Apr 08

Mets Hit Road With Hope

Fast starts can lead to expectations. After opening the season with wins in consecutive series over San Diego and Miami, it is way to soon to consider the Mets a General Electric type behemoth.

But, there is some juice here, enough to where there is some light.

HARVEY: First up on road trip. (AP)

HARVEY: First up on road trip. (AP)

The Mets began the season with little hope of cracking last year’s 74 victories, but the first week created a sense there might be something to the summer if nothing more than another collapse in the making.

But, wouldn’t you rather have a duplicate of last season – a good start followed by a fall – rather than no season at all?

Following a baseball team is all about hope, and maybe the Mets will break your hearts again. While hoping for October is outlandish, hoping for an enjoyable summer, where meaningful games are played, could be possible.

It is hard in baseball to look at a schedule, circle a date and think, “that’s a win.’’ There are many variables in baseball that make it difficult, but looking at their upcoming 10-game road trip, it isn’t hard to fathom an opportunity to make April interesting, and with it, maybe the entire summer.

The Mets open a three-game series tonight in Philadelphia behind Matt Harvey, who every time he pitches, has his teammates believing.

“It’s exciting to see him pitch,’’ David Wright said. “He pitches with a lot of poise. We believe we can win every time he goes out there.’’

The Phillies aren’t the monster they used to be, and their starter tonight, Roy Halladay, is in decline. Philadelphia, ever grateful for the Marlins, has been slow out of the gate.

As bad as they were last year, the Mets were 10-8 against the Phillies, including 7-2 in their park. Confidence can be a fragile thing, but the Mets know they can win down there.

Following Harvey will be Dillon Gee and Jeremy Hefner against Cliff Lee and Kyle Kendrick, respectively.

After Philadelphia comes Minnesota. The Twins enjoyed a strong run from 2002-2010 when they made the playoffs six times, but they’ve had two down seasons.

If the Mets should pattern themselves after any team over the past decade, they would do far worse than emulate the Twins, who have fielded fundamentally strong teams with good pitching while on a limited budget.

The probable for Minnesota are: Jon Niese, Aaron Laffey and Harvey.

The Mets conclude their trip with four games in Colorado, which is three years removed from the playoffs and five from the World Series.

The Mets haven’t enjoyed much success against the Rockies, but their park is one where pretty much anything can happen.

As of now, Gee, Hefner, Niese and Laffey will start against the Rockies.

By no means is this an easy stretch, but coming home even or 6-4 is doable, before series against Washington, Los Angeles and Philadelphia.

Circle your calendar: April 19 at Citi Field, Harvey against Stephen Strasburg.

ON DECK: Making a case for Mike Baxter leading off.

Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

 

Apr 07

Zack Wheeler Very Close To Big League Debut

zack wheeler

According to Mark Hale of the New York Post, Triple-A manager Wally Backman believes Zack Wheeler is not far away from being promoted to the Mets despite his rough outing on Thursday, and drew comparisons to Matt Harvey.

“He is the same spot Matt Harvey was at last year, I would say,” Backman said of Wheeler in a phone interview with The Post Friday. “It’s a matter of command. I think it’s going to be a matter of consistency.”

“He struggled with command a little bit Thursday night. It was the first game. He was rushing a little bit. He showed signs of just dominating, and then he’d get a little bit erratic.”

Wheeler had big command issues walking three of the first six batters he faced. He was unable to complete the fourth inning after tossing 86 pitches in 3.1 innings.

Last season, Wheeler went 2-2 with a 3.27 ERA in six Triple-A starts, striking out 31 and walking 16 in 33 innings.

Apr 05

Zack Wheeler Roughed Up In Vegas Debut

For those thinking Zack Wheeler will be the answer to the gaping hole in the Mets’ rotation, think again. He’s at Triple-A Las Vegas for a reason, and that being he’s not ready. Injuries to Johan Santana and Shaun Marcum will be handled without compromising Wheeler’s development.

WHEELER: Rocked last night.

WHEELER: Rocked last night.

Jeremy Hefner tonight against Miami and Aaron Laffey Sunday is what it is going to be. If they get through those starts intact, then they’ll get another.

“I don’t know what they have planned for me,’’ Wheeler told me in spring training when asked if there was a timetable for his promotion. “All I know is I have to keep working and improving.’’

Wheeler identified his growth obstacles as control and command of his secondary pitches, notably his change-up. He’s not able to consistently throw it for strikes, especially when behind in the count and hitters are sitting on a fastball.

