Apr 10

Valdespin Heads Tonight’s Mets Lineup

VALDESPIN: Now a candidate. (AP)

VALDESPIN: Earn’s a start after a tripling and scoring on Tuesday.

The Mets will attempt to win their third consecutive series tonight in Philadelphia, but the match-up of starter Jeremy Hefner against the Phillies is not a good one for them.

Hefner took the loss in his last start against Miami, but gave the Mets a good effort, giving up a run in six innings. It was a quality start that manager Terry Collins will take every time.

What Collins can’t afford – if for no other reason than to save his bullpen – is what Hefner gave the Mets in his last start against the Phillies. Last September, Hefner lost 16-1 in a game where he gave up seven runs on six hits and a walk without recording an out. It rarely gets worse than that, simply because pitchers don’t get to stay in that long when they are that bad.

Hefner is 1-1 with a 15.95 career ERA against the Phillies. The assumption is Collins will have somebody get up in the bullpen early, but the reality is Hefner might have to take one for the team if the game gets out of hand quickly.

Here’s tonight’s lineup against the Phillies Kyle Kendrick:

Jordany Valdespin, CF: Hit .313 in spring training to earn a spot on the roster. Tripled last night to earn himself a start tonight.

Daniel Murphy, 2B: Raised average to .333 by going 10-for-his-last-30, which includes a five-game hitting streak.

David Wright, 3B: Is 8-for-28, including 2-for-5 with RISP.

Ike Davis, 1B: Back in lineup tonight after resting against Cliff Lee. Has four hits this season and ten strikeouts.

John Buck, C: Hitting .393 and leads team with four homers and 14 RBI, the latter leads the NL. Has homered in consecutive games.

Lucas Duda, LF: Has seven walks, which is a most encouraging stat. Has a .452 on-base percentage, which is seventh in NL.

Mike Baxter, RF: Gets a start, but still think he deserves a chance to lead off. … Led majors with .458 average as pinch-hitter.

Ruben Tejada, SS: Is on a 5-for-26 slide to start the season. Also has four errors.

Jeremy Hefner, RHP: Was ninth in NL in ERA last year at 5.09.

Apr 08

Mets Should Consider Mike Baxter At Leadoff

Six games into the season and the Mets have used three different leadoff hitters. Evidently, there are answers to be found.

One who should get a longer look is Mike Baxter, who started Saturday and reached base three times on two hits and a walk.

BAXTER: The catch that saved Santana. (AP)

BAXTER: The catch that saved Santana. (AP)

A lead off hitter needs to get on base, and if not then take the count as deep as possible to give the following hitters a chance to learn what they can of the pitcher. Baxter usually runs up the pitch count, and if he plays a full game can see as many as a dozen pitches. That’s an in-game scouting report to those following him in the order.

Little League coaches like to say, “a walk is as good as a hit,’’ and there are times it is the same in the major leagues.

“He takes a base on balls,’’ manager Terry Collins said. “If he was a genuine base-stealer, he’d be dangerous. You look up, and he’s got a .375 on-base. It seems like he’s on first base all of the time.’’

Actually, Baxter’s career on-base percentage is .360, but Collins’ point is well taken. It is an on-base percentage representative of a productive leadoff hitter, as good as they received from Jose Reyes.

The stereotypical leadoff hitter is a base stealer, the kind the Mets enjoyed with Reyes early in his career. However, Wade Boggs didn’t steal many bases and hit .321 batting leadoff in over 900 games in his career.

They all can’t be Rickey Henderson, Lou Brock or Maury Wills.

Although the game has changed and there isn’t an emphasis on base stealing as there once was, the basic fundamental of a lead off hitter has always been the same, which is get on base to set the table for the run-producers.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis was penciled in as the leadoff hitter going into spring training, but has a propensity for striking out. He is still very much a work in progress. Other candidates Collin Cowgill and Jordany Valdespin never had full seasons as a starters.

Cowgill has homered twice and if he continues to flash power he might be needed lower in the order. Valdespin is fast, but can be an out-of-control free swinger. He doesn’t figure to last long at that position, and as a defensive liability, probably won’t get many starting opportunities.

