Mar 09

Wheeler “Must See” Met

So far, Mets’ starting pitchers have done well in their exhibition starts. Zack Wheeler is up next scheduled Monday afternoon against Miami at Tradition Field (1:10 p.m., SNY). Of all Mets pitchers, Wheeler is the one I am most intrigued with as he could have the biggest upside this summer.

WHEELER: Faces Marlins today.

WHEELER: Faces Marlins today.

Coming off Tommy John surgery, Matt Harvey could have understandable issues; it would be interesting to see if 2014 Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom can have an encore season; Jon Niese can be an enigma; and Bartolo Colon is 41.

That leaves Wheeler, who was 11-11 with a 3.54 ERA last year and threw 185.1 innings. Wheeler averages nine strikeouts per nine innings, which is ace worthy. However, his four walks per nine innings is something that must be reduced – by at least half.

Depending on whom you talk with, Wheeler’s stuff might be better than Harvey’s. Command is a different issue.

Wheeler must improve his control, and doing so would enable him to work deeper into games. In 32 starts last year, Wheeler worked into the seventh only 13 times. He also reached 100 pitches 24 times and 110 pitches 13 times.

That doesn’t seem like much, but there’s an accumulative effect on the arm when you factor what he throws in the bullpen between starts; the eight warm-ups between innings; and the 50 or more warm-ups before the game.

After April he did not throw less than 100 pitches in consecutive starts. That must change to not only preserve his arm, but he could add an inning a start that would also reduce the workload of the bullpen.

There are progressions in the development from a prospect to a quality starter. Wheeler has already shown he can be overpowering. Now he must prove he can dominate with his control.

If he does that, there’s no telling how good he can become.

 

Mar 08

Mets Wrap: Niese Takes Loss Against Boston

After retiring eight straight hitters to start the game, Mets pitcher Jon Niese gave up three consecutive hits and a walk and left Sunday’s 6-3 loss to Boston after 52 pitches.

It is too early to make a judgment, but a familiar flaw resurfaced, which is Niese’s inability to pitch out of trouble and put away an inning.

On the plus side, Niese worked quickly and showed good command in his first two innings. Also on the plus side, he pitched without pain or discomfort.

NIESE: Decent first start. (AP)

NIESE: Decent first start. (AP)

Regarding his health, Niese told SNY after his outing: “I feel a lot different. All my pitches are working. I’m progressing well and my velocity is up there.’’

A healthy and productive Niese is important because he offers somewhat of a lefty balance to the rotation and eats innings.

MURPHY UPDATE: Daniel Murphy took batting practice Sunday and reported no pain.

Murphy was struck on the right hand by a David Price pitch Friday and is day-to-day.

DUDA NEWS: Lucas Duda, sidelined with a strained left intercostal muscle, has been hitting off a tee and is expected to take batting practice Monday.

Duda might play this week.

OPENING DAY PARTY: The Mets will host a viewing party at Citi Field for their Opening Day game against Washington. The tickets are free, but it will cost you $10 to park. Presumably, concessions will also be available. Tickets can be ordered online at mets.com/watchparty.

EXTRA INNINGS: Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who is out of options and figures to make the team as a back-up outfielder, continued his good spring with a double and two singles. … Center fielder Juan Lagares is nursing a sore right elbow, which is what forced him to end last year early. … Five straight Met relievers walked the first batter they faced. … Mets pitchers walked ten and hit a batter. That will get you beat. … Former Mets first baseman Tony Clark and current MLBPA chief Tony Clark visited camp Sunday. He did not object to the Mets’ payroll or their voluntary-but-really-mandatory offseason workouts. … Zack Wheeler starts for the Mets Monday against Miami at Tradition Field. The game will be broadcast on SNY.

Mar 08

Darvish Injury Shows Fragility Of Pitching … And Value Of Gee

This is how it will happen if Dillon Gee is traded: A starter will go down in another camp and if that team is thin in minor league pitching talent, it might not have another choice to deal with the Mets.

Multiple media sources, including ESPN New York, say the Texas Rangers aren’t interested in Gee.

GEE: Valuable. (AP)

GEE: Valuable. (AP)

After throwing 2.2 scoreless innings out of the bullpen Saturday against Miami, Gee addressed the possibility of being traded to Texas in the wake of Yu Darvish possibly needing season-ending Tommy John surgery.

“What it boils down to is I don’t make those decisions. I can’t strike a trade with myself,’’ Gee told ESPN. “I did see that [about Darvish]. In my mind all I’m really thinking about is, ‘That sucks for Darvish.’ I mean, he’s a phenomenal pitcher. And I feel sorry for him. It sucks if he’s going to be gone for a year.’’

