Feb 23

Here’s A Thought Why Mets Won’t Announce Set Plan For Harvey

Unquestionably, the primary focus for the Mets this spring training will be on Matt Harvey. GM Sandy Alderson said there would not be severe restrictions on Harvey, who remains on schedule and is to throw to hitters by the end of the week.

That’s encouraging, but what is puzzling is wondering if the Mets even have a concrete plan for Harvey’s first year following Tommy John surgery. There’s supposed to be an innings cap, but so far there’s no announced number, with Alderson saying he didn’t want this to become an issue over the next eight months.

HARVEY: Why won't they announce plan? (Getty)

HARVEY: Why won’t they announce plan? (Getty)

Memo to Alderson: Announced number or not, Harvey’s workload will always be an issue. Not knowing drives the media crazy and encourages it to bombard Alderson, Harvey and Terry Collins with the same questions before and after every start.

How can Alderson be that naïve about the New York press to think the issue will go away, especially as the season wears down and there is a prospect of a postseason?

First, it was thought Harvey would not pitch in the six games the Mets have on the road to open the season, but start the home opener. Now, Collins says he’ll start in the season’s first five games. How much do you want to bet he starts Opening Day and the home opener?

Alderson says the Mets have “an idea,’’ of Harvey’s limit, but not a definitive number. Harvey threw out 200, but not 215 or 220.

Alderson said Harvey will start in the postseason, but what does that mean toward the innings total?

Let’s assume the Mets get in as a wild card and run the table. That’s a potential six or seven starts; that’s at least another 40 innings. And, if they are in a race there’s no way they’ll cut him short in a game.

How does that compute? Do the Mets think 170 innings and keep adding on until their season is done? Don’t think for a second if the Mets reach the playoffs they would consider limiting him.

But, all innings count.

The ideal way is to map out a schedule that utilizes skipping one start a month, which is a possible savings of 42 innings, figuring seven innings is the magic number for a start. This can easily be done when scheduled off days are considered. And, it would not impact the rest of the rotation.

Then, Collins can pull Harvey depending on how he’s pitching that day and the tenor of the game. Those are bonus saved innings. I would hope on days Harvey doesn’t have it he’ll have a short leash.

That seems the easiest way, but the Mets won’t commit to this format. Instead, they floated the idea of sometimes earmarking a start for five innings. That’s a terrible idea because what if Harvey is throwing a gem? What if they pull him and the bullpen gives it up? That’s a backlash Collins doesn’t want to face.

This way also puts undue pressure on the team if they think they’ll have Harvey for five innings. A team must go into a game believing the starter will be with them. Plus, you would be putting the bullpen in the situation of working four innings that night. But, what if they were overused in an extra-innings game the night before? What if the next game’s starter is shelled? All of a sudden the bullpen is taxed.

The Mets’ reluctance to carve out a concrete plan for Harvey this year has nothing to do with trying to alleviate a distraction. At least not the one they think.

I believe their caution is they don’t want to risk of aggravating or annoying their temperamental pitcher, who has already in his young career has shown a willingness, if not eagerness, to spar with management.

They don’t want Harvey to become angry and create a different distraction. What they don’t understand it is better to face this now rather than have this become a lingering issue.

And, you know it will.

Feb 22

Wright’s Comeback Is Key Met Issue; Acknowledges He Must Adjust

Numerous times I’ve said the most pressing issue with the Mets is David Wright’s health – regardless of what happens with Matt Harvey.

Wright is entering the third season of an eight-year, $138-million, an award for being the face of the franchise and the promise of what he could bring to the Mets through the 2020 season. When Wright is whole, the Mets have a chance of being the same.

WRIGHT: Change in the air. (AP)

WRIGHT: Change in the air. (AP)

He had a decent 2013 season hitting .307, but injuries limited him to 112 games. A shoulder injury cut last year short and held him to eight homers and only 63 RBI. He hasn’t hit at least 25 homers with 100 RBI since 2010, and that’s the basis for him being the key issue – if he doesn’t start post real All-Star numbers then the contract becomes a burden and consequently a distraction.

That’s why what he told reporters Sunday was important. He acknowledged the need to slow it down from time to time. Only twice in the last five years has he played as many as 155 games, and even that might be too much.

