Apr 21

Zack Wheeler: Not Ready For Primetime

Baseball 101: Regardless of the level of play, if a pitcher walks too many batters he will be beaten.

It is a baseball fundamental understood by everybody, with the exception of those insisting the Mets bring up Zack Wheeler, who walked six hitters in his last start.

WHEELER: Not ready.

WHEELER: Not ready.

The clamoring is getting louder in the wake of the Mets’ continued problems with the back end of their rotation. Maybe Dillon Gee, he of the 0-3 record and 8.36 ERA, will get it going Sunday against Washington. But, also struggling are Jeremy Hefner and Aaron Laffey, both of whom were hit hard Saturday by the Nationals.

David Wright was correct in saying if the Mets score five runs off Gio Gonzalez they should win, but the combined efforts of Hefner and Laffey made that impossible. Hefner has given up seven homers in 14 innings, with two of them coming Saturday. Laffey gave up three runs in 2/3 of an inning out of the bullpen.

The Mets are hoping for Shaun Marcum’s return, or could give Triple-A starter Collin McHugh a spot start because it won’t, and shouldn’t, go to Wheeler.

The six walks Wheeler gave up trump any radio host’s rant of, “I want to see what he can do.’’ Well, we know what he can do, and that’s walk hitters and get shelled. Hey, the Mets are getting that now.

Do they really need to see one of their prized prospects get routed up here? The Mets took their time with Matt Harvey and should do the same with Wheeler.

And, let’s hear no more about the Mets being cheap because they want to keep him away from the free-agent market another year. That is not the issue. Wheeler is simply not ready for the major leagues, a fact Collins reiterated Saturday.

“That’s a red flag and I don’t want to see walks from those guys,’’ Collins said. “I told Zack in spring training, you’re going to pitch in a tough place [the Pacific Coast League] and I was in that league for 12 years, I know how hard that league is to pitch in.’’

Collins said he would talk to Las Vegas manager Wally Backman about Wheeler. There are times statistics aren’t defining in evaluating performances in the minor leagues. Walks, however, are telling on any level. Overall, in four starts, Wheeler has walked 12 in 18.1 innings. On top of that, he’s given up 20 hits.

“Ten hits, I can understand,’’ Collins said. “But six walks, he’s better than that.’’

He needs to show it.

Apr 20

Matt Harvey’s Star Keeps Burning

Tom Seaver. Mike Mussina. Roger Clemens. Dwight Gooden.

Matt Harvey has been compared, whether it be stuff, demeanor or franchise history, in some way has been compared to them all.

Yes, it is not fair. Yes, it places unreasonable pressure. But, that’s the nature of covering and following sports. Managers, general managers and players all do it, too.

HARVEY: Keeps burning. (AP)

HARVEY: Keeps burning. (AP)

Harvey is getting a lot of that these days, and after beating Stephen Strasburg last night, he’ll be getting more.

Gooden, who tweeted Harvey is “the real deal,’’ was spotted last night on the Citi Field video board giving a thumbs-up sign. It was in part acknowledging the ovation; it was in part recognition of who he was watching.

“Yeah, absolutely,’’ Harvey said when asked if he was aware of Gooden’s presence and tweet. “It made it special. I grew up watching that guy. I wanted to be like that guy.’’

Whether Harvey has a career like Gooden, Mussina or Mike Pelfrey, we can’t say now. What we can say is all the arrows are pointed in the right direction.

“A lot of guys can throw 98,’’ manager Terry Collins said. “I like his competitive make-up. … Fear of failure is not in Matt Harvey’s make-up.’’

Harvey doesn’t just want to be a good pitcher; he wants to be the best. Collins said Harvey was in tune with the expectations of going against Strasburg, and the Mets’ present and future ace admitted to being amped early.

When it was over, Harvey was all humility – one of his more likable qualities – when asked about the “Har-vey’s better, Har-vey’s better,’’ chant that consumed Citi Field.

Harvey, in his first full season, is composed enough to know he’ll face Strasburg many more times in the future, and the Mets play the Nationals 18 times a season. This isn’t the NBA; there’s no trash talking. Harvey knew better than to stir the pot.

