Sep 28

Lugo Puts Mets On Cusp

The Mets aren’t closing in on a wild-card berth for a lot of reasons, not the least of which has been emergency starter Seth Lugo.

An after thought in spring training, Lugo figures to be the Mets’ third starter in the NL Division Series should they advance that far.

LUGO: Puts Mets on verge. (AP)

LUGO: Puts Mets on verge. (AP)

The victory, coupled with the Cardinals losing at home to the Reds, reduced the Mets’ magic number to two over St. Louis. The Mets are off Thursday then have three games over the weekend in Philadelphia, while the Cardinals have four games remaining.

Lugo is as much an unsung contributor as anybody to have the Mets in this position.

“This kid has come here and done nothing but save us,’’ manager Terry Collins said of Lugo, who hasn’t given up more than three runs in any start.

In beating the Marlins, 5-2, Wednesday night, Lugo won his fifth game, and the Mets are undefeated in his last seven starts, impressive numbers as he helped fill the voids created by injuries to Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Jacob deGrom.

Couple what Lugo did with three wins by Robert Gsellman – Friday’s starter in Philadelphia – and the Mets wouldn’t even be sniffing October.

Credit Lugo’s five victories in large part to his batting-average allowed with RISP to .149.

COLLINS SHOWED CLASS: The Mets and Marlins exchanged embraces prior to Monday’s tribute game to Jose Fernandez.

But, after the game Collins walked towards the Miami dugout to exchange hugs with Marlins manager Don Mattingly, hitting coach Barry Bonds, second baseman Dee Gordon, outfielders Christian Yelich and Jeff Francoeur, and later club president David Samson.

During the series, numerous Marlins – notably Gordon – had high praise for the Mets, who signed the Fernandez jersey that hung in their dugout presented it to the Miami front office.

“We have a special group of guys they are respectful of the game and respectful to people,’’ said Collins, who lead the way.

BRUCE, GRANDERSON STILL SMOKING: Jay Bruce’s miserable slump is behind him as he homered for the third time in four games.

After being benched and on the verge of being written out of the Mets’ postseason plans, Bruce regained his spot in the lineup.

Bruce has 32 homers overall and seven with the Mets.

“He’s locked in for me,’’ Collins said. “It couldn’t come at a better time.’’

Bruce said his timing is a lot better and spoke with a feeling of relief.

“Ever since the day I got here I wanted to play good baseball and be a contributor to the team,’’ Bruce said. “This is a good team and I’m having a lot of fun being here.’’

Also having a lot of fun is Granderson, who went 4-for-4 and reached base five times, and eight straight overall.

Once mired below .180, Granderson is up to .233 with a .331 on-base percentage.

Granderson’s surge coincides with Yoenis Cespedes’ return from the disabled list, which enabled him to settle in at the clean-up spot.

“He’s been a different animal since he moved to fourth,’’ Collins said. “He’s been getting walks and hitting home runs.’’

EXTRA INNINGS: If the Mets have a playoff berth wrapped up by Sunday, they are likely to skip Noah Syndergaard’s start to have him ready for a start Wednesday. If the Mets need to win Sunday to secure the home field for the wild-card game, they are still likely to skip him. … Lucas Duda, who had two hits Tuesday, was scratched with soreness in his lower back. James Loney was back in the lineup and homered (eighth). … Addison Reed registered his 39th hold and Jeurys Familia his 50th save. … Tim Tebow homered on the first pitch he saw in an Instructional League game.

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Sep 20

Three Mets’ Storylines: Did They Lose Bruce?

In the end, it came down to this: manager Terry Collins has more confidence in Eric Campbell, a player who hasn’t had a hit since May than he does Jay Bruce, the player whom the Mets hoped would carry them into the playoffs.

BRUCE: Did Mets lose him? (AP)

BRUCE: Did Mets lose him? (AP)

Campbell came through with a RBI pinch-hit single in the eighth, but the Mets still lost, 5-4, to Atlanta Tuesday night, and you have to wonder – as Bruce must, also – that he’ll be of little, or no use, to them in the remaining 11 games.

And, after that, do they see a reason to bring him back next season?

There’s no disputing Bruce has been horrid ohis last 24 games, hitting .167 and .125 with RISP. There’s also no disputing he was leading the National League in RBI with 80 when the trade was made.

A manager has a myriad of tough decisions to make, and with this one was the balance between trying to get a player going and winning the game.

“It’s one of the worst things you can do as a manager is to pinch-hit for a star,” Collins said. “My job is to win the game. … I think he’s extremely frustrated. All he cares about is to be a good teammate and help this team. I sure he’s dumped a lot of pressure on himself.”

