Mar 30

Mets’ Spring Training Booms And Busts

It is the same in every spring training camp with winners and losers. Booms and busts. With camp ending today, the Mets had their share of both.

THE WINNERS

Jon Niese: With Johan Santana a question going in, Niese entered camp No. 1 in the rotation and pitched deserving of that title. Not surprisingly, he was named Opening Day starter. With Santana gone for the year, he’s the de facto ace, at least until Matt Harvey takes over.

NIESE: A good spring.

NIESE: A good spring.

Matt Harvey: He took some lumps, but was far more good than bad. Most importantly, he didn’t show any signs of being overwhelmed. With Shaun Marcum hurting, Harvey is now No. 2.

Zack Wheeler: He strained an oblique muscle, but when he pitched he showed a glimpse of things to come. Wheeler was never going to make the Opening Day roster, but should be in Flushing soon enough.

Jeremy Hefner: Reported as a contender for the Triple-A rotation, but with Santana’s injury is now scheduled to be the No. 4 starter.

Jordany Valdespin: Here’s a guy who wasn’t in the Mets’ plans, but took advantage of injuries to Daniel Murphy and Kirk Nieuwenhuis to earn a spot on the roster. That is, unless something dramatic happens today.

Marlon Byrd: He was a spring training pick-up who not only won a spot on the roster, but in the Opening Day lineup.

Travis d’Arnaud: He was always going to open the season in the minors, but stayed healthy and opened a lot of eyes. He’ll be up before the All-Star break. The pitchers like throwing to him.

Lucas Duda: Surprised, aren’t you? Duda had a miserable start with an extraordinary number of strikeouts, but finished strong to give him confidence going into the season.

LOSERS

Johan Santana: It was a rocky spring for Santana, who responded in anger at criticism from GM Sandy Alderson about not being in shape by throwing off the mound ahead of schedule. He never got on the mound again and it is possible he never will.

Shaun Marcum: He didn’t endear himself to the Mets by showing up to camp in poor shape and could open the season on the disabled list.

Frank Francisco: He has not responded from elbow surgery and will be on the disabled list. Francisco might not get his closer role back if Bobby Parnell doesn’t spit the bit.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis: He was penciled in as the leadoff hitter in center fielder, but missed most of camp with a bruised knee. Amazingly, because of the Mets’ dismal situation in the outfield, he still has a chance despite hitting less than .100.

Dillon Gee: He came to camp a health question, and while he says there are no complications from surgery to repair an artery in his shoulder, he had several rough starts. He had a good one toward the end, but wasn’t consistent, especially with his change-up.

Ruben Tejada: He hit better than expected last season, and didn’t hit at all this spring. In most camps, hitting less than .100 would be a ticket to the minors, but the Mets have little alternatives.

Mar 25

Pedro Feliciano Given Minor League Alternative

With Pedro Felciano told he won’t make the Opening Day roster and LaTroy Hawkins informed he would, the Mets’ bullpen appears set.

However, by no means is that cause for celebration.

FELICIANO: Reaching out for his last chance?

FELICIANO: Reaching out for his last chance?

Barring further injury, the Mets figure to keep seven relievers despite probably needed a dozen: Bobby Parnell is the closer with Frank Francisco going on the disabled list; lefthanders Josh Edgin and Robert Carson, both of whom made positive impressions last year; set-up reliever Brandon Lyon; submariner Greg Burke and situational righties Hawkins and Scott Atchison.

Only Parnell was on last season’s Opening Day roster.

For much of last year the Mets carried two lefthanders, but manager Terry Collins was left shorthanded and indicated that wouldn’t happen again.

The Mets burned out Feliciano in his first stint with them, but after he was released by the Yankees, they brought him back as a long shot.

It was thought Feliciano had a shot, but the Mets didn’t like his low 80s readings on the radar gun and offered him a minor league position so he could build up his arm strength. This appears to be a take-it-or-leave it proposal from the Mets, who did not give him a window to hook on with another major league team first.

The Mets had no alternative but to make a decision on Feliciano, because by tomorrow they would have been obligated to pay a $100,000 roster bonus. The Mets, or course, are counting every dollar.

“They told me I’m going to Triple-A for a month and get my strength back,’’ Feliciano told reporters this morning. “I have to talk to my agent first and then see what we’re going to decide.’’