The Rangers say they have minor league talent comparable to that of Gee. That’s not to say other teams won’t. In that case, GM Sandy Alderson’s phone could ring.

However, Alderson shouldn’t be so willing to eager to get rid of who has been a reliable and productive pitcher. Maybe not ace quality, but a grinder who will usually find a way to give the Mets six innings.

The injury to Matt Harvey two years ago, and Darvish this spring, not to mention how many teams lack starting pitching – anybody look at the Yankees’ rotation lately? – indicate how vulnerable and fragile starting pitching can be.

The Mets have a potentially valuable chip in Gee and shouldn’t be so willing to play it – not when they might need it later.

 

Mar 07

Mets Matters: deGrom, Matz Sharp In Split Squad Games

There was more good news for the Mets concerning their young pitching with strong performances from Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz during Saturday afternoon’s split squad games.

The Mets beat Atlanta, 3-1, in deGrom’s start as he gave up one run in three innings; Matz pitched two scoreless innings in his start, with the Mets losing, 8-7, to Miami.

mets-matters logoLast year’s NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom, threw only 19 pitches in his two innings and was so efficient Terry Collins gave him a third inning.

“I feel like my command is there, so just staying consistent with my delivery,’’ deGrom told reporters. He is tinkering with a curveball, but didn’t throw any.

In the other game, Matz struck out two and hit a batter with a pitch.

“I was a little jittery,’’ Matz said. “I was excited to be out there, and it got the best of me. But I was able to settle down.’’

MURPHY UPDATE: Daniel Murphy confirmed his right hand injury to be a bone bruise and not a fracture. Murphy was hit on the hand by Detroit’s David Price Friday.

“It’s a little sore, but not as much as I thought,’’ said Murphy.

CONFORTO HAS BIG DAY: Michael Conforto, the Mets’ 2014 first-round draft pick out of Oregon State, went 3-for-4 with three RBI against the Braves.

Conforto had a RBI single in the second and two-run double in the fifth.

“I kind of surprised myself a little bit. I felt very comfortable,’’ said Conforto. “My goal was just to come out here and have fun and embrace the moment. The opportunity to be out here with these guys is pretty good. I had a lot of fun today.’’

Conforto was in the starting lineup and given the lineup card by manager Terry Collins. Conforto said he planned to send the card to his grandfather.

GEE WORKS OUT OF PEN: Ranked sixth in the rotation, Dillon Gee, will work out of the bullpen unless he’s traded.

Gee threw 2.2 scoreless innings Saturday against the Marlins. He last pitched out of the bullpen in 2011.

UP NEXT: Jon Niese will start Sunday against Boston at Port St. Lucie. The game will be telecast on WPIX.

 

Mar 06

Mets Wrap: Harvey Couldn’t Ask For Better Day

With the exception of a few more innings, Matt Harvey couldn’t have asked for more in his first mound appearance with the Mets since August of 2013. After undergoing Tommy John surgery, Harvey’s rehab culminated in two perfect innings in Friday’s 5-4 exhibition victory over Detroit. Harvey struck out three and his fastball topped out at 99 mph.

HARVEY: Perfect start. (Getty)

HARVEY: Perfect start. (Getty)

Harvey was immensely pleased with his performance, and more importantly, with how he felt.

“Things felt so good that the fact that I did have surgery is completely out of my mind,’’ Harvey told reporters. “The big thing is I was happy throwing strikes and not walking anybody. Those are the things you try to work on.

“Especially hearing things about guys going through this process and having tough command, for me, that was the big thing that I was focusing on today. And I was pretty happy about it.’’

Harvey threw only 25 pitches and joked with manager Terry Collins about pitching a few more innings, knowing it wouldn’t happen.

The Mets haven’t clearly defined how they will limit Harvey’s innings this year, but he spoke with dialing down how much, and how hard, he throws between starts.

Of course, with any pitcher coming back from arm surgery, the key is how he feels Saturday. If all is positive, he is scheduled to pitch Wednesday against Miami in Jupiter.

MURPHY INJURED: Daniel Murphy sustained a bone bruise and left Friday’s game after being struck by a David Price pitch on the top of his right hand in the second inning.

He was replaced by Ruben Tejada and is considered day-to-day.

EXTRA INNINGS: Shortstop prospect Matt Reynolds homered off Joe Mantiply in the bottom of the ninth to win the game. … Matt den Dekker hit a two-run double. … The Mets committed three errors. … Justin and Jaden Ramos, sons of Rafael Ramos, a NYPD officer murdered in December, were guests of David Wright and served as batboys. … Jacob deGrom will start Saturday against Atlanta at Port St. Lucie. The game will be on WPIX-11.