Baxter has a decent glove – Johan Santana wouldn’t have his no-hitter without him – but has never had a full time chance.

So, as long as Collins is searching for answers, Baxter is worthy of an opportunity.

ON DECK: Contrasting pitchers Matt Harvey and Roy Halladay.

Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Apr 07

Aaron Laffey Gets Ball For Mets

If the Mets had a perfect world, Aaron Laffey wouldn’t start for them until June or July. That his start comes in the season’s fifth game tells you how tissue thin their rotation is.

Game six, and already the Mets are into two pitchers that weren’t in their immediate plans as Johan Santana is gone for good and Shaun Marcum is out indefinitely. Question: Who will we see first, Marcum or Zack Wheeler?

LAFFEY: As an Indian.

LAFFEY: As an Indian.

Laffey, who won four games in 16 starts for Toronto last year, was signed to a minor league free agent contract after Christmas as anticipated depth because of health concerns over Santana, Jenrry Mejia and Dillon Gee.

He’s starting against Miami today in place of Marcum, who is out indefinitely with neck inflammation. To make room on the roster the Mets optioned reliever Jeurys Familia to Triple-A Las Vegas.

The choice of Familia indicates the Mets are either pleased or intrigued with what they’ve seen from 14-year minor league veteran Scott Rice.

Here’s today’s Mets’ lineup against Marlins starter Jose Fernandez:

Collin Cowgill, CF: Back after not starting the last two games. Came off the bench Saturday to hit his second homer. Entered the season with only two career homers. He’s best offensive option in center.

Daniel Murphy, 2B: Drove in game-winning run Saturday with triple. Hit three-run homer Friday. Is 3-4 with RISP. How many homers could he hit if he swung for power?

David Wright, 3B:  Has played in club-record 60 straight games without an error. No homers, but had three hits Saturday.

Ike Davis, 1B: Snapped 1-for-16 slide with two hits Saturday. Has seven strikeouts and only three hits; not a good ratio. Batting .158.

Mike Baxter, RF: Starting again in right after reaching base three times Saturday. Led off 12 times last year and the Mets were 7-5 in those games. So, why not put him there today?

Lucas Duda, LF: Who would have thought he’d have more walks than strikeouts? One of the most encouraging statistics so far. Hasn’t played poorly in left field.

Ruben Tejada, SS: If anybody could use a head-clearing day off it is he. Hitting .176 with four errors in five games.

Anthony Recker, C: Makes first start to give John Buck the day off. Hit .310 during spring training. Played with Athletics and Cubs last season.

Aaron Laffey, LHP: Went 4-6 with a 4.56 ERA in 22 appearances (16 starts) for Toronto last year. Has also played for Cleveland, Seattle and the Yankees.

Apr 07

Early Impressions Of Mets Have Been Good

It’s always fun to examine the first impressions of a new season.

For example, it is safe to say John Buck will not finish with 292 RBI. However, you might get interesting odds if you believe the 4-2 Mets will continue their pace and outplay the 2-4 Yankees.

That being said, the measuring stick for success or failure is their starting pitching. If they get innings it keeps them in games and the bullpen off the mound.

DAVIS: Some anguish there/

DAVIS: Some anguish there

There’s absolutely no way the starters will continue with a 1.41 ERA, but if the front end of Jon Niese, Matt Harvey and Dillon Gee produce, and they get something from the back end, they’ll remain competitive.

However, if the starters run into stretches where they are batted around, it exposes the bullpen, which has been tested and performed well twice and poorly twice.

The most important start of the season was Jeremy Hefner as a replacement for Johan Santana. Currently, he’s the fourth starter, and Sunday’s starter, Aaron Laffey, is the fifth. A week in and already the Mets have two holes in the rotation. I have no expectations of Shaun Marcum.

The bullpen was on Saturday and Sunday. Scott Rice is a good story, but there’s a reason he’s bounced around. This is a make-or-break year for Bobby Parnell. I have confidence in Josh Edgin, but little in LaTroy Hawkins. Scott Atchison was superb Sunday.

GM Sandy Alderson has spent two years trying to build a bullpen and he might have to do it again.

