Jun 08

Matt Harvey No Longer Sure Thing; Timing Suspect For Zack Wheeler

Remember when Matt Harvey was cruising and the talk was how great it would be if he got to start in the All-Star Game at Citi Field?

If it seems like a long time ago, that’s because it is. Harvey is 5-0, but there’s no longer the feeling of invincibility.

WHEELER: Is he ready?

WHEELER: Is he ready?

Harvey is coming off a four-run, 10-hit outing in which he lasted a pedestrian five innings. Outside that performance last week in Miami, Harvey is still giving the Mets innings, but he and the team have little to show for it as he’s had seven no-decisions in his last eight starts, with the Mets losing half those games.

He’s still the best the Mets have to offer, but the sense of the game being over when goes to the mound is gone for a variety of reasons, notably a pathetic offense and leaking bullpen. Simply, Harvey can’t do it by himself.

Of course, that makes me wonder about Zack Wheeler. The conventional thought process on promoting a stud prospect is the time is right when he starts to dominate, but that hasn’t been the case with Wheeler.

In theory, once promoted Wheeler will stay, but last night he didn’t make it through five innings for Triple-A Las Vegas. Wheeler has had flashes of what could be, but also shown us what we saw in Mike Pelfrey.

Reportedly, Wheeler is to start next Friday at Citi Field, but you can’t like the timing. Why give him a week to sit on the start and get tight? Why not spring it on him and let him go on adrenalin?

Either way could be fine or disastrous, but thinking about it for a week doesn’t seem like the best option, especially with how poorly the Mets are playing. As much as Terry Collins warned Wheeler isn’t the “savior,’’ the team is putting extraordinary pressure on him.

You would hope the Mets would put Wheeler in the best position to succeed, but there appears to be a lot of obstacles, beginning with the timing, and including the anticipation and how badly the team is going.

Is there ever a right time to bring up a prospect? Not really with a struggling franchise because of the lofty expectations. Perhaps Wheeler is ready for all this … I don’t know.

However, I wonder about the ramifications if he’s not ready. The Mets rushed prospects before with terrible results – Pelfrey and Jenrry Mejia to name a couple – and you’d hate to see it with Wheeler.

Another variable is how well Jeremy Hefner and Dillon Gee have pitched recently. Both have pitched well enough to stay in the rotation. If Jon Niese is physically ready to go Sunday, there doesn’t appear to be the need for Wheeler.

It looks as if the Mets are forcing this and that can’t be good.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

May 28

David Wright Proves Captaincy Every Day

There was no other choice but David Wright to be Mets’ captain, and throughout this disappointing season showed again Monday night why he is special and the best position player they ever produced.

Daniel Murphy drove in the game-winner and Jon Niese was superb in a bounce-back start, but the Mets don’t win – period – without Wright.

WRIGHT: Proves worth daily.

              WRIGHT: Proves worth daily.

With the life sucked out of the Mets the previous inning on Brett Gardner’s homer-robbing catch of Murphy’s drive and Mariano Rivera looming for the Yankees, Wright drilled a Phil Hughes pitch for a game-tying homer in the seventh. And, with the Yankees threatening the following inning, he made a scintillating play to start a 5-4-3 double play.

“Big players make big plays,’’ manager Terry Collins would later say. “ That’s what he is. That’s why he’s the captain. It’s amazing how many times those guys come through for you.’’

However, Wright comes through in other ways.

With the fan base showing absolutely no faith in ownership, and despite knowing he could have gotten more money elsewhere – not to mention being able to produce better numbers in another park – Wright opted to stay with the Mets.

Yes, he’ll get $138 million over the next eight years, but it will come with more headaches and definitely more losing. The Mets are on their way to a fifth straight losing season, and there will likely be a lot more before they are on the north side of .500, let alone seeing October again.

As the losing continues, Wright is the spokesman for his teammates. That’s the price of being captain.

