Apr 22

No End To Mets’ Slide

It has hit the fan early for the Mets early. Long stretches of dismal hitting coupled with a myriad of injuries took the starch out of the Mets’ pitching and nearly derailed their season in each of the last two years.

This time, it’s happening in April. It’s too soon to panic, but not too early to notice things aren’t right for the Mets.

DEGROM: Wasted start. (AP)

DEGROM: Wasted start. (AP)

The Mets’ young starters are supposed to carry them, but consecutive winnable starts from Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey and today from Jacob deGrom were wasted.

After losing 4-3 in 11 innings Friday and 3-1 today, manager Terry Collins said the Mets are faced with a must-win game Sunday night with Max Scherzer going against Zack Wheeler – he of an innings limit – at Citi Field.

“It’s huge,” Collins said of the magnitude of the game. “We haven’t played well. We have pitched well, but we haven’t hit.”

The Mets are hitting .178 and averaging less than three runs a game over their last eight games. Overall, they have scored three or fewer runs in eight of their 18 games, and for those counting, the trade deadline is three months away.

Then, Collins said something I never thought I’d ever hear him say.

“We have to get away from the home runs,” said Collins. “We have to put some hits together.”

They only had two singles today, both coming in the sixth.

Lucas Duda and Wilmer Flores are on the disabled list and Yoenis Cespedes might soon join them; Travis d’Arnaud also didn’t play today; eight Mets are hitting .200 or less; one of them is Jose Reyes, who didn’t start, and not coincidentally, top infield prospect Amed Rosario was moved to third base at Triple-A Las Vegas.

Collins said Michael Conforto will hit leadoff and hinted at another change for Sunday.

“We’re not hitting,” Collins said. “Our pitching has kept us in games, but we’re not giving them any help.”

Today’s non-beneficiary was deGrom, who registered double-digit strikeouts for his second straight start and walked six. DeGrom was scheduled to start Friday but was pushed back because of a stiff neck. He said his neck was all right, but his velocity dropped four mph., after the first inning.

“I just don’t walk six guys,” deGrom said. “I had command early, but I didn’t have it late. I don’t know what happened.”

And, he didn’t have Cespedes or Duda or Flores or d’Arnaud to pick him up.

“Anytime you don’t have those guys in the lineup it’s going to be tough, but we can’t use that as an excuse,” said Jay Bruce. “There’s no panic with us. It hasn’t been a lot of fun lately. We’re not winning, but there will be winning for us.”

When?

Apr 18

Game Wrap: Reyes’ Error, Bullpen Sinks Mets

It has been thought since spring training the Mets’ bullpen would always be their Achilles Heel that turned out to be the case in tonight’s 6-2 10-inning loss to the Phillies.

The Mets took a 2-1 lead in the first but didn’t score the rest of the night. The Mets only managed four hits all night. They went 1-for-5 with runners in scoring position – Jay Bruce’s RBI single in the first – and stranded seven runners.

Meanwhile, the pen – not helped by Jose Reyes’ monumental error in the eighth – coughed up the lead, then caved in tenth with four runs against Rafael Montero.

“It’s frustrating because we’ve lost four in a row,” manager Terry Collins said. “We just didn’t make pitches when we needed to.”

ANOTHER STEP FOR WHEELER: Zack Wheeler’s pitch count remains too high for the number of innings he throws, but you can sense his progress. He gave up a run on four hits with seven strikeouts on 99 pitches spanning five innings.

Did Wheeler pitch well enough to win? Yes, if the offense had scored.

“I’ve been impressed with the way he’s handled things and kept up in the game,” Collins said.

INTERESTING LINEUP: Collins’ batting order bears watching, especially if Reyes continues to flounder. Michael Conforto started in center in place of Curtis Granderson and hit leadoff, with Reyes dropped to seventh.

With Reyes not getting on base or running, Conforto’s .417 on-base percentage is eye-popping, especially in comparison to Reyes’ .100 average and .182 on-base percentage.

