Mar 24

Mets Roster Taking Shape; Matt Harvey Rocked

The Mets are closer to settling on their Opening Day roster, and being the Mets, some of their decision-making is predicated on injuries.

MURPHY: DL bound?

MURPHY: DL bound?

Half their infield – third baseman David Wright and second baseman Daniel Murphy, both of whom are slowed with strained intercostal muscles – will be determined at the end of the week, but the disabled list remains very much in play for both.

Wright reported no problems after taking live batting practice today, but how he felt after his swings is not the story.

“It’s the next step,’’ Wright told reporters. “Any time you get to the next step, it’s a significant step. It’s one step closer. … It’s important that I see how I feel tomorrow. I’ve said all along that Opening Day is my goal.’’

In all probability, Wright and Murphy will open the season backdated to the disabled list, meaning they would miss only the first five games of the season. It they were to play in a major league exhibition game and are injured, their DL stints would be backdated to the day after the injury.

Murphy played in a minor league game today and saw his first meaningful pitch since last season said it was “like trying to hit an aspirin.’’ Murphy went 1-for-2 with a walk, but said the biggest test might have been when he checked his swing and didn’t feel anything.

Because of the structure of minor league spring training games, Murphy could get as many as five or six at-bats a game, but that could increase the possibility of overdoing things and sustaining another injury.

If both Wright and Murphy go on the DL, one scenario has Justin Turner playing third and Jordany Valdespin at second. Another has Zach Lutz playing third and Turner at second.

Brandon Hicks is no longer a third base option as he was outrighted to the minors today, leaving way for Omar Quintanilla to make the team.

In addition, the Mets optioned to the minor league camp left-hander Aaron Laffey, Andrew Brown, Brian Bixler and Jamie Hoffman. By sending down Laffey, the Mets are reasonably sure Shaun Marcum – who missed his last start and took a cortisone injection in his shoulder – will be able to rejoin the rotation Thursday. Of course, if he’s not, it’s easy enough to recall Laffey.

A long shot to make the Opening Day roster, despite their need for defense in the outfield, was center fielder Matt den Dekker. That’s not going to happen now as broke his right wrist attempting to make a catch today. Compared to Jim Edmonds, den Dekker has had an exceptional spring in the field, but has struggled until recently at the plate.

METS OPTION d’ARNAUD: The Mets’ key to the R.A. Dickey was getting catcher Travis d’Arnaud, who was sent to Triple-A Las Vegas.

The Mets gambled keeping d’Arnaud around this week because had he been injured he would have opened the season on the major league disabled list, which would have started the clock on his service time. Should d’Arnaud, who hit .343 this spring, spend the first 20 days of the season in the minor leagues, his free agency would be delayed from after the 2018 season to after the 2019 season. His arbitration status would also be delayed a year if he’s not one of the top 22 percent of rookies called up.

That’s irrelevant insists GM Sandy Alderson.

“I know people talk about control and all of that,’’ Alderson said. “If John Buck gets hurt tomorrow, Travis d’Arnaud is the front-line catcher.’’

THE GAME: Matt Harvey’s next-to-last spring training start was not a good one, as he was hit for four runs in five innings in a 9-4 loss in a split-squad game to Detroit. In the other game, the Mets rallied from six runs down to beat St. Louis as Jamie Hoffman, Lutz and Mike Baxter homered.

Harvey struck out the side in the first, including Triple-Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, but it was all uphill from there. Harvey said he let his emotions get away from him and overthrew after the first inning.

“Definitely something I learned is try not to get too pumped up for a team and a lineup like that – back off and let everything work,’’ Harvey said.

Also not having a good day was set-up reliever Brandon Lyon, who gave up five runs on six his in one third of an inning.

Mar 20

Dillon Gee Comeback Continues Tonight

It’s not as if Dillon Gee didn’t think he’d ever pitch again. He was just concerned with how effective he would be at this level.

Gee was apprehensive and worried when his pitching arm and hand went numb last summer. At the time, he was coming off a stretch of 54 strikeouts in 60 innings and his best start when he gave up one run in eight innings against the Cubs, July 7. He felt no discomfort during the game, but a few days later came the numbness and just like that his season was over.