Feliciano might feel slighted, but he’s not dealing from a position of strength and doesn’t have any alternatives. Given that, his best option is to accept the assignment.

Part of his decision-making process includes news left-hander Tim Byrdak, who is attempting to come back from shoulder surgery thinks he could be ready by June.

Things are more settled in the rotation with Johan Santana opening the season on the disabled list and Jeremy Hefner taking his spot in the rotation. The Mets were briefly concerned with Shaun Marcum, who received a cortisone injection in his shoulder last week.

Marcum responded and is scheduled to make his final exhibition start Thursday.

Barring complications, Marcum will start the Mets’ second game of the season, April 3, against San Diego at Citi Field.

The Mets-Padres matchups for the first three games are: Jon Niese against Edinson Volquez on Opening Day, followed by Clayton Richard against Marcum and Matt Harvey against Jason Marquis on April 4.

Mar 22

No Conspiracy: The Mets Needed To Make Wright Captain

There is a conspiracy theory everywhere you look. I read one suggesting the Mets made David Wright captain to divert attention away from the field, where they are projected to be bad. Very bad.

C’mon. Are you serious? How long do you think that will last? With virtually no hope given to the Mets this year, they’ll be coming out to see Wright and the young players such as Matt Harvey, Ike Davis, Travis d’Arnaud and Zack Wheeler. The last two you’ll probably see sometime in June.

Smokescreens like that never work. Besides, Mets fans are like children and dogs in a way, after awhile, they know when they’re getting duped.

Besides, if taking the fan’s attention away from the team is the goal, they should have done this three years ago as the attendance at Citi Field has consistently dwindled.

Wright is simply the best player the Mets have, and arguably the best player – outside of Tom Seaver – they ever produced. And best, I mean both on and off the field.

As Major League Baseball goes after Ryan Braun and others in a witch hunt over PED’s, Wright has publicly stood up against drug users. A long time ago, when I asked Derek Jeter about steroids, he said: “I don’t use them, so it’s none of my business.”

Guess again. It is every player’s business for their sport to be clean and Wright, whether or not it comes from his father who is in law enforcement, has always stood for that goal. He should be commended for that alone.

I know some don’t feel Wright is clutch enough, but that’s nonsense. Baseball is about failing three out every ten at-bats just to be good, and Wright is the best the Mets have in that regard. Who else would you rather see at the plate in the ninth inning of a close game?

Jeff Wilpon said the appointment was for all Wright has done, and will do, for the organization in the future. The Mets have been awful on the field since 2008, and even worse off it with the Ponzi scandal, numerous bad signings and public relations fiascos. With all those around him losing their heads, Wright kept his, to paraphrase Rudyard Kipling.

When it was clear the Mets were about to sack Willie Randolph, Wright spoke out for his manager – and against management – because it was the right thing to do. He blamed himself and the players, not the manager whom management had spied on with Tony Bernazard.

A leader sometimes deals with uncomfortable things, and yes, Wright spoke against Lastings Milledge coming in late. He downplays it now, but it had to be done. Players often take their lead from other players, and when somebody doesn’t hustle, Wright lets him know it in a low-key, yet effective manner.

He doesn’t get in their faces, just their minds. And, that’s what leaders, and captains, do.

Mar 18

Matt Harvey And Travis D’Arnaud Give A Peek At What Is To Come

A few years from now, or perhaps in July, this battery could be a big deal. Matt Harvey and Travis d’Arnaud represent the Mets’ future, and today they provided a glimpse.

Harvey, already in the rotation, gave up two runs in 5.1 innings and was backed by two hits and two runs scored by d’Arnaud in a 3-2 victory today over St. Louis. In an 80-pitch effort, of which 54 were strikes, Harvey struck out six and gave up six hits. Spring training is a progression and today Harvey saw an improvement in his breaking ball.

HARVEY: A strong showing vs. Cardinals

HARVEY: A strong showing vs. Cardinals

Of course, being a perfectionist, he wasn’t totally satisfied.

“I was really happy about my curveball,’’ Harvey told reporters in Jupiter. “Unfortunately, I gave up too many hits in my mind, but overall I’m healthy and feeling good.’’

Harvey made a good impression in ten starts last year with his fastball and composure, but went into the off-season wanting to improve his breaking ball and change-up.