“It’s a feel pitch,’’ Wheeler said. “It’s the toughest pitch for me to command. It takes a lot of work.’’

Wheeler, who missed time this spring with a strained oblique muscle, has reported no discomfort since he was cleared to pitch, but nonetheless hasn’t been sharp He said there’s nothing wrong physically, but remains in a mechanical funk.

In his debut last night for Las Vegas, Wheeler didn’t get a decision, but there was no hiding the difficulty in his start, as he labored through 86 pitches in 3.1 innings, giving up a run on three hits, but with three walks and a wild pitch. For the 86 pitches Wheeler threw, he should have worked into the sixth or seventh innings at least. A no-decision with 86 pitches is a wasted start.

General manager Sandy Alderson repeatedly said this spring the Mets won’t rush Wheeler. Part of sending him down for the first six weeks of the season is to give the Mets another year of control to keep him off the free-agent market for another year and delay arbitration.

“He’s not ready,’’ Alderson said. “We’re not going to bring somebody up where he would be in position to fail.’’

Wheeler had spectacular moments this spring when he overpowered hitters and impressed with his composure, but it was early so not much can be drawn from that other than optimism.

Last night is no indication of what kind of year, let alone career, is in store for Wheeler. But, the lack of command underscored he isn’t ready to dominate major league hitters. For all the talk Wheeler might have better stuff than Matt Harvey, that’s not the issue. That’s only speculation that doesn’t help either pitcher.

So, those dreaming of a Harvey, Wheeler and Jon Niese trio, keep dreaming. It’s not coming any time soon.

NOTE: I’ll be back later this afternoon with posts on Hefner/Buck working together tonight; the continuation of the 73 series; an analysis of the lineup; and a game wrap. Please drop in throughout the day. Thanks.

Apr 04

Dillon Gee’s Comeback One Of The Good Stories

The cold didn’t bother Matt Harvey last night, but the Mets will pay close attention this afternoon to Dillon Gee if the temperatures drop during his start against the San Diego Padres.

In the quest of rooting for good stories, Gee is up there in his attempt to come back from emergency surgery to repair a blocked artery in his shoulder that caused his right hand to go numb. Simply, you can’t throw if you can’t feel the ball.

GEE: Takes a big step today.

GEE: Takes a big step today.

“I’ve had no setbacks, zero,’’ said Gee during spring training, where the temperatures were thirty degrees higher than the mid-40s expected today in New York, where the Mets go for a sweep of their season-opening three-game series.

Gee will throw his first major league pitch since undergoing surgery at last year’s All-Star break. He had many of his fears quelled because he was able to throw last September.

“I didn’t want to spend the off-season wondering if I could throw again,” Gee said. “It took a lot off my mind.”

The feeling returned to Gee’s hand, but today will be the coolest weather in which he’s had to pitch. In preparation, Gee is on nitroglycerin tablets to expand the blood vessels and maintain circulation. Command will be the issue if the cold makes it difficult for him to grip the ball.

“I think I’ll be fine,’’ Gee said. “It hasn’t been an issue.’’

Gee will attempt to give the Mets their third straight strong starting effort, following Jon Niese in the opener and Harvey’s 10-strikeout performance last night.

His start is part of the progression that began when he was drafted in the 21st round of the 2007 draft. His first work was out of the bullpen, but by the end of his first season with Single-A Brooklyn he was starting and had a 3-1 record with a 2.28 ERA. Gee moved up to Double-A in 2008 and Triple-A in 2009, but that year ended not with a September call-up by the Mets, but with a torn labrum in his shoulder.

Gee returned strong in 2010 and was brought up by the Mets to make his debut, Sept. 7, and was brilliant in taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning. He eventually gave up a run on two hits. Gee stayed in the rotation and finished 2-2 with a 2.18 ERA in five starts. That first impression wasn’t a fluke as he won his first seven decisions in 2011, and finished at 13-6 with a 4.43 ERA and firmly entrenched in the rotation.

Gee doesn’t have the physical make-up of Harvey or Zack Wheeler, but the Mets like his poise and resiliency. He doesn’t get rattled when things go wrong, as they did in 2012 when he was hit hard and often to have a 5.65 ERA in his first seven starts.

The clot in his shoulder didn’t appear to be the cause of his problems as he rebounded with nine-strikeout games against San Diego and Baltimore and improved to 6-7 at the break. He was supposed to open the second half against Atlanta, but it never happened because he complained of numbness in his arm.

Then came the wonder if he’d ever pitch again. Now there’s no pain, no numbness. Just anticipation.

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.