GEE: Continues comeback tonight.

GEE: Continues comeback tonight.

After surgery to repair an artery in his shoulder, and assurances from doctors he could resume his career, Gee didn’t doubt he’d be with the Mets this spring. He was probably thinking about it coming out of anesthesia. What he didn’t know was how long it would take for him to get where he needed to be. He’s still not there.

“I wanted to prove to myself and everybody else I could still do it,’’ said Gee, who’ll start for the Mets tonight against Houston in Kissimmee.

That’s why last September was so important. As soon as he received clearance he started to throw, and by the end of the season knew he could enter winter with peace of mind.

“I didn’t want to spend the offseason wondering if I could do it,’’ said Gee. “It was important to take that load off my mind. I didn’t want to be thinking about it all winter.’’

In doing so, Gee was able to get in his normal off-season program and put himself in position to adjust if there was a setback.

“If I waited and something happened in spring training, it would be too late to get it fixed,’’ Gee said. “I have felt great since the surgery. I have had zero setbacks.’’

What he has had is difficulty refining is mechanics, and subsequently, his change-up. It hasn’t been the prettiest of springs for him, as he’s given up seven runs on seven hits and eight walks, with only two strikeouts in nine innings.

However, Gee isn’t worried about his composite results as six of those runs and four of the walks came in his last start, March 14, when he was rocked by Detroit. Gee reiterated the problem wasn’t surgery related, but just not having it, yet.

“My mechanics have been off,’’ said Gee. “It is always about location, and that comes with repetition every spring. I am trying to refine everything.’’

Specifically, Gee needs his change-up to be effective because he doesn’t have an overpowering fastball. An effective change-up, he said, sets up everything else.

“I need to throw my change-up for strikes any time in the count,’’ Gee said. “It isn’t where I want it to be. It is a feel pitch and it takes some time. It is a huge pitch for me.’’

Tonight will be Gee’s fourth start of the spring and he could get two more so there’s not a whole lot of time. He will enter the season as the fourth starter.

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 17

Wright Expresses No Regrets; Doesn’t Mean He’s Right In WBC Flap

David Wright is correct, his rib injury could have happened anytime. It could have happened carrying groceries from the car.

That isn’t the issue.

WRIGHT: Call it E-5

WRIGHT: Call it E-5

The issues are Wright was injured while at the World Baseball Classic – whatever he was doing at the time, it was away from the Mets – and did not report his injury in a timely fashion.

Also an issue is Wright has a strained left intercostal muscle and faces the strong possibility of being on the disabled list to start the season. What should be an issue if you’re the Mets is Wright gave no sign of regret about the WBC, and the perception of minimizing the injury.

“You can get hurt in spring training,’’ Wright told reporters prior to today’s 2-1 loss to Atlanta. “You can get hurt before spring training. Playing baseball, there’s some risk that comes along with that. … It has nothing to do with the tournament itself. It has everything to do with some bad luck.’’

Sure, it is bad luck, but that’s not Mets fans want to hear. They want to know if their All-Star third baseman, who was just signed to a $138 million package, will be able to play Opening Day. The WBC is a hard enough sell as it is in the United States, and Wright was injured participating in the international tournament. Mets fans don’t care about promoting baseball around the globe.

There is also the perception Wright placed his personal desire to represent his country – as admirable as that is – over his obligation to the Mets.

“Of course I owe it to the Mets to be honest with them, and I was,’’ Wright insists. “Ultimately when I started going in and getting treatment for it, the Mets saw that and they called me. I was honest with how I was feeling.

“Once it got to the point where I started not being able to sleep, or when it was painful to lounge around, that’s when obviously I started going to get treatment and talking to [trainer] Ray [Ramirez] and [general manager] Sandy [Alderson] and those guys.’’

Wright said those conversations took place Wednesday, which contradicts Alderson’s assertion the Mets didn’t become aware until shortly before game time Thursday. That doesn’t help the Mets’ image. The Mets have been known for their sloppy handling of injuries, ranging from Ryan Church’s concussion to Carlos Beltran’s knee to Johan Santana’s shoulder this spring.