“The biggest thing from last year was not having my curveball,’’ Harvey said. “I threw a lot of good ones and was able to throw it in the dirt when I needed to. That’s a big pitch for me. Having that back is definitely a big plus for me.’’

Harvey has a 2.95 ERA this spring with 24 strikeouts in 18.1 innings. Over a strikeout an inning is a tremendous ratio, but he is smart enough to realize it is better to get an out on one pitch instead of three. Harvey said 200-plus innings is a goal, and to reach it he must go deep into games by keeping his pitch count down.

“I’m starting to learn that a groundball is just as good (as a strikeout),’’ Harvey said. “Going deep into a game is on my mind. If I go seven or eight innings with three strikeouts, that’s seven or eight innings.”

The Mets gave up Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey to get d’Arnaud, who they regarded as the key to the deal. When speaking of the other, each said the pitcher-catcher relationship is a matter of chemistry, and so far they’ve clicked early.

“It’s a matter of working together and getting on the same page,’’ Harvey said. “In three starts with him, it’s almost like we’ve been with each other for a couple of years.’’

D’Arnaud is ticketed for Triple-A Las Vegas. What he liked best about Harvey today was his poise and command.

“I thought he had a tremendous day, especially with this curveball,’’ said d’Arnaud, who will be developing a working relationship with the Mets’ other pitching prospect, Zack Wheeler, soon enough.

Wheeler strained a right oblique muscle, Feb. 27, and pitched for the first time since today in a minor league game.

Wheeler posted on his Twitter account: “ Felt good to get back in a game today. Tossed three innings and one hit. Felt great.’’

METS MUSINGS: Lucas Duda homered and Bobby Parnell pitched a scoreless ninth inning after giving up six runs in his previous three games. … Ruben Tejada’s miserable spring continued with an 0-for-4. He’s now on a 2-for-33 slide. … Also struggling is Brandon Hicks, who struck out three times and has 18 strikeouts in 33 at-bats.

Mar 18

Mets’ Injury Updates And Today’s Batting Order

The Mets can realistically expect to have three, perhaps four, significant players open the season on the disabled list: David Wright, Johan Santana, Frank Francisco and possibly Daniel Murphy.

Murphy remains sore after playing five innings of defense in a minor league game last Friday. Terry Collins said to expect him to play no sooner than Wednesday, and if he’s not playing by the weekend he’ll open the season on the disabled list. Although Murphy has taken batting practice, he has not played in an exhibition game so he hasn’t faced game pitching.

Wright said he’s shooting for Opening Day, but is uncertain. He’s telling Collins he’s ready, but that could be wishful thinking. Since this has been fouled up enough as it is, the prudent thing is to make the decision to DL him where he’ll miss the least amount of time. That includes playing him in minor league games if he’s available to get on the field before Opening Day. If Wright were to play in major league spring training games and be injured, his DL time would be backdated from then.

Justin Turner, the projected third baseman while Wright is down, hopes to play by Thursday after spraining his right ankle last week. X-Rays were negative and he’s moving around, so the disabled list is unlikely,

Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who is out with a bruised left knee, hopes to bat in a minor league game today, but will not run the bases. That means no inside-the-park homers.

The following is today’s lineup against St. Louis at Jupiter:

Jordany Valdespin, cf: It is clear he has made the team, with his versatility being an asset. He’s also been hot at the plate, with another homer yesterday. Will play second if Murphy is not ready.

Ruben Tejada, ss: Hit well last year, but is on a miserable stretch this spring. Is it a slump or regression?

Lucas Duda, lf: Not hitting as the Mets hoped. Will bat lower in the order during the season. Strike outs and low on-base percentage remain issues.

Zach Lutz, lb: Wright’s injury has given him an outside chance of sticking early.

Matt den Dekker, rf: He would have a spot if he could hit.

Brandon Hicks, 3b: Getting the audition while Turner is ailing.

Omar Quintanilla, 2b: With injuries to Wright, Murphy and Turner, his versatility is a definite plus.

Matt Harvey, rhp: Lining up as the No. 2 starter behind Jon Niese.

Also pitching today for the Mets are LaTroy Hawkins, who looks like he’ll make it in the set-up role. Bobby Parnell will also go today as will Josh Edgin and Scott Rice.