“It’s nice to hear, but I’ve got a long way to go,’’ Harvey said. “I appreciate the fans and the support and all that. But we’re here to win. We’re the New York Mets. It’s not just one guy out there. Every time I take the ball I’m trying to win for the team.’’

That all sound good, but Harvey knows words are cheap and he has to do it on the mound. That’s why Harvey was more satisfied with getting out of a bases-load, no-outs jam in the seventh rather than the two-hit shutout he had after the sixth.

“I knew I would have to pitch there,’’ Harvey said. “I knew I would have to throw strikes.’’

The Mets took a 4-0 lead into the inning, but the panic meter was running high when the Nationals had a run in and loaded the bases. Harvey knew what was required of him.

“That was a big challenge – bases loaded with no outs,’’ Harvey said. “That’s a tough lineup. At any point it felt like it could unravel and things could have gone the other way.’’

It didn’t because Harvey wouldn’t let it.

“That’s the mark of an ace right there,’’ Collins said. “That’s why we can’t say enough things about him. Games like this can lead to a great season.’’

Harvey has a strong work ethic, but that runs deeper than conditioning and working on his breaking pitches in the bullpen. Not only does Harvey work his body, but also his mind and that’s part of the package.

Harvey pitched seven innings last night in improving to 4-0. His goal is over 200, so there’s a long road ahead.

“I’m going to take the 24-hour rule and definitely be happy about this start and this win,’’ Harvey said. “And after it’s over, tomorrow, it’s time to work hard and get prepared for the next start.’’

They said Seaver once said the same in comparing Harvey to him. Perhaps one day they’ll say that about another hot property when they compare him to Harvey.

Apr 18

Will We See Alderson With The Chains Off?

ALDERSON: Playing Scrooge.

We have seen Sandy Alderson wear several hats during his short tenure as Mets’ general manager. Some results have been good, while others have been lacking.

Alderson gets high marks for ridding the Mets of the stagnant culture they had with Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo. He gets kudos for unloading the contracts of Carlos Beltran and Francisco Rodriguez, and avoiding the payday of what would have been a big contract for R.A. Dickey.

For them, he received highly-rated prospects Zack Wheeler and Travis d’Arnaud, both of whom could be factors this season.

It’s also a plus that he negotiated the buyout of Jason Bay – which eliminated a hovering distraction – and for letting Jose Reyes leave. The latter decision was good, although the methods could have been cleaner and more public relations sensitive.

Bay became expendable because he did not hit, and it didn’t matter that the Mets didn’t have a major league player ready to take his place. It will be interesting to see what Alderson does this winter if Ike Davis and Ruben Tejada don’t produce this summer.

Alderson has not done will in piecing together the bullpen and outfield, nor has he succeeded in building depth in the rotation is the wake of Johan Santana’s injury, Dickey’s departure and letting Mike Pelfrey go while arms were needed.

We have seen Alderson operating in several roles, but we have not yet seen him as a buyer. The Mets are promising they will have the resources this winter to enter the free-agent market.

Wherever Alderson has been – Oakland and San Diego – he’s operated with restraints. And, it has been that way in his stay with the Mets.

If you’re willing to drink more of the Kool-Aid and believe the Mets will be active this winter, you won’t be alone wondering what Alderson might accomplish.

If the first two weeks are any indication, he has a lot of shopping to do:

The Mets are two-deep in their rotation with Matt Harvey and Jon Niese, both of whom are being relied on to produce more than their current track records. Alderson has not brought up Wheeler for both economic and performance reasons. There’s no guarantee what he will do when he arrives. The Mets easily need at least two starters.

The bullpen remains a serious question. Most bullpens in today’s game are a patchwork creation and the Mets are no different. There will be arms available, but the better ones are more expensive.

The current outfield is wearing a Band-Aid when a tourniquet is required. Am I the only one who envisions an entirely different outfield next spring?

If Davis and Tejada continue to underachieve, to what degree will Alderson be patient with them? Does he chase other players, while at the same timing limiting his options in other areas?