Alderson is adamant about not rushing Zack Wheeler, and evidenced by him getting hit hard last week, that’s the smart call. However, it’s easy to say that now, but let’s see what happens if the back end of the rotation becomes a black hole.

One thing for certain is the injured Jenrry Mejia isn’t in the plan – as a starter or reliever. The way the Mets jerked him around might have irreparably damaged his career.

Offensively, two things always jump out: 1) their high propensity for striking out, and 2) long stretches of not hitting with runners in scoring position. Both have already come into play.

They’ve homered in each game, but that won’t continue, although the potential for greater power production is realistic.

Buck has been the best story, but let’s be honest, if he continues to be good and the Mets fade, teams will be calling for him by the July 31 trade deadline. By that time, Travis d’Arnaud could be here. In a perfect world, the Mets would continue to play well and d’Arnaud could be Buck’s caddy for half the season.

David Wright had three hits Saturday to break out of a dry stretch, but has yet to homer. He’s hit 30 before, but if he doesn’t and still drives in runs and has a high OPS, we shouldn’t worry about him. Wright has the same number of strikeouts as walks (4), which in today’s game is acceptable. As long as he has a high on-base percentage (.455 now), there’s no reason for concern.

The guy I wonder about is Ike Davis, who had two hits Saturday to get out of a 1-for-16 slide. Davis, with one homer, has a tendency to go into prolonged slumps. The red flag with him is he has more than twice as many strikeouts (7) to hits (3) and a .273 on-base percentage. Davis had a miserable first half last season and you must consider if his slow start is making him wonder.

So far, the most encouraging sign about Lucas Duda is he has more walks than strikeouts and a .500 on-base percentage. He’s staying within himself and if he continues to be selective, he’ll get his pitch to hit.

Daniel Murphy, despite not having much of spring training, is driving the ball. Murphy is strong, and I wonder if he concentrated more on turning on the pitch if he’d hit for more power. Wade Boggs always said he could hit a lot of home runs if he wanted. The same went with Tony Gwynn. Murphy isn’t in either class, but is a contact hitter.

If there’s been one disappointment it has been Ruben Tejada, who’s especially struggling with the glove.

The major offensive concern was the outfield, but so far it hasn’t been a problem. Collin Cowgill has hit for power, Duda has been on base and Marlon Byrd has been hitting. Mike Baxter reached base three times Saturday and should get a longer look in the leadoff spot, as that remains unsettled.

The Mets are playing better than expected, but the same cracks that haunted them in the past are still evident. After a week, yes, there is the potential for a long summer. But, also the potential for some fun.

Apr 06

Mets Wrap: Niese, Bullpen Sharp In Win Over Miami

Opening Day was impressive, but today might have been the Mets’ most complete victory in this young season. Jon Niese gave the Mets their fifth straight strong start, the offense came from behind twice and the often-criticized bullpen shut the door on the Miami Marlins in a 7-3 victory in a sparsely crowded Citi Field.

NIESE: Another quality start. (AP)

      NIESE: Another quality start. (AP)

That answers the question: If the Mets win in an empty ballpark does it still count?

It does, and the Mets, after losing two straight, are now back over .500, and will try to win their second straight series tomorrow.

ON THE MOUND: Niese gave up two runs in six innings for his second quality start. He wasn’t as sharp as in the opener as he gave up eight hits and two walks. He threw 100 pitches again, but did not give the Mets the length he wanted. … The bullpen gave up one run in three innings (credited to Scott Atchison). … Bobby Parnell earned the Mets’ first save of the season.

AT THE PLATE:  John Buck drove in four runs on a double and two sacrifice flies. … David Wright and Ike Davis broke out of slumps, getting three and two hits, respectively. … Daniel Murphy tripled in what proved to be the game-winning run in the seventh. … Collin Cowgill, who did not start, hit his second homer of the season. That should return him to the lineup tomorrow.

IN THE FIELD: Ruben Tejada committed his fourth error in five games (he should have five). … Mike Baxter and Kirk Nieuwenhuis started in right and center, respectively. … Tejada made a sparkling play on a deflected ball to end the game.

ON DECK: The Mets conclude this series with the Marlins Sunday, with RHP Jose Fernandez going against LHP Aaron Laffey, at 1:10 p.m., SNY/WFAN.