That won’t go away, especially if Wright isn’t ready for the season, as appears the case. Wright can’t commit to Opening Day, saying he needs to be cautious and not risk further injury and be out even longer. So, where was the caution when Wright felt pain for a week before reporting it to WBC trainers?

“Once it got to the point where I thought it might obviously prohibit me from coming back and producing with the Mets, that’s when it was time to make that decision,’’ Wright said. “I feel like I have a pretty good sense of what’s tolerable and what’s not tolerable.’’

Well, how about when Wright played a month with pain in his lower back which was later diagnosed as a stress fracture? And, last spring he had the same injury and was out a month. Nobody ever questioned Wright not being a gamer, but that isn’t the issue.

Wright’s desire to represent his country and honor his commitment is admirable. However, it is his judgment here that is in question. His first obligation is to the Mets.

Mar 17

Kirk Nieuwenhuis Having Miserable Spring; Vegas Bound

With two weeks to go before Opening Day, Kirk Nieuwenhuis should be thinking about where he would live in New York rather than Las Vegas.

Nieuwenhuis, who made a strong first impression with the Mets last year, came to camp penciled in as the center fielder and first in line to win the leadoff spot. However, a hitless streak at the start of the exhibition schedule punctuated with a rash of strikeouts followed by deep bone bruise on his left knee made this a washout spring.

NIEUWENHUIS: Taking that swing to Vegas.

NIEUWENHUIS: Taking that swing to Vegas.

It should be fun for a young player competing for a starting job.

“Fun?’’ Nieuwenhuis asked. “It should have been fun, but it’s no fun spending time in the trainer’s room. It’s no fun when you can’t get onto the field. This has been a very frustrating time.’’

Nieuwenhuis was injured two weeks ago, and yesterday participated in batting practice and outfield drills. Once he runs the bases, he’ll be cleared to play, but it will be a minor league game.

Perhaps early this week Nieuwenhuis will get in a game, but Collin Cowgill has already leaped past him as well as Jordany Valdespin. Matt den Dekker also made a strong impression defensively, and still has a chance to make the team if he finishes with a hot two weeks with the bat.

Nieuwenhuis doesn’t say it, but despite his youth and inexperience, he’s smart enough to know the score. All he has to do is look at the stat sheet and compare his at-bats to Cowgill’s.

“I haven’t seen a lot of pitches,’’ Nieuwenhuis said in about as direct an admission that he’ll open the season at Triple-A Las Vegas. “You need at-bats in spring training. You need repetition, and I haven’t gotten them.’’

Nieuwenhuis was brought up early last season after Andres Torres was injured and got two hits in his first game. Then he rattled off a seven-game hitting streak. Three times he had three hits in a game and at the end of April was hitting .325 with a .386 on-base percentage.

Nieuwenhuis remained productive in May – hitting .294 at the end of the month – and carried it into June and was emerging as an early Rookie of the Year candidate hitting .297 while playing a near flawless center field.

However, by the middle of the month, pitchers started figuring him out and his average plummeted. Anybody can hit fastballs, but Nieuwenhuis was having trouble with breaking balls and off-speed stuff and his strike zone widened for pitchers, who didn’t have to be so fine.

Nieuwenhuis sustained a hand injury in July and at the end of the month was optioned to Triple-A Buffalo, where he injured his foot and was lost for the remainder of the season.

At the time of his demotion, Nieuwenhuis was down to .252 with a .315 on-base percentage, and in 282 at-bats had more strikeouts (98) than hits (71).

Although general manager Sandy Alderson had his apprehensions with Nieuwenhuis, his early success last year coupled with the Mets’ wide-open outfield situation, enabled him to come to camp with a fresh start and high expectations.

“Strikeouts are acceptable to a point,’’ Alderson said. “If a player has a high on-base percentage and produces a lot of runs, you can take the strikeouts.’’

Nieuwenhuis got off to a slow start this spring with only one hit and seven strikeouts in 20 at-bats. He was quickly removed from the leadoff spot as manager Terry Collins searched for other options, including Valdespin and Cowgill.

“I know the strikeouts have been a problem,’’ Nieuwenhuis said. “I don’t want to strike out. I need to put the ball in play. Seeing pitches is very important, and you get that through repetition.’’

And, you don’t see pitches when you’re not on the field.