These are the dilemmas and questions faced by a buyer, not someone who operates on the cheap. Will be finally see Alderson as a buyer? The first test will be in late July.

Apr 17

Sanity Prevails: Mets And Rockies Bagged

Either sanity or winter prevailed as tonight’s Mets game at Denver was snowed out. It is the third game this week the Mets had postponed by winter weather.

The Rockies don’t want a doubleheader tomorrow, so their regularly scheduled afternoon game will be played with Jonathan Niese going against Jon Garland.

“It’s been odd,’’ manager Terry Collins told reporters in Denver of this week’s postponements. “This is a game of consistency. This is a game of repetition. And when you lose those reps, you can change the outcome a lot and how things go. … This has been a tough trip for us. It really has been. Guys are tired of sitting at the hotel.’’

Collins said not playing the doubleheader is beneficial to the Mets in the short-term, although the team have to squeeze in a trip to Denver later this summer.

The Mets return home Friday against Washington and the marquee match-up of Matt Harvey against Stephen Strasburg.

Tonight’s starter, Jeremy Hefner, will be pushed back to Saturday against Gio Gonzalez, and Dillon Gee will face Jordan Zimmermann Sunday.

The way the Mets’ rotation plays out, they won’t need a fifth starter until April 27, when they host Philadelphia. That will give Shaun Marcum another ten days to get ready.

NOTE:  Reliever Frank Francisco is scheduled to throw an inning tonight for Single-A St. Lucie. Francisco underwent surgery in December to remove a bone spur in his right elbow.

Apr 15

Interesting Week Facing Mets

Not surprisingly, yesterday’s game at Minnesota was bagged by the weather, which doesn’t figure to be much better in Colorado this week.

I wrote last week Matt Harvey could pitch against Stephen Strasburg in the first game of the Washington series, and depending on possible postponements it could still pan out that way.

GEE: Goes tonight against Rockies.

GEE: Goes tonight against Rockies.

The Mets will have the back end of their rotation in the first three games of the Colorado series, with Dillon Gee, Aaron Laffey and Jeremy starting in the Coors Field bandbox. Who doesn’t believe the bullpen will get a lot of work?

Jon Niese is scheduled to start Thursday afternoon, where the temperatures could be in the teens.

It’s hard to hit in the cold, but might be more difficult to pitch as the ball is difficult to grip and the pitchers’ command is usually off.

In looking at the Rockies series, there are several things in addition to the Mets’ bullpen we should be curious in seeing:

* There’s the sizzling John Buck, who needed yesterday’s day off. Buck is the first player in history with 19 RBI in his first ten games with a new team. Buck is also one of four players with 19 RBI in his team’s first ten games, joining Lou Gehrig (1927 Yankees), Manny Ramirez (1999 Indians) and Chris Davis (this year’s Orioles).

Buck’s streak of homers in four straight games was snapped, but his six homers is more than Mets catchers hit last year (five).

* Marlon Byrd went deep yesterday to give the Mets a franchise-record 11 straight games with a homer to start a season. It’s the longest since the Rays homered in 12 straight in 2007.

* Whether Jordany Valdespin hits leadoff tonight. Despite their winning record, the Mets have not found a consistent leadoff hitter among the four they have used. Like him or not, Valdespin does generate a buzz.

* How long will Ike Davis’ slump last? He’s hitting .128 with a .244 on-base and .205 slugging percentage.  Coors Field was built to end slumps. Of all Davis’ poor numbers, 12 strikeouts and just five hits might be the most stunning.

* Will Daniel Murphy continue to sizzle? He’s hitting .381 with hits in seven of his last eight games. Murphy has 16 hits, with eight going for extra bases. He has a .413 on-base percentage and .690 slugging percentage.

* Will David Wright get his first homer? Coors Field has always been kind to Wright. He is a lifetime .385 hitter with a .461 on-base percentage, eight homers and 33 RBI in 29 games in the Rocky Mountains. In comparison, he has 14 homers and 35 RBI in 74 games at Turner Field, and seven homers and 41 RBI in 58 games at the Marlins’ old park.

The Mets return home Friday to start a three-game series with the suddenly vulnerable Nationals this weekend.