Jul 12

Nieuwenhuis Powers Mets Into Break On High Note

The Mets couldn’t have asked for a better April, and couldn’t have had a better stretch heading into the All-Star break. After losing their first two games of the month to the Cubs, with their sweep of the Diamondbacks completed today the Mets cruised into the break by winning three straight series.

Who saw that coming?

NIEUWENHUIS: Who would have guessed this? (AP)

NIEUWENHUIS: Who would have guessed this? (AP)

They did it with stellar starting pitching, and believe it or not, another barrage of power. Today, it was Kirk Nieuwenhuis hitting three homers. In the first two games of the series Lucas Duda found his homer stroke.

The Mets enter the break in second place, two games behind Washington and five games over .500. I would have signed on for that in a heartbeat coming out of spring training, and I’m sure most of you would have done so also.

There are two schools of thought about the Mets’ situation heading into the second half:

1) The Mets are where they are for the most part without David Wright, little offensive production overall and an erratic first-half from Matt Harvey. Given that, the Mets are right there and should go for it by making a bold trade.

2) Since they are close, they should keep the status quo and hope for Wright and Travis d’Arnaud to come back.

Can you guess which option GM Sandy Alderson is most apt to take?

Alderson is taking a “wait and see,’’ tact regarding trades, saying the market hasn’t yet defined itself. Entering the break, there are 12 teams that are seven games or less out of first place. Subsequently, there are 12 teams – plus the six division leaders – who believe they are in contention, and that includes the Mets.

The Mets are close, but not in the money if the playoffs started coming out of the break.

By extension, these teams are considered buyers at the deadline. But, are they really? With more and more teams trying to hold out for more – and teams such the Mets who are prone to want to fleece the opposition – there could be limited activity at the end of the month.

I’m expecting the Mets not to do anything substantial at the deadline, but that would be a mistake. The Mets are close despite a myriad of injuries, but also because Washington has been crippled and not played well.

Injuries are always a wild card and we don’t know what to expect next season. Will Washington be healthy? What key Met could be injured? Will the Braves be better? We don’t know. We do know the Mets are this close in large part because they won 11 straight games in April. They can’t count on that again.

I think Alderson should go for it, because we never know what will happen in the future.

 

Jul 11

Harvey Pitches, And Hits, Above Expectations

If Matt Harvey keeps having more days like today he could buy his own jet … even afford to take a helicopter from his Manhattan apartment to Mets’ games.

HARVEY: Plays like a star. (AP)

HARVEY: Plays like a star. (AP)

Harvey had one of those games like in high school, where he struck out nine Arizona Diamondbacks and hit a two-run homer in the Mets’ 4-2 victory.

It was a strong effort in a frustratingly erratic first-half for Harvey.

“For me, flushing the first half and going back out the second half with a fresh start is something I’m looking forward to,’’ Harvey told reporters. “There were ups and downs obviously – after the hot start, more ups and downs than I expected or wanted.’’

Harvey finished the first half with an 8-6 record, but the most important number were his 111.1 innings. He’s on pace for 205 innings, which is more than what GM Sandy Alderson wanted. But, that doesn’t include the playoffs, which is the ultimate goal.

Can you imagine the outcry should the Mets actually make it, but have to shut down Harvey. You think he complains now? That’s why the innings Harvey needlessly pitched in April when the Mets blew chances to rest him can’t be overlooked.

Of course this puts the six-man rotation issue back into the forefront. With Steven Matz down for at least five weeks – don’t forget he’ll have to go on a minor league rehab assignment when he’s cleared – the Mets must decide whether they’ll use Logan Verrett or Dillon Gee for the sixth spot or scrap their innings limitations.

It wasn’t a good start for Harvey, who walked four, but settled into a groove to with his eighth game. It was an effort the Mets have been waiting a long time to see.

Harvey has thrown hard this year coming off Tommy John surgery, but what usually happens in the first season back from the procedure is a lack of command.

That manifests itself not only in walks – nine in his last two starts – but also in home runs allowed.

He gave up a two-run homer to David Peralta in the first inning, but regrouped.

“I really wanted to do everything I could to keep the team within striking distance,’’ Harvey said. “When you look up at the scoreboard and it’s 2-0 and you only faced two batters, the last thing you want to do is keep that rolling. I really just had to buckle down and try to pound the zone as much as possible.’’

Which he did, marvelously so.

 

Jul 10

Mets Mess With Matz; Lefty Out At Least Three Weeks

In what some might describe as “typical Mets,’’ in their handling of injuries, the tightness in Steven Matz’s shoulder went from nothing serious, to a partially torn lat tear that would sideline him for up to three weeks, and today, according to GM Sandy Alderson, an indefinite period.

That doesn’t necessarily translate into “see you in spring training,’’ but then again it might.

MATZ: Out at least three weeks. (AP)

MATZ: Out at least three weeks. (AP)

Matz, who won his first two career starts, will be re-examined in three weeks. He will resume throwing if the lat muscle has healed, but if not will continue to rest. That’s where the indefinite period comes in.

Alderson had no explanation as to why Matz was not held out from last Sunday’s start in Los Angeles other than to say all pitchers have some degree of stiffness. That’s not a good answer, especially in light of previous Mets’ injuries.