“Well, we’re not playing good baseball,’’ said Wright. “That’s easy to see. But it’s a resilient group. And you have to understand that we know there’s going to be tough times over the course of this season. … It’s not time to hold your heads down and mope around. We’ve got to find a way to compete, find ways to execute.’’

It gets tiring night after night to speak for and take the heat off his frequently over-matched teammates. Wright is stand-up. When the team implodes, or is stung with disappointment, it is Wright who gives the analysis.

Surely, there are times he’d much rather soak in the whirlpool or stretch out in the player’s lounge munching on fresh fruit, if not savoring a cold one, but giving answers comes with being a captain, of which Wright still insists, “it is an honor.’’

His responsibilities also include offering support for Ike Davis after one of his several multi-strikeout games. Wright does this willingly because Davis is a good guy with a pleasant demeanor despite being lost at the plate.

However, it also means acting as a buffer for the unpopular and polarizing Jordany Valdespin. Like everybody else in his clubhouse, Wright didn’t agree with Valdespin’s styling after a meaningless home run, but he is a teammate, and Wright had to speak on his behalf.

Even now, Wright will be delicate in how he handles Valdespin and other delicate topics. When managers Willie Randolph and Jerry Manuel were fired, Wright properly said the onus should be on the players.

Earlier in his career, when veterans such as Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Tom Glavine and Pedro Martinez surrounded Wright, he was the voice of this franchise.

When Jose Reyes was injured and wanted to stay in a game, Wright rightfully told his manager because the team came first. It is Wright who goes to the mound and settles a pitcher, which he frequently did with Mike Pelfrey. It is Wright who pulls a player aside, as with Lastings Milledge and Fernando Martinez, to tell them in a stern, yet not embarrassing way, to show up on time or run out a ball.

Murphy calls Wright “a professional,’’ and it might be one of the best descriptors for the Mets’ captain, a player who personifies what is good about his team.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Apr 20

Matt Harvey’s Star Keeps Burning

Tom Seaver. Mike Mussina. Roger Clemens. Dwight Gooden.

Matt Harvey has been compared, whether it be stuff, demeanor or franchise history, in some way has been compared to them all.

Yes, it is not fair. Yes, it places unreasonable pressure. But, that’s the nature of covering and following sports. Managers, general managers and players all do it, too.

HARVEY: Keeps burning. (AP)

HARVEY: Keeps burning. (AP)

Harvey is getting a lot of that these days, and after beating Stephen Strasburg last night, he’ll be getting more.

Gooden, who tweeted Harvey is “the real deal,’’ was spotted last night on the Citi Field video board giving a thumbs-up sign. It was in part acknowledging the ovation; it was in part recognition of who he was watching.

“Yeah, absolutely,’’ Harvey said when asked if he was aware of Gooden’s presence and tweet. “It made it special. I grew up watching that guy. I wanted to be like that guy.’’

Whether Harvey has a career like Gooden, Mussina or Mike Pelfrey, we can’t say now. What we can say is all the arrows are pointed in the right direction.

“A lot of guys can throw 98,’’ manager Terry Collins said. “I like his competitive make-up. … Fear of failure is not in Matt Harvey’s make-up.’’

Harvey doesn’t just want to be a good pitcher; he wants to be the best. Collins said Harvey was in tune with the expectations of going against Strasburg, and the Mets’ present and future ace admitted to being amped early.

When it was over, Harvey was all humility – one of his more likable qualities – when asked about the “Har-vey’s better, Har-vey’s better,’’ chant that consumed Citi Field.

Harvey, in his first full season, is composed enough to know he’ll face Strasburg many more times in the future, and the Mets play the Nationals 18 times a season. This isn’t the NBA; there’s no trash talking. Harvey knew better than to stir the pot.

“It’s nice to hear, but I’ve got a long way to go,’’ Harvey said. “I appreciate the fans and the support and all that. But we’re here to win. We’re the New York Mets. It’s not just one guy out there. Every time I take the ball I’m trying to win for the team.’’

