May 08

Mets Wrap: Offense Fails Again

In one game out of five the Mets play an alert, aggressive brand of baseball. That’s when they have Matt Harvey on the mound. Wednesday night wasn’t one of those nights. Jeremy Hefner kept the Mets in the game for much of the night, but the offense gave him little support and the bullpen let the game get away in a 6-3 loss to the Chicago White Sox.

RECORD/STANDINGS: 13-17, 4th place. Last 10: 3-7.

ON THE MOUND: Hefner gave up four runs on eight hits in six innings. Not a quality start, but with any support the Mets might have had a chance. Hefner has given up seven-first inning runs. “Bottom line, I could have made better pitches,’’ Hefner said. “I need to pitch better.’’ … Two more runs given up in three innings by the bullpen.

AT THE PLATE: The Mets were 2-for-8 with RISP, and stranded seven runners. … Lucas Duda homered, but struck out three times. … Two more strikeouts by Ike Davis. … Overall, Mets hitters fanned 12 times, the 12th time this season they’ve struck out 10 or more times.

THEY SAID IT:  “He didn’t let the game get out of control, and that’s all you can ask from your starting pitcher.’’ – Manager Terry Collins on Hefner’s performance.

BY THE NUMBERS: 12: The number of strikeouts the Mets; and the number of double-digit strikeout games their offense has had this season.

ON DECK: The Pittsburgh Pirates are in tomorrow for the start of a four-game series. Dillon Gee (2-4, 6.16) goes against lefthander Jeff Locke (3-1, 3.21).

May 07

Mets Wrap: Matt Harvey Dominant Again

It wasn’t a perfect game, but it was close. Matt Harvey gave up one hit in nine scoreless innings, and Bobby Parnell threw a 1-2-3 tenth, as the Mets beat the Chicago White Sox, 1-0, tonight at Citi Field.

HARVEY: Over comes bloody nose to stuff White Sox. (AP)

HARVEY: Over comes bloody nose to stuff White Sox. (AP)

ON THE MOUND: Harvey struck out a career-high 12 and didn’t walk a hitter. … Combined with Parnell, Mets pitchers retired 30 of 31 hitters. … Alex Rios was Chicago’s lone baserunner with an infield single after two were out in the seventh.

AT THE PLATE: The Mets were unable to touch Chicago lefty Hector Santiago, who is from Newark. … The Mets won it when Ike Davis walked, advanced on a sacrifice and scored on Mike Baxter’s pinch-hit single to right.

THEY SAID IT: “In the fifth inning, I was thinking `he’s going to pitch a no-hitter.’ ’’ – Manager Terry Collins on watching Harvey pitch.

BY THE NUMBERS: 4 – Near perfect-games lost by Mets pitchers, including Harvey, Tom Seaver twice and Rick Reed.

NO CHANGES IN PEN: Now that Frank Francisco has worked on consecutive days in his rehab assignment for Single-A St. Lucie he’s closer to coming off the disabled list. Another rehab appearance or two should do it, but that doesn’t mean he’ll automatically reclaim his closer role.

ON DECK: Jeremy Hefner (0-3, 4.34) will be going after his third straight quality start tomorrow night against Jake Peavy (3-1, 3.38). Hefner gave up a combined three runs on seven hits in 15 innings. The Mets are 0-6 in the six games Hefner started for them this season.

May 07

Robin Ventura Returns To Face Mets

One of the players I most enjoyed covering was Robin Ventura for those two years he played for the Yankees. In that clubhouse full of stars and egos, Ventura was a voice of calm, reason and humorous relief.

VENTURA: In town tonight.

VENTURA: In town tonight.

I enjoyed stopping by his locker to shoot the breeze for a minute or two, talking about things other than baseball. Very smart, clever and possessing an insight on numerous issues. When there was the inevitable blow up or moment of absurdity, Ventura was always there to put it into perspective with a quip as short and hard-hitting as his swing.

Once I asked him about his fight with Nolan Ryan, and his response was he knew he had made a mistake halfway out to the mound, but couldn’t turn around. You’ll even notice in the video he slowed down.

Was it an embarrassing moment? Yes, but years later he handled it with humor. He even joined with Ryan to autograph photos of the brawl.

When I covered the Orioles and he was with the White Sox, I’d make time to go over to his clubhouse for a few moments. He was accessible to anybody who would take the time to ask a question.

I am sure there will be a lot of questions for Ventura pre-game tonight when he brings his White Sox into town. There will be rehashing about his time with the Mets and Yankees, about being in New York during September 11 and what he remembers about Mike Piazza’s homer the first game back in the city.

He’ll also get a question or four about his grand-slam single against the Braves in the 1999 playoffs.

That night is one of the greatest team displays of enthusiasm outside of winning a championship I have ever seen. That, and I suppose, the Piazza post 9-11 homer. Both were amazing to watch.

Ventura wasn’t a five-tool player, but was consistent and clutch. With a runner in scoring position you wanted him at the plate because he’d usually make contact.

Ventura was a .267 lifetime hitter and only once hit over .300, that being .301 in 1999, his first season with the Mets. Considering his 66-game hitting streak in college, I always wondered if he thought he should have hit for a higher average. He also hit 32 homers with a career-high 120 RBI in his first year with the Mets.