The Mets dragged their feet before learning of Matt Harvey’s elbow injury, and considering Matz already had Tommy John surgery, not getting an MRI after his first start was a mistake. Alderson’s reasoning why Matz didn’t get the exam doesn’t wash.

“It was assessed by himself [Matz, who to my knowledge isn’t a doctor] as well as based on the information by the doctors as a mild issue at that time,” Alderson said. “If we got an MRI on every pitcher who ever had any sort of mild pain, we’d probably be getting them on a daily or somewhat frequent basis.”

Perhaps, then again Harvey’s issue might have been caught sooner. The same for Matz.

If Matz is one of the Mets’ pitching jewels, you take care of him. As with what happened with Harvey, it leaves a foul taste.

Three weeks puts us at the trade deadline, which means there is no way Jon Niese will be moved now. The same can pretty much be said for Bartolo Colon. Dillon Gee? Well, he’s always available.

Alderson did an about-face when the topic of trading from their pitching depth was raised. To be sure, Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Matz were never going anywhere. However, it had always been known Niese, Colon and Gee – currently in the minor leagues – could be had.

“There’s some speculation we were looking to trade pitching, and therefore this loss makes that less likely,’’ Alderson said. “I don’t think it was ever likely we were going to trade out of that six-man group. … I don’t think that will change our level of aggressiveness. We’re two games over and still in the hunt. … Two weeks ago we didn’t have Steven. It won’t make us less aggressive.’’

The cynic in me says it can’t make the Mets any less aggressive because they aren’t doing anything now. In all fairness, we don’t know everybody Alderson is talking to, but since he won’t deal pitching, and the Mets have little in the minor leagues to offer and are reluctant to take on salary, it’s not hard to surmise there will be no fireworks at the trade deadline.

Jul 09

Matz Out At Least Three Weeks; Could Impact Attempts To Deal Niese

It appears Matt Harvey will get his way and the Mets could go back to a five-man rotation – albeit temporary. Of course, the decision came about in the worst possible way, a partial lat teal to Steven Matz that reportedly will sideline him for at least three weeks.

Manager Terry Collins said Matz was bothered by stiffness in the area near his left armpit between his first and second start, which begs the question: Why did he make that start in the first place?

Isn’t Matz one of those good, young arms they are trying to protect?

Initially the Mets said the injury wasn’t serious, but then again, that’s what they said when David Wright went on the disabled list. After their initial statement, the Mets backtracked and said he would not be able to throw for up to three weeks.

All this could hamper the Mets’ attempts to trade Jon Niese as the deadline approaches.

Jul 08

Mets Mishandle Mejia Return

After having a night to sleep on it, there’s a lot not to like about Jenrry Mejia’s return to the Mets from an 80-game suspension for performance enhancing drugs.

MEJIA: Not a good move. (AP)

MEJIA: Not a good move. (AP)

Unfortunately, Mejia, GM Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins, when pulling their collective heads from the sand, spoke as if testifying before Congress.

Mejia channeling his best Mark McGwire, told reporters in San Francisco: “I can honestly say I have no idea how a banned substance ended up in my system. … That was in the past. It is what it is. I did what I did. Now I come here to move forward and do the best I can on the field.’’

At least he didn’t pull a Sammy Sosa and claim he didn’t speak English.

Memo to Mejia: Before you face the future, you must first confront your past.

Alderson, as he usually does, responded as if he believed everybody – including the Mets’ fan base – were idiots.

“He made a mistake,’’ Alderson said. “He admitted that. He’s paid a penalty. Whether I think he needs to express some public contrition or not? I know that privately, he’s done so. I’ve talked to him, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s over.’’

“Over? Did somebody say it was over? Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?’’

It’s never over for a drug user. There are always lingering questions.

“It doesn’t matter,’’ Collins said when asked if Mejia was contrite. “It happened. The guy’s back. I’m not going to live three months ago.’’

As for as contrition goes, Mejia at least owes it to his teammates to acknowledge his actions. In that regard, he talked to a few of his buddies, but that was it.

Good job, Terry. Good job, Sandy. Good message you’re sending there.

Look, I know Mejia is no McGwire, no Barry Bonds, no Roger Clemens. Not even a Rafael “I have never used steroids’’ Palmeiro. He’s none of those players in stature, but I don’t believe him when he said he has no idea how the drugs got into his system.

Oh well, he’s back. Ready to lead the Mets to the playoffs. Except, in the off chance they get there, he’s not eligible.

“He’s here to give us another option at the end of the bullpen and hopefully get some big outs,’’ Collins said.

The guy who was getting those big outs was Logan Verrett, but gets shipped out to make room for Mejia. He’s the one sent to Vegas.

What a good message that is to the players. “Do your job, but when the guy is done with his suspension for cheating, you’re going to the minor leagues.’’

That just stinks.

The Mets claim they are about winning now, so the guy who pays the price for Mejia is Verrett, who was pitching lights out.

For the record, Verrett had given up only one run in his last six appearances spanning 12.1 innings going back through June. That included a three-inning save Sunday in Los Angeles.

Verrett goes because he has options remaining, which is the path of least resistance. Meanwhile, Alex Torres’ ERA has an 8.10 ERA in his three July appearances. Torres was brought here to get left-handed hitters out, but they are stroking him for a .271 batting average, .417 on-base percentage and .833 OPS.

Does anybody else see the disconnect here?

Yes, Verrett, because of options remaining was the easy choice. But, that doesn’t make it the best choice.