Reyes doubled in four at-bats and committed a costly error in the eighth when he dropped Freddy Galvis’ pop-up.

The Phillies had runners on the corners after the error, but could have won the game in regulation had Galvis hustled and taken second.

Collins said he’ll stick with Reyes.

“He’s earned the right to get the chance to turn it around,” Collins said.

 

Apr 14

Mets Try To Keep Rolling

Tonight is one of the few times I wish the Mets could use the designated hitter. Damn, after the last two games I’d love to see d’Arnaud starting, but not after catching 16 innings. He might even rest again tomorrow.

SYNDERGAARD: Mets going for six straight. (AP)

SYNDERGAARD: Mets going for six straight. (AP)

The Mets will be seeking their sixth straight victory tonight in Miami behind their best pitcher, Noah Syndergaard, going against Edinson Volquez.

The Mets crushed four homers last night – d’Arnaud hit the game winner, plus two from Yoenis Cespedes and one from Wilmer Flores – but credit also needs to go to a bullpen that threw 11 scoreless innings.

The Mets have homered in nine straight games and lead the majors with 20, with Cespedes the individual leader with six.

While it is way too early to make projections, it isn’t too soon to make some assumptions about this team, especially after last night.

The Mets came in at 3:30 in the morning and their No. 5 starter was torched, several of their starters were sputtering, but they rallied from a four-run deficit and behind their power, d’Arnaud – who sparked the comeback with a bases-loaded triple – and their bullpen, the came up with a signature victory.

Much has been written about how this could be a make-or-break season for d’Arnaud, but the same can be said of reliever Hansel Robles, who pitched two scoreless innings in his fourth straight game.

They don’t win last night without Robles, or d’Arnaud, or Cespedes, or Michael Conforto, or several other guys.

That’s what being a team is all about.

Here’s tonight’s starting lineup:

Curtis Granderson, CF: Speculation is if the Mets keep Conforto, the player whose time will be reduced most will be Granderson. He is homerless with three RBI on the season.

Asdrubal Cabrera, SS: Is batting .304 and taking an eight-game hitting streak into tonight’s game. Hit 23 homers last season.

Jay Bruce, RF: Moves up to third with Cespedes getting the night off. Bruce needed a good start and he’s getting one, hitting .300 with four homers and eight RBI.

Lucas Duda, 1B: He’s another who is having a good start, hitting .250 with three homers and six RBI. Has shown no signs of back injury that limited him last season.

Michael Conforto, LF: He finally gets a start. He needs at-bats. If Conforto is to stay up with the Mets, manager Terry Collins needs to come up with a rotation system, and that includes resting Cespedes in left.

Wilmer Flores, 2B: Starts tonight in place of Neil Walker. Is hitting better against right-handed pitching.

Jose Reyes, 3B: Is a career .323 hitter at Marlins Park. Got a hit last night as a pinch-hitter and batting just .079 on the season. Needs to wake up.

Noah Syndergaard, RP: Is 3-0 with a 1.67 ERA lifetime against the Marlins. Perhaps as a tribute to Tony La Russa, Collins has him hitting eighth.

Rene Rivera, C: Gets the start for two reasons, 1) to put the brakes on the Marlins’ running game, and 2) because d’Arnaud caught 16 innings last night. Has thrown out two of three potential base stealers.

 

Apr 12

Wheeler, Conforto Give Mets Glimpse Of Future

Sometime next season or the year after, Zack Wheeler and Michael Conforto will combine to lift the Mets. They did for awhile Wednesday night in Philadelphia until Hansel Robles sprayed graffiti on their near masterpiece.

i-5Wheeler, backed in large part by Conforto’s homer and Asdrubal Cabrera’s two-run single, cruised into the sixth with a five-run lead. It looked as if manager Terry Collins would let him pitch out of trouble, but pulled him with two outs and the bases loaded in favor of Robles.