What the Mets wouldn’t give for a player with that production now.

Ventura had three solid years with the Mets, who, during that span had arguably one of the best defensive infields in history. Few balls got by Ventura, Rey Ordonez, Edgardo Alfonzo and John Olerud.

Both Olerud and Ventura would later play for the Yankees. When they left the Yankees, I believed I’d see both again managing in a major league dugout. I’m still waiting on Olerud.

May 06

Lucas Duda Unfairly Criticized On Plate Approach

Ever since Lucas Duda burst into our consciousness in 2010, nobody has been satisfied with his plate approach. Too many strikeouts and not enough walks, I frequently wrote. He gives away too many at-bats. He tries to pull too much and doesn’t use the entire field.

All valid in the early Duda critique.

DUDA: Has the right approach (AP).

DUDA: Has the right approach (AP).

Now, unbelievably, he’s become too selective, too patient at the plate. No matter how hard I try, I don’t get this one.

Even Keith Hernandez, who has forgotten more about hitting than most of us will ever know, has been after Duda on his patience. Hernandez believes Duda should be more aggressive with runners in scoring position. Yesterday in that position, Duda worked deep into the count. And, as the at-bat continued and the talk was for him to be more aggressive, Duda lashed a 3-and-1 pitch through the right side of the infield for a RBI single in a perfect piece of hitting.

Until that swing, the conversation was about Duda’s growing patience, as if it was a fatal, fundamental flaw  instead of a strength.

Duda has a .417 on-base percentage, in large part to 21 walks. While the season is still young, his on-base percentage and OPS are the best of his career. For much of the spring he had more walks than strikeouts, but that has reversed.

However, what people are noting most are his six homers with only 11 RBI. Surely, with that much power, he should have more RBI. It it is a plausible argument, but not an all inclusive one.

Pitchers, wary of Duda’s power, have been exceedingly cautious and try to get him to chase. However, when he might have swung earlier in his career, he’s now waiting them out. Instead of giving away at-bats, he’s learned to take the walk, but that’s not a flaw.

Do you really want to see Duda be another Ike Davis, who gives away countless at-bats by flailing a pitches he has no chance of hitting?

The best thing for Duda would be to continue being patient and taking his walks. If somebody – are you listening Davis? – provided more protection behind him, then Duda might see more pitches, fastballs to be exact, in the zone.

Trust me on this one, the last thing you want is for Duda reverting to bad habits and chasing junk. The more walks he takes, the better he’ll become at recognizing pitches. He’ll waste fewer at-bats and eventually get his pitch to drive.

The expectations for Duda to walk less and swing more have been brought on by the Mets’ overall woeful offense.  The problem isn’t in Duda is taking too many pitches, but others in the batting order are not.

May 05

Niese’s Struggles Continue; Mets Have Lost His Last Four Starts

There will be days like today, where the meltdown is complete in all phases, beginning with Jon Niese’s inability to get hitters out, an offense offering little resistance to Tim Hudson, and a porous defense.

NIESE: Didn't have it. (AP)

NIESE: Didn’t have it. (AP)

It’s not alarming the Mets couldn’t do anything to Hudson, but what should be a source of concern is Niese, who was hit hard in his fourth straight start – all lost by the Mets, today 9-4 at Turner Field.

Manager Terry Collins said Niese was too strong and overthrew his pitches, leading to his lack of control. Collins gave his pitcher an out, but Niese didn’t take it, saying he can’t afford to have games like this.

ON THE MOUND: Niese gave up seven runs on seven hits and six walks in four innings, and has been rocked for 14 runs in his last four starts, totaling 19 innings. One of those games was April 23, when he took a hard comebacker off his right ankle and lasted 2.1 innings. With Saturday’s rainout and tomorrow’s off day, the four innings worked by the bullpen shouldn’t be too taxing.

AT THE PLATE: David Wright had two hits, including another homer. That’s three in three days. … Mets had a chance in the eighth inning, but Marlon Byrd struck out swinging on a pitch that would have been ball four to end the inning.

IN THE FIELD: The official scorer was kind to the Mets, giving hits on balls misplayed by Lucas Duda and Wright. … John Buck failed to block two pitches in the dirt.

HARVEY PUSHED BACK: With Niese’s start rained out Saturday, Collins had the option of going with Niese, or starting Matt Harvey on normal rest. However, with Harvey throwing 121 pitches in his last start, Collins opted for extra rest, which was the right call. Harvey will start Tuesday against the White Sox. “You try to keep them as prepared as you can,’’ Collins said. “I don’t like it. That’s one of the issues we’ve talked about. We talked about it on the road trip in Colorado. This game is about routines and repetitions. When you get these guys out of these routines and their reps, it’s a problem.’’

BY THE NUMBERS: 6: Walks issued by Niese, tying a career high.

THEY SAID IT: “They were flat today.’’ – SNY analyst Ron Darling describing today’s loss that wasn’t as close as the score indicated.

ON DECK: The Mets are off Monday, and then open a two-game series Tuesday against the Chicago White Sox.