson wore special spikes for the occasion that he will auction and donate to the Jackie Robinson Foundation. … Wilmer Flores made a run-saving grab of a hard hit ball down the first base line by Stanton.

HARVEY STARTS SUNDAY: Matt Harvey (2-0, 2.92) goes Sunday for the Mets against RHP Dan Straily (1-1, 7.56). Harvey is 12-3 with a 2.93 ERA in 17 career starts in April, easily his best numbers in any month.

 

Apr 12

Wheeler, Conforto Give Mets Glimpse Of Future

Sometime next season or the year after, Zack Wheeler and Michael Conforto will combine to lift the Mets. They did for awhile Wednesday night in Philadelphia until Hansel Robles sprayed graffiti on their near masterpiece.

i-5Wheeler, backed in large part by Conforto’s homer and Asdrubal Cabrera’s two-run single, cruised into the sixth with a five-run lead. It looked as if manager Terry Collins would let him pitch out of trouble, but pulled him with two outs and the bases loaded in favor of Robles.

Collins feared the Phillies would break through and spoil Wheeler’s night and he’d suffer an emotional setback. Instead, Maikel Franco turned around Robles’ first pitch for a monster grand slam that changed the complexion of the game, but the Mets held on to win 5-4 to complete the sweep.

In winning his first game since coming off Tommy John surgery in 2014, Wheeler gave up three runs on four hits with one walk and four strikeouts. He threw the target 85 pitches, but the key was working ahead in the count with his secondary pitches. Miami hurt Wheeler in his first start – of a cold damp day – when he fell behind in the count and waited on his fastball.

Wheeler coasted into the sixth but the Phillies worked him hard to load the bases.

“I was very happy with the way he pitched tonight,” Collins told reporters of Wheeler’s start. “He threw the ball as well as he could but he ran out of gas all of a sudden.”

Pitchers usually won’t admit to getting tired, but Wheeler was stand-up. He knows the score.

“I was a little tired at the end,” Wheeler said. “It’s all about building myself up. …I had better command. That’s what I needed from my first start. It felt good to bounce back after that rough outing. I was nice to go out there and do well.  It’s a weight off my shoulders.”

Conversely, it hasn’t appeared the Mets were all that interested in building up Conforto’s at-bats. They had a huge lead, but Conforto sat until the end. Conforto was a surprise start over Curtis Granderson and responded with two hits and a walk and scored three runs.

One of those hits was an opposite-field homer to give the Mets an early 2-0 lead.

Conventional wisdom has Conforto going to the minors when Juan Lagares is activated from the disabled list. He needs at-bats, but Collins would not commit to starting him Thursday in Miami.

Conforto hasn’t gotten a lot of playing time but responded with what little he has.

“I’m getting good pitches to hit and getting deep into the count,” said Conforto, who continues to refuse to get drawn into the debate on his immediate future.

Another positive note to the day was the report Matt Harvey, who strained his left hamstring Tuesday night, would be able to make his next start Sunday in Miami.

While Wheeler and Conforto were the headliners, Robles served as a reminder of one of the Mets’ biggest weaknesses, which is the bridge to the back end of the bullpen.

Apr 06

Game Wrap: Harvey, D’Arnaud Carry Mets Past Braves

GAME:  #3

SCORE: @Mets 6, Braves 2

RECORD: 2-1    RISP: 2-for-7, four LOB

HOMERS: 1 Wilmer Flores (1).

HARVEY: Big step. (AP)

HARVEY: Big step. (AP)

ANALYSIS

Perhaps the two Mets carrying the weight of the heaviest expectations for this season – Matt Harvey and Travis d’Arnaud – came up big in Thursday night’s victory over the Braves.

Harvey, whose velocity was an issue during spring training, gave up a pair of homers to Matt Kemp, but was generally superb, giving up three hits overall in 6.2 innings. Harvey’s fastball clocked between 94-97 mph., but also important was his ability to command his secondary pitches.

“Obviously, it has been a long time since I’ve gone into the seventh inning,” Harvey told reporters. “For me, the big thing for me was to pound the zone and go as deep into the game as I could.”

As for d’Arnaud, his inability to stay healthy, hit and throw out potential base-stealers has caused many to speculate as to his future with the Mets. It’s just one game, but d’Arnaud’s two-run double in the fifth put the Mets ahead to stay.

ON THE MOUND: Fernando Salas – who was working for the third straight game – struck out Dansby Swanson with the bases loaded to end the eighth inning. … It wasn’t a save situation, but Addison Reed worked a 1-2-3 ninth.

AT THE PLATE: Flores, batting cleanup, hit a two-run homer. … Jose Reyes had his first hit of the season. … Jay Bruce scored a run and walked. He’s drawn four walks in the first three games and leads the Mets in hitting with a .333 average.

IN THE FIELD: Flores played first base. … I would still like to see Michael Conforto get a start in the outfield.

EXTRA INNINGS: In a testament to screwy scheduling, the Braves are back at Citi Field again at the end of the month.

ON DECK: The Mets continue their homestand Friday against Miami with Zack Wheeler getting his first start in nearly two years.