“I think it is probably to the point where I have to be a little more realistic that it’s probably not in my best interest or the team’s best interest to go out there and play 162 games,’’ Wright said. “I think a good off day here and there probably can be beneficial for both me and the team.’’

But, that’s up to Terry Collins. If he left it up to Wright, he’d play. Collins must be disciplined enough to have a plan with Wright and stick to it. Usually, that means resting him the day before an off day. That’s a two-day rest.

Wright also acknowledged he must modify his game, meaning being more selective and concentrate on driving the ball in the gaps and not worrying about pulling.

“I remember our first year in Citi Field [in 2009], I think I hit 10 [homers] and I felt like I had a very productive season – and it was because of driving runs in, scoring runs,’’ Wright told reporters today in Port St. Lucie. “I don’t judge a season by how many home runs I hit. It’s more being productive, more being a middle-of-the-order-type hitter, where I’m driving in runs, scoring runs.

“The thing that bothered me last year wasn’t the lack of home runs. It was more that I just didn’t feel like I was the hitter I’m capable of being.’’

At 32, Wright’s best days are behind him, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be good ones ahead of him. After all, he has six more years, and with the Mets thinking playoffs, they can’t afford Wright being a shell of what he has been. He’s at the stage of his career when he knows he has to adjust. Professional hitters are able to do that – which is what he acknowledged this afternoon.

Wright has always been a pro, and I wouldn’t expect anything less of him now.

 

Feb 19

My Favorite Spring Training Memories

For a baseball writer spring training can be a magical time. My first was in 1991, when I covered the Orioles. There was also time in Florida with the Yankees and Mets. All produced keeper memories, which flooded back this morning.

Things weren’t as stressful with the Orioles, mostly because there was only three or four writers. We showed up early, got our stories, wrote and played basketball. Larry Lucchino, then the Orioles president, played and chewed me out when I didn’t pass him the ball.

After that, it was usually seafood, a movie or the dog track. One night, Jim Henneman from the Baltimore Sun and his friend, nicknamed “Smoothie,’’ hosted us. We pooled our money and gave it to Smoothie to wager. Just as Smoothie was leaving the table, Rick Vaughn, the PR director of the Orioles, deadpanned: “I can’t believe we just gave all our money to a guy named Smoothie.’’

Another time Mark Maske of the Washington Post and Peter Schmuck of the Sun and I were talking with reliever Arthur Rhodes, who could hit triple digits. Maske asked Rhodes if he were to throw 100 fastballs how many times do you think we’d make contact?

He said, “Maybe 10 to 15. … What about you?’’

I was thinking maybe a foul tip.

But, it isn’t always smooth. Once a delicate story broke in the morning, but worked itself out during the game. Later, the Orioles manager, the late Johnny Oates, told us of the changing development. We were circled around him and he asked if we had a problem changing the story.

Nobody had an issue. When Oates got to me, I simply said, “I guess I have some rewriting to do.’’

What followed was a loud crash when Oates kicked a chair and screamed, “I knew it. I knew you’d be the one to write it.’’

He didn’t get I wasn’t going to print the original version. I simply turned and walked away as there was no purpose getting into it with him in public. As I was leaving the clubhouse, Brady Anderson said, “don’t worry about it, you’ve arrived when the manager rips into you.’’

Another Orioles favorite was Mike Mussina, who passed time with a six-by-three foot crossword puzzle in the corner.

Maybe my most memorable spring was spending nine straight weeks at the Tampa Westshore Marriott during the strike in 1995. It was like being Norm from Cheers, as everybody at the front desk greeted me by name. A supervisor even tried to get me my own parking spot.

The Yankees and Mets are different animals.

You arrive with a plan that often never materializes. In the spring of 1999, I had a plan every morning, but followed through maybe five or six times. That was when Joe DiMaggio died. Then, one day we were writing about Darryl Strawberry’s cancer when a Yankee staffer gave us a release that Joe Torre left the team to be treated for prostate cancer.

That day didn’t end until close to midnight.

