Mar 09

Wheeler “Must See” Met

So far, Mets’ starting pitchers have done well in their exhibition starts. Zack Wheeler is up next scheduled Monday afternoon against Miami at Tradition Field (1:10 p.m., SNY). Of all Mets pitchers, Wheeler is the one I am most intrigued with as he could have the biggest upside this summer.

WHEELER: Faces Marlins today.

WHEELER: Faces Marlins today.

Coming off Tommy John surgery, Matt Harvey could have understandable issues; it would be interesting to see if 2014 Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom can have an encore season; Jon Niese can be an enigma; and Bartolo Colon is 41.

That leaves Wheeler, who was 11-11 with a 3.54 ERA last year and threw 185.1 innings. Wheeler averages nine strikeouts per nine innings, which is ace worthy. However, his four walks per nine innings is something that must be reduced – by at least half.

Depending on whom you talk with, Wheeler’s stuff might be better than Harvey’s. Command is a different issue.

Wheeler must improve his control, and doing so would enable him to work deeper into games. In 32 starts last year, Wheeler worked into the seventh only 13 times. He also reached 100 pitches 24 times and 110 pitches 13 times.

That doesn’t seem like much, but there’s an accumulative effect on the arm when you factor what he throws in the bullpen between starts; the eight warm-ups between innings; and the 50 or more warm-ups before the game.

After April he did not throw less than 100 pitches in consecutive starts. That must change to not only preserve his arm, but he could add an inning a start that would also reduce the workload of the bullpen.

There are progressions in the development from a prospect to a quality starter. Wheeler has already shown he can be overpowering. Now he must prove he can dominate with his control.

If he does that, there’s no telling how good he can become.

 

Mar 08

Mets Game Thread: Easy First For Niese

I’m anxious to see Jon Niese pitch this year for the Mets. If he lives up to the expectations – even a little bit – it will answer a lot of questions, perhaps even more than Matt Harvey.

By the way, that was a good back-handed diving stop by Wilmer Flores. I’m not sold on the notion he’s a terrible defender. With Flores, as well with Daniel Murphy, they can be better with positioning.

An easy 1-2-3 first for Niese.

Mar 08

Darvish Injury Shows Fragility Of Pitching … And Value Of Gee

This is how it will happen if Dillon Gee is traded: A starter will go down in another camp and if that team is thin in minor league pitching talent, it might not have another choice to deal with the Mets.

Multiple media sources, including ESPN New York, say the Texas Rangers aren’t interested in Gee.

GEE: Valuable. (AP)

GEE: Valuable. (AP)

After throwing 2.2 scoreless innings out of the bullpen Saturday against Miami, Gee addressed the possibility of being traded to Texas in the wake of Yu Darvish possibly needing season-ending Tommy John surgery.

“What it boils down to is I don’t make those decisions. I can’t strike a trade with myself,’’ Gee told ESPN. “I did see that [about Darvish]. In my mind all I’m really thinking about is, ‘That sucks for Darvish.’ I mean, he’s a phenomenal pitcher. And I feel sorry for him. It sucks if he’s going to be gone for a year.’’

The Rangers say they have minor league talent comparable to that of Gee. That’s not to say other teams won’t. In that case, GM Sandy Alderson’s phone could ring.

However, Alderson shouldn’t be so willing to eager to get rid of who has been a reliable and productive pitcher. Maybe not ace quality, but a grinder who will usually find a way to give the Mets six innings.

The injury to Matt Harvey two years ago, and Darvish this spring, not to mention how many teams lack starting pitching – anybody look at the Yankees’ rotation lately? – indicate how vulnerable and fragile starting pitching can be.

The Mets have a potentially valuable chip in Gee and shouldn’t be so willing to play it – not when they might need it later.

 

Mar 07

Mets Must Earn Right To Have Swagger

About this swagger thing Mets manager Terry Collins wants his team to have, well, it just doesn’t happen. It is something a team grows into having, something the Mets haven’t had since 2006. They lost it with their September collapse in 2007, and haven’t come close to regaining it with the possible exception of every fifth game in 2013 when Matt Harvey pitched.

“You know, for years and years, you used to watch those teams that won all of the time, they had an air about them,’’ Collins said this week. “You used to play the Braves and they’d walk out there and, they weren’t cocky, but they were confident.They weren’t overbearing, they knew how to play, they knew what they had to do to win games.’’

The Braves earned the right to have swagger by getting into the playoffs for a decade straight. Jose Reyes used to dance in the dugout after scoring and thought that was swagger.

It wasn’t.

LeBron James and other NBA players flatter themselves into thinking they have swagger, but most really don’t. If you have to carry yourself in such a way where you want people to get the impression you’re tough, then you really aren’t. If you’re really tough you don’t have to pound your chest as if to say “look at me,’’ which seems the standard in the NBA and NFL these days.

I know what Collins is getting at, but it just doesn’t happen overnight. True swagger isn’t forced. For your opponents to fear and respect you, that must be earned and the Mets aren’t there, yet.

After six straight losing seasons you just don’t snap your fingers and say you have swagger. The Mets need to be tougher, and that includes winning close games; winning within the division; taking the other team’s second baseman out on a double play; and when your hitters get plunked, then plunk one of their batters.

Swagger needs to first come from the top. It’s having a general manager not afraid to roll the dice at the trade deadline. It’s about being decisive on a player who doesn’t have it and not being afraid to cut ties with past disasters like the Mets had in guys like Ike Davis and Jordany Valdespin.

The bottom line is if you’re good you don’t need to tell anybody because they will know. And, nobody knows that about the Mets. Not yet, anyway.

ON DECK: Mets Matters: Today’s notes.

Mar 07

Mets Today: deGrom Starts Against Braves

Following back-to-back perfect starts from Bartolo Colon and Matt Harvey, the Mets’ Jacob deGrom and his under-construction curveball will attempt to make it three straight Saturday afternoon against Atlanta in Port St. Lucie.

DeGROM: Unveils curveball.  (Getty)

DeGROM: Unveils curveball. (Getty)

Last season’s NL Rookie of the Year is working on a curveball to give his repertoire more depth. Opposing teams will adjust to deGrom, and the curveball is an attempt to counter those adjustments, which is essential because the last thing a pitcher should be is predictable.

“It’s a great pitch whether it be strike one or a strikeout pitch,’’ deGrom told The New York Post about his curveball. “Talking to Dillon Gee, Zack Wheeler and all those guys and see how they throw theirs and taking little bits of information from them and trying it in bullpens.

“Sometimes I throw it at 78 (mph) and that’s a big difference from the slider. It gets the hitter off balance.’’

He will be that much more difficult if deGrom can control his curveball to get ahead in the count so he isn’t reliant on starting off each hitter with a fastball.

Last year deGrom was just trying to make the team. Things are a lot different this spring.

“This spring is so different,’’ deGrom said. “I can really come in here and work on things. Last year when I was over on the big league side, I didn’t throw my curveball one time because I was trying to make the team and prove I could get outs in spring training.’’

Gee is currently slated to work out of the bullpen and manager Terry Collins will use him in that capacity today to get used to that timing.

The game will be telecast on WPIX-11.