Collins feared the Phillies would break through and spoil Wheeler’s night and he’d suffer an emotional setback. Instead, Maikel Franco turned around Robles’ first pitch for a monster grand slam that changed the complexion of the game, but the Mets held on to win 5-4 to complete the sweep.

In winning his first game since coming off Tommy John surgery in 2014, Wheeler gave up three runs on four hits with one walk and four strikeouts. He threw the target 85 pitches, but the key was working ahead in the count with his secondary pitches. Miami hurt Wheeler in his first start – of a cold damp day – when he fell behind in the count and waited on his fastball.

Wheeler coasted into the sixth but the Phillies worked him hard to load the bases.

“I was very happy with the way he pitched tonight,” Collins told reporters of Wheeler’s start. “He threw the ball as well as he could but he ran out of gas all of a sudden.”

Pitchers usually won’t admit to getting tired, but Wheeler was stand-up. He knows the score.

“I was a little tired at the end,” Wheeler said. “It’s all about building myself up. …I had better command. That’s what I needed from my first start. It felt good to bounce back after that rough outing. I was nice to go out there and do well.  It’s a weight off my shoulders.”

Conversely, it hasn’t appeared the Mets were all that interested in building up Conforto’s at-bats. They had a huge lead, but Conforto sat until the end. Conforto was a surprise start over Curtis Granderson and responded with two hits and a walk and scored three runs.

One of those hits was an opposite-field homer to give the Mets an early 2-0 lead.

Conventional wisdom has Conforto going to the minors when Juan Lagares is activated from the disabled list. He needs at-bats, but Collins would not commit to starting him Thursday in Miami.

Conforto hasn’t gotten a lot of playing time but responded with what little he has.

“I’m getting good pitches to hit and getting deep into the count,” said Conforto, who continues to refuse to get drawn into the debate on his immediate future.

Another positive note to the day was the report Matt Harvey, who strained his left hamstring Tuesday night, would be able to make his next start Sunday in Miami.

While Wheeler and Conforto were the headliners, Robles served as a reminder of one of the Mets’ biggest weaknesses, which is the bridge to the back end of the bullpen.

Apr 10

Signs Point To Monster Year For Syndergaard

If Noah Syndergaard keeps pitching like this, there really isn’t any reason – other than Clayton Kershaw or Madison Bumgarner – why he can’t win a Cy Young Award.

SYNDERGAARD: Dominates. (AP)

SYNDERGAARD: Dominates. (AP)

Seriously, giving up two runs – one unearned thanks to a Yoenis Cespedes error – in seven innings will get it done most times. Syndergaard struck out nine and only threw 103 pitches. A knock against Syndergaard was a high pitch count and runners stealing on him at will. He’s been economical in both starts and the base paths have been quiet.

“I feel good with all my pitches right now,” Syndergaard said. “Slider, changeup, curveball, it doesn’t matter the count. I feel like I can throw them in any scenario.”

Syndergaard didn’t mention his fastball, but he had that, also, in the high 90s with command (no walks). He must maintain his command as it is far more important than velocity. If he can do that, and keep the stolen bases to a minimum, he can be dominant.

Most any hitter can crush a 99 mph. fastball if he’s looking for it, say on a 3-1 pitch, but it is so much harder when the pitcher is ahead in the count and doesn’t have to throw a fastball down the middle. So far, Syndergaard has been ahead in the count and can throw whatever he wants, and those pitches have been dancing and darting in the zone.

If the bone spur that nagged him last season stays quiet and he avoids injury, who is to say he can’t have a monster year?

The Mets found their home run bats with Michael Conforto and Jay Bruce going deep, but what was really impressive was manufacturing three runs in the first inning without the homer. It is always to a pitcher’s advantage to work with a lead.

Conforto also walked with the bases loaded, but he’ll sit Monday night in Philadelphia.