Collins said he spoke with Bruce before that inning and told him he would use a pinch-hitter, to which he said the player told him: “You do what you have to do.”

Bruce left the dugout as Campbell came to the plate, which isn’t a good image. But, he was probably thinking he didn’t want to have the cameras focused on him for the rest of the game.

Later, it was clear Bruce wasn’t happy, but he said all the right things.

“It was very difficult,” Bruce said about being pinch-hit for. “It’s the first time I was pinch-hit for. (Actually, it is the ninth time according to ESPN). I always think I’m the best choice, but he’s the manager and it his decision and I respect that.

“Coming over here, it has been tough for me. I’m worried about the team. I have plenty of time later to think about myself but now isn’t the time. I’m ready to play. I’ll be ready every day.”

The thing that bothers me about the decision was not that Collins hit for Bruce, but his inconsistency in his decision-making. There have been too many times when logic dictated he do something, but did the opposite. From leaving Matt Harvey in too long to not resting Yoenis Cespedes, to a half-dozen other things, Collins’ track record is inconsistency.

So, did the Mets lose Bruce?

If Bruce is a man of his word, they didn’t. But, that leads to the question whether the Mets’ lack of confidence reached the point where they don’t want him anymore.

Unquestionably, Collins’ decision on Bruce was the game’s primary storyline. The others were the Mets’ offense and a look at the wild-card race.

OFFENSE STRUGGLES VS. TEHERAN:  Perhaps it is an overstatement to say Julio Teheran owns the Mets, but it wouldn’t be wrong to indicate he’s in their heads.

The Mets managed one run on five hits in seven innings against Teheran. Who knows? Had he stayed in for another inning perhaps the Bruce issue wouldn’t have surfaced.

“He’s good, he’s an All-Star,” Curtis Granderson said. “He has some really good stuff.”

Collectively, the Mets have scored 21 runs over their last eight games. And, with the topic of struggling hitters, Cespedes is hitting .179 over his last ten games and struck out to end the game.

WILD-CARD UPDATE: The loss coupled with St. Louis winning in Colorado dropped the Mets and Cardinals to a tie.

Meanwhile, with Miami winning over the Nationals, the Marlins moved over .500 and remain in wild-card contention. The Mets are in Miami for three games next week.

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Sep 17

DeGrom Surgery Raises Old Injury Questions About Mets

Today’s news about Jacob deGrom needing season-ending elbow surgery was disappointing, but hardly surprising considering the Mets’ history with injuries. Sometimes, they mishandle things and other times they are struck down by bad luck.

This is a combination of both.

DE GROM: Out for year. (AP)

DE GROM: Out for year. (AP)

DeGrom has been out since Sept. 1 after experiencing elbow pain in a game against Miami, his third in a string of three poor starts in which he gave up a combined 16 runs on 31 hits in 14.2 innings. You’ll recall that was the game deGrom called for the trainer as he left the dugout for the clubhouse.

After that game, manager Terry Collins said he wasn’t aware of deGrom’s gesture. The pitcher said he felt fine, that he just wanted to talk with trainer Ray Ramirez and the problem was mechanical.

The injury was described the next day as inflammation in his right forearm and he was put on the disabled list.

The Mets seemed to push deGrom’s return in a way they might not have in May or June. He threw ten pitches off the mound last Saturday when the Mets were in Atlanta. DeGrom then had a 35-pitch bullpen Friday, after which Collins cleared him to start Sunday. That start will now be made by Gabriel Ynoa.

Normally, when a pitcher is on the disabled list with an elbow problem, it takes more than one bullpen session before he’s activated. There was immediate speculation the Mets were pushing deGrom. However, from the time of that session to GM Sandy Alderson’s announcement today deGrom would need surgery to repair the ulnar nerve in his pitching elbow, a lot of questions were raised.

In Collins’ pre-game press briefing prior to Friday’s game – probably an hour after deGrom threw – he said: “We think he’s ready. He looked great.”

Collins also said deGrom would have a pitch count of 75, and “our intentions are to build him back up a little bit.” Building deGrom back up indicates he wasn’t ready, which Alderson acknowledged this afternoon when he said: “[deGrom] threw a bullpen yesterday, felt great, went out to shag in the outfield, threw the ball and had some pain as a result. It is unlikely he will pitch the rest of the season.”

However, Collins said today: “I watched Jake’s bullpen yesterday and it was outstanding and 15 minutes after batting practice is over he walked and said, ‘I can’t pitch.’ We certainly have no plans to have him pitch in the near future.”

