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

Gee Hard Luck Loser To Padres As Offense Styfled

SCORE: San Diego 2, Mets 1, at Citi Field.

RECORD: 2-1.

GEE: Hard luck loser.

GEE: Hard luck loser.

SUMMARY: What, you expected this to last forever? When you pitch you always have a chance to win. When you don’t hit, that chance is negated. The Mets wasted a solid outing from Dillon Gee in suffering their first loss of the season today by the Padres. This coming after the Mets outscored the Padres, 19-6 in their first two games. “Dillon pitched well, we just weren’t able to pick him up,’’ said Ike Davis.

ON THE MOUND: Gee deserved more than a loss as he gave up a run on three hits and three walks, with four strikeouts in 6.1 innings. “That’s baseball,’’ he said, giving the stock answer for every pitcher’s hard luck loss. Gee, who is coming back from surgery that repaired an artery in his pitching shoulder, said he was not bothered by the cold. … Scott Rice gave up two hits in two-thirds of an inning, but did get out of a jam in the seventh when the Padres could have broken the game open. … Jeurys Familia threw a run-producing wild pitch in the eighth. That came back to haunt the Mets as John Buck homered to lead off the ninth. … Both of San Diego’s runs were the result of lead off walks.

AT THE PLATE: Five hits won’t get it done. Three of those hits were by Justin Turner, who was making his first start of the season. However, with a chance to get the Mets back into the game, Turner grounded out with the tying run on third to end the seventh. Manager Terry Collins said he considered pinch-hitting with Daniel Murphy, but opted to go with Turner, who was hot and had more at-bats during spring training. … Their lone run came on Buck’s homer. The Mets were 0-for-10 with runners on base, and 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position. Mets hitters struck out 14 times, including three times by Lucas Duda and David Wright, and twice by Marlon Byrd and Ike Davis. That’s ten strikeouts by their 3-4-5-6 hitters. Make it 11 if you count Murphy striking out as a pinch hitter in Duda’s spot (after a double switch).

METS MUSINGS: Despite having a need for a starting pitcher, the Mets didn’t have an interest in bringing back Chris Young. Instead, he signed with Washington to a minor league contract. The Mets also lost out on Josh Stinson, who signed with Baltimore. … Shaun Marcum was given a MRI that revealed neck inflammation. He was given an injection and will return to Port St. Lucie tomorrow, where he will be shut down for 48 hours.

ON DECK: The Miami Marlins are in tomorrow night for the start of a three-game series.

PROBABLES vs. MIAMI

Friday: RHP Alex Sanabia vs. RHP Jeremy Hefner, 7:10 p.m., SNY/WFAN

Saturday: RHP Ricky Nolasco vs. LHP Jon Niese, 1:10 p.m., SNY/WFAN

Sunday: RHP Jose Fernandez vs. TBA, 1:10 p.m., SNY/WFAN

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

Matt Harvey Dominates Padres; Lucas Duda And Ike Davis Go Deep

Matt Harvey was everything the Mets hoped for as he dominated the San Diego Padres, 8-4, in frigid Citi Field tonight. Harvey gave up one hit with ten strikeouts in seven scoreless innings.

All San Diego’s runs came against the bullpen, which is expected to be a Mets’ Achilles Heel this season, but not even it could ruin this night.

HARVEY: Overpowering

HARVEY: Overpowering (AP)

Especially impressive was Harvey did it pitching with temperatures in the low 30s after the wind-chill. Harvey was in complete control, but at 94 pitches after seven, manager Terry Collins thought it was time to pull the plug.

“Believe me, later in the season in a close game he’s not going to want to come out. There will be huge argument in taking him out,’’ Collins said. “He was getting stiff. He was cold. Under the circumstances he pitched a very impressive game. In weather like that, the ball feels like a cue ball.’’

Harvey said he doesn’t want to be just a major league pitcher, but a great pitcher, and to do that he’s not afraid of putting in the work as in running the steps in the Citi Field stands this winter. It’s easy to say you want to be good, but the key is to make the effort.

The victory was the first of Harvey’s career at Citi Field, and he became the fourth Mets pitcher to register at least 80 strikeouts in his first 11 starts with the team, joining Pedro Martinez, Dwight Gooden and Nolan Ryan.

“Today it was the fastball,’’ Harvey said of what was working. “I threw some good sliders when I needed and I threw my change-up in timely counts. … I said all spring training I wanted to pound the zone and I wasn’t about to let the cold effect me.’’

Harvey wore short sleeves and refused a jacket when he was on the bases: “In my mind, a jacket doesn’t belong on a baseball field.’’

That’s the mentality of an offensive lineman, and the Mets haven’t had that in a long time.

POWER PLUS: One of the pre-season concerns was if the Mets would hit with power. Collin Cowgill hit a grand slam in the opener, and Ike Davis, Lucas Duda and John Buck each hit two-run homers last night off left-hander Clayton Richard. That’s ten RBI on four homers.

“Duda and Ike hitting them off a lefty is huge,’’ Collins said. “If those two guys are hitting, it’s a tough line-up to get through.’’

The Mets have outscored the Padres, 19-6, in winning their first two games.

MARCUM UPDATE: Shaun Green returned to New York from Port St. Lucie to have his neck and shoulder re-examined. He’s already on the disabled list, and Collins said Aaron Laffey would start in his place Sunday against Miami.

“He has some real discomfort running from his shoulder up through his neck,’’ Collins said. “What that is, where it starts, what’s causing it, I think we won’t know until he sees the doctor tomorrow.’’

The Mets signed Laffey as a free agent in December. At 27, he’s also pitched with Cleveland, Seattle, Toronto and the Yankees. He went 4-6 with a 4.56 ERA in 22 games, including 16 starts with the Blue Jays last year.

“Hopefully he comes in Sunday and pitches very well,’’ Collins said. “If he does, he most likely will get another start. But we’re going to just take one start at a time right now.’’

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.