That was the spring George Steinbrenner called Hideki Irabu “a fat pussy toad.’’ The Yankees were to fly to Los Angeles that day for an exhibition series with the Dodgers. Steinbrenner huddled with GM Brian Cashman, interim manager Don Zimmer and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre for hours on what to do with Irabu, who triggered it all by failing to cover first base for the second time in as many starts.

The meeting lasted so long the Yankees had pizza delivered to the clubhouse.

I should have known what kind of spring it was going to be when on the first day the Yankees traded David Wells for Roger Clemens.

The Yankees beat was always competitive, made more so by the daily Steinbrenner watch. It was by luck one day I caught him coming in from the parking lot. He answered a couple of questions and then spent ten minutes talking college basketball.

Say what you will about Steinbrenner, but he was colorful and brought something to the table. He could be infuriating, but you had to wait him out. The worst words a Yankees writer could hear on his voice mail was, “John, George Steinbrenner returning your call.’’

You knew you weren’t going to get him a second time.

Meanwhile, Jeff Wilpon, for his part is accessible. Fred Wilpon usually holds court once a spring, and once uttered the words “playing meaningful baseball in September.”

With the Mets, many stories are gathered on the backfields. That was when I met Sandy Koufax. I knew I wasn’t going to get questions answered, but told him of when my dad took me to Shea Stadium and said to me, “you need to see this guy pitch.’’

He asked what I remembered and I sheepishly told him Wes Covington homered and the Mets won. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “Yeah, I remember that, too.’’

I will always love Koufax for that.

And, I’ll always love the promise of spring training.

Feb 18

Today In Mets History: Pitchers And Catchers Report For First Time

On this date in 1962, Mets pitchers and catchers had their first workout in St. Petersburg. It is the first time the Mets’ uniform was seen in public.

The Mets have always struggled to find their own identity in New York, and part of that can be attributed to the design of their home uniform and colors. Orange was taken from the Giants; blue from the Dodgers, and pinstripes from the Yankees. If you consider Shea Stadium, the walls were Dodger blue and the foul poles were Giant orange.

There have been uniform modifications over the years, but basically the same color scheme with pinstripes.

Pitchers and catchers report today, undergo physicals tomorrow and have their first workout Saturday.

Manager Terry Collins will be away from the team for several days after the passing of his father, Loren Collins, 95, in Midland, Michigan.

 

Feb 18

No Reason For Mets To Rush Parnell

There have been reports Bobby Parnell will regain his closer role when he’s activated from the disabled list roughly a month into the season. Parnell told reporters today in Port St. Lucie, “the ultimate goal when I go up there is to close.’’

PARNELL:  Treat with kid gloves. (AP)

PARNELL: Treat with kid gloves. (AP)

Although manager Terry Collins previously indicated that possibility, Parnell said he’s been promised nothing, which is the right way to go because there are too many unanswered questions.

What if Jenrry Mejia is pitching lights out at the time and the Mets are playing well? It would be foolish for Collins to disrupt the chemistry his team is building. It’s counter-productive for Collins to promise something he’d later reverse track on.

Many managers don’t like to commit to anything unless they absolutely must and there’s no reason for Collins to play his hand now. Collins has fallen into that trap before and must avoid it this time.

Parnell demonstrated promise at closing in 2013 with 22 saves, a 2.16 ERA and 1.000 WHIP. Mejia converted 28 save opportunities last year, but with a 3.65 ERA and less than impressive 1.484 WHIP. What was promising was his 98-41 strikeouts-to-walks ratio.

If Mejia stumbles in April, the Mets can go with Jeurys Familia or Vic Black. The Mets enter spring training with potentially their best bullpen in three years, especially if all four are on their games.

And, if Mejia, Familia and Black pitch well in April, there’s no point to rush back Parnell, especially when we don’t know how long it will take for him to work himself into pitching shape. Parnell wanting to be out there is not a good enough reason. Neither is his $3.7-million salary.

“Obviously I want to be there at the beginning of the year, but more importantly, I want to be there at the end of the year,’’ Parnell said. “If they feel like missing the beginning of the year is going to help me be there at the end, and be solid at the end, and help with the playoff push, then I’m all aboard on that.’’

This is something that doesn’t need to be decided until late April or early May. Anything before that is premature.