Collins’ comments indicate he knew deGrom felt pain before Friday’s game. Why then, did Collins make the announcement deGrom would start? If not before the game, then why not update deGrom’s injury status after the game? If nothing else, Collins could have said they were waiting until deGrom was re-examined Saturday. Doing so eliminates the bungling angle, which is frequently an issue with the Mets on an injury.

DeGrom told reporters today there is no ligament damage, but probably scar tissue build-up from his 2010 Tommy John surgery that was rubbing against the nerve.

“I just tried to lob it into the bucket, and I guess throwing that bullpen messed with that nerve,” deGrom said. “After I threw it I said, `OK, I’ve got to say something.’ One throw, that I felt it on, and it was definitely disappointing.”

If you give the Mets benefit of doubt on this, had deGrom not felt pain on the innocent toss from the outfield, perhaps he would have Sunday, or maybe in the playoffs. It’s even possible he might not have felt anything until spring training.

That this happened now could put a crimp in the Mets’ playoff push, could be looked at in a positive light because if deGrom immediately has surgery, he should be ready for spring training.

DeGrom said he’s had numbness in his ring and pinkie fingers for several weeks, but didn’t feel pain until the Sept. 1 start. DeGrom said the span of numbness ran five or six starts, but he decided to pitch through it. At the time, Collins attributed deGrom’s performance to being fatigued. Collins said nothing about numbness.

DeGrom was obviously not “fine” as he said after the Sept. 1 game. Was deGrom – who finishes the year 7-8 with a 3.04 ERA – totally upfront with Collins or Alderson about the numbness? I don’t know. If so, were the Mets assuming the DL stint was enough time for him to overcome it?

You also have to wonder if deGrom was not totally forthcoming, why didn’t he learn from watching what the Mets went through with Matt Harvey? Another idle thought is if what happened with deGrom will give the Mets pause in trying to rush back Steven Matz?

Enough things were done and said, and enough questions raised, to indicate this wasn’t handled well by a lot of parties.

Resiliency has been a Mets’ buzzword the past two years, and now they need to show that quality more than ever.

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Sep 06

Three Keys For Mets: Montero, Granderson And Bruce

Rafael Montero gets the ball tonight for the Mets in Cincinnati in replacing Jacob deGrom. He’ll be making his second start of the season.

Montero walked a career-high six in fine innings in his first start against Miami.

Command is always important for him and is among the keys for victory for the Mets.

FIRST KEY: Montero has to cut down on the walks. He was lucky the Marlins didn’t knock him out. He can’t afford a walk an inning. It will bounce back to bite him.

SECOND KEY: Curtis Granderson is showing signs of warming up. He was given Monday to rest and is batting seventh today. The Reds are starting LHP Brandon Finnegan.

THIRD KEY: Jay Bruce has hit more homers (135) than any player at Great American Ball Park. Maybe the friendly surroundings will continue to warm him up. He is 8-23 (.348) with two homers and four RBI in his last six games.

ON DECK: Tonight’s lineup.

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Sep 06

Met On The Mound: Montero Gets Another Shot

Rafael Montero was brought up and will start today for the Mets in place of Jacob deGrom. At one time, Montero was in that grouping of the Mets’ young arms, but didn’t pitch well in Triple-A and was demoted.

Montero was 4-6 with a 7.20 ERA at Las Vegas, and was 2-4 with a 10.75 ERA in his last ten starts. He was better at Double-A Binghamton, going 4-3 with a 2.20 ERA in nine starts.

MONTERO: Worth developing. (AP)

MONTERO: Worth developing. (AP)

Do you remember Jenrry Mejia? The Mets went back and forth using him as a starter or reliever. They bounced him around to the point where he hurt his elbow. In the process his trade value was diminished.

They finally settled on him as a reliever. He panned out in that role, but it was determined his success was chemically related.

Here’s hoping the Mets settle on a role for Montero and stick with it. That’s the best way to showcase him if they are going to deal.

Although the Mets are searching for an explanation for why Montero hasn’t panned out, there’s nothing wrong with his arm, evidenced by a 108 strikeouts to 59 walks ratio.

He’s worth developing, but he walks are an issue as they were in his Aug. 29 start against Miami when he walked a career-high six in five scoreless innings. On a positive note, the walks forced him to pitch out of trouble, which he did. But, the general idea of pitching is to stay out of trouble.

Overall, Montero has made ten career starts in the majors in a spot-start role, going 1-3 with a 3.69 ERA. In that span he has 49 strikeouts to 28 walks.

If Montero can improve his command, he could have a place for the Mets, perhaps coming out of the bullpen. He’s worth the efforts in trying to develop him.

He has never faced the Reds.

ON DECK:  Three keys for Mets tonight.

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