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.

 

Apr 03

Matt Harvey: Ace In Making

There is a likable quality to Matt Harvey having nothing to do with his pitching.

He speaks with confidence that doesn’t border arrogance. He has a big time arm without the big time attitude. He’s attentive to your questions, and thoughtful and respectful with his answers.

Harvey has a big time future, but doesn’t come across as a big timer. The tip-off is he carries his dirty T-shirt and shorts to the laundry bin instead of leaving them on the floor for the clubhouse attendant.

HARVEY: Has the right stuff. (AP)

HARVEY: Has the right stuff. (AP)

He’s acutely aware of the expectations, vocalized in the ovation he received Opening Day Monday at Citi Field, second only to David Wright in terms of length and volume.

“It was great,’’ Harvey said. “It made me feel very good.’’

Now comes the hard part, living up to the expectations of those in the stands, his teammates behind him in the field, and most of all himself.

“He has a lot going for him,’’ Wright said. “He carries himself well and pitches with confidence. We believe in him.’’

Injuries thrust Harvey into the Mets’ rotation last July and he responded, pitching with guile, poise and command. Other times, not so much. In ten starts, Harvey went 3-5 with a 2.73 ERA, including an 11-strikeout debut at Arizona. He wasn’t impressive in his lone start against the Padres, giving up five runs, but lasting five innings.

Based on last year’s numbers, there is a multitude of scouting reports and statistical projections of him. Harvey wants to hear none of that and cites one number.

“Innings are most important,’’ said Harvey. “I want to pitch over 200 innings. If I can do that, the rest will come.’’

Harvey accomplished much last year, but didn’t win at Citi Field. He gets his chance tonight against the Padres.

“It’s a new season and everybody wants to get that first win out of the way,’’ Harvey said on Opening Day. “Pitching at Citi Field is awesome. … [Tonight] is going to be a lot of fun for me. I’m really excited about it and after watching [Jon] Niese out there [Monday], it was a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to my turn.’’

The original scouting report on Harvey was sketchy, but he’s no longer a surprise. Every team has him on film and knows his tendencies. That’s why it is important to tone down your expectations because often a pitcher hits a wall in his second year and realizes what he counted on before might not work now.

Harvey said his sophomore year is about making adjustments. He realizes he can’t get by on just a fastball. He realizes he can’t overpower everybody. He realizes he must bring more to the table.

“You can’t get into a routine and rhythm of doing the same things over and over again,’’ said Harvey, who had a spectacular 2.96 ERA in seven starts this spring.

“I think that kind of carried over into spring training too, facing a couple of teams, the Nationals, things like that. Those guys have seen me before. It’s just going out and attacking the zone and try to mix in different pitches in different counts and hopefully not leading every guy off with a fastball, or something like that.’’

There are nights Harvey can dominate, as he did the Diamondbacks. However, strikeouts cause the pitch count to add up, and with it, the possibility of coming out of a game early.

“I want them to put the ball in play,’’ Harvey said. “I want to keep my pitch count down and that will give me length.’’

Yes, Harvey has a plus fastball, but said it’s important to throw his curveball and change-up for strikes, especially in a fastball count.

“I can’t have them waiting on the fastball,’’ said Harvey, repeating the mantra of ever pitcher outside a knuckleballer.

If he does that, those expectations will be met, and with that, come even higher expectations.

Apr 01

Like It Or Not, Terry Collins Has His Team

COLLINS: Over/under when he stops smiling.

COLLINS: Over/under when he stops smiling.

The sun broke through the blinds this morning as it always does, but there was a different feel to the day. There was a chill in the air and patches of plowed snow remain, but one sensed summer.

It is Opening Day, and as I wrote yesterday, Major League Baseball doesn’t know what it has with this day. Fortunately, every one of us does.

We all know why the first game of the season is special to us. To many, Opening Day is the real New Year’s Day.

My favorite Opening Day was when my father took my brother and I out of school to watch the Indians. The teachers didn’t like the idea, but my father said we’d get more out of the game than that day at school.

He was right. He’s gone now, but that day was one of my favorite memories of him. I can’t say I remember in detail any particular day in grade school. The Indians won that afternoon, but went on to have a long and disappointing summer.

See, I grew up on bad baseball.

We don’t know what will happen with the Mets, but the conventional thinking is it will be a long year, but there are reasons to watch. By far, the most important being the Mets are your team and you always follow your team.

I never bought the term “die hard fan’’ because it insinuates an ending and giving up. You never give up on your team. They’ll always be your team for a reason, and if you’d like to comment on why the Mets are your team it would be great to read.

Like it or not, Terry Collins has his team, and here’s the batting order against San Diego:

Collin Cowgill, CF: Beat out Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Jordany Valdespin for the job because he’s the best combination of offense and defense.

Daniel Murphy, 2B: Dodged the disabled list to start. His patience and bat control are suited for the No. 2 spot in the order.

David Wright, 3B: Your best hitter in terms of average and power hits third. There’s no debate here.

Ike Davis, 1B: If he can put two halves together he might approach 40 homers and 120 RBI. He has that kind of power.

Marlon Byrd, RF: Spring training pick-up makes the team and beat out Mike Baxter for the starting job. Slotted fifth to keep Davis and Lucas Duda separated in the order.

Lucas Duda, LF: Moves over from right field. Spotty defender, but the Mets are waiting for a breakout year with his power.

John Buck, C: Holding the fort until Travis d’Arnaud gets here. Hate to say this on Opening Day, but if d’Arnaud comes up early and plays well, Buck could be desired at the trade deadline.

Ruben Tejada, SS: Coming off miserable spring training at the plate. Needs to show last year’s offense wasn’t a fluke.

Jon Niese, LHP: There’s no more debate, with Johan Santana gone he’s No. 1. Mets are counting on more than his career-high 13 wins.

METS OPENING DAY ROSTER

When the Mets are introduced this afternoon, there will be only nine players who were on last year’s Opening Day roster: Murphy, Wright, Davis, Duda and Ruben Tejada were in the lineup; Baxter was on the bench; Niese and Dillon Gee were in the rotation; and Bobby Parnell was the only reliever.

Come to think of it, for a team that seemingly didn’t do anything in the off-season, the Mets were busy.

Here’s this year’s roster:

Catchers (2): Buck, Anthony Recker.

Infielders (5): Murphy, Wright, Davis, Tejada, Justin Turner.

Outfielders (6): Valdespin, Cowgill, Byrd, Duda, Nieuwenhuis, Baxter.

Pitchers (12):  Matt Harvey, Jeurys Familia, LaTroy Hawkins, Parnell, Niese, Gee, Jeremy Hefner, Scott Rice, Greg Burke, Josh Edgin, Scott Atchison, Brandon Lyon.

METS THIS WEEK

This title will be a weekly feature throughout the year.

The Mets host the Padres for three games starting with Opening Day and Niese going against Edinson Volquez. Harvey moves up to the second spot in the rotation and faces Clayton Richard on Wednesday, and it will be Gee against Eric Stults Thursday afternoon.

The Miami Marlins are in over the weekend.

On Tuesday, Santana will have surgery on his left shoulder in a last ditch effort to salvage his career. You’ve seen the last of Santana as a Met, but he will be rehabbing in Port St. Lucie. That’s a lonely and hot place to spend the summer.

ON DECK: Mets over/under for the 2013 season.