That all sound good, but Harvey knows words are cheap and he has to do it on the mound. That’s why Harvey was more satisfied with getting out of a bases-load, no-outs jam in the seventh rather than the two-hit shutout he had after the sixth.

“I knew I would have to pitch there,’’ Harvey said. “I knew I would have to throw strikes.’’

The Mets took a 4-0 lead into the inning, but the panic meter was running high when the Nationals had a run in and loaded the bases. Harvey knew what was required of him.

“That was a big challenge – bases loaded with no outs,’’ Harvey said. “That’s a tough lineup. At any point it felt like it could unravel and things could have gone the other way.’’

It didn’t because Harvey wouldn’t let it.

“That’s the mark of an ace right there,’’ Collins said. “That’s why we can’t say enough things about him. Games like this can lead to a great season.’’

Harvey has a strong work ethic, but that runs deeper than conditioning and working on his breaking pitches in the bullpen. Not only does Harvey work his body, but also his mind and that’s part of the package.

Harvey pitched seven innings last night in improving to 4-0. His goal is over 200, so there’s a long road ahead.

“I’m going to take the 24-hour rule and definitely be happy about this start and this win,’’ Harvey said. “And after it’s over, tomorrow, it’s time to work hard and get prepared for the next start.’’

They said Seaver once said the same in comparing Harvey to him. Perhaps one day they’ll say that about another hot property when they compare him to Harvey.

Mar 21

David Wright Named Captain; Disabled List Next? (Updated)

The Mets made it official this afternoon and named David Wright the team’s captain, joining a select group that includes Keith HernandezGary Carter and John Franco.

There has been speculation for years – as far back when Willie Randolph was manager – and intensified  this winter when Wright was signed to a $138-million eight-year extension. Manager Terry Collins said at the start of spring training it was something he was considering, but needed to run it through GM Sandy Alderson and COO Jeff Wilpon, as well as poll the clubhouse.

“This is probably one of the proudest days of my career so far,” Wright told reporters in Port St. Lucie. “To be on that short list of guys that have been considered captain of this franchise is, for me, a dream come true to say the least and something I’m very, very, very proud about.”

Wilpon said Wright’s appointment was sealed when he signed an eight-year, $138 million contract in early December. Wright, though, said he wanted the endorsement of teammates before accepting the honor.

“Did we announce it then? No, we didn’t announce it then,” Wilpon said. “But I believe the decision was made at that point in time. When you commit that kind of money and resources that we have to a guy like this, you want to make sure he’s the leader. And he’s proven to be that.”

WRIGHT AND WILPON: Wright named captain. Photo: Mets via Twitter

WRIGHT AND WILPON: Wright named captain. Photo: Mets via Twitter

It was a foregone conclusion the announcement would be made prior to Opening Day. According to ESPN, Wilpon said the second Wright signed the contract there was nothing else to think about.

In a statement released by the team, Franco said: “We had talks together. Being named captain is a sign of respect and a sign the players on the team hold you in high esteem.

“I took my captaincy very seriously and I know that David will do the same.”

In addition, Hernandez said: “I have been around David long enough to know that he is the perfect guy to the be the captain of the Mets.”

During the Randolph era, the manager said the promotion might be awkward because that team was loaded with veterans such as Carlos Delgado – who became a mentor to Jose ReyesCarlos Beltran, and pitchers Tom Glavine and Pedro Martinez.

At the time, Randolph said there wasn’t a need for a captain because of the veteran influence. Then came the Jerry Manuel era, but the team was so bad it seemed like a futile gesture.

Even so, Wright was always the face of the franchise, and the one player the media sought out for analysis on the Mets or anything else relating to baseball. Wright will not wear a “C” on his uniform, but his leadership has been obvious in the clubhouse for years.

“Part of it, I think, is my personality, where I don’t necessarily like to stick out too much,” Wright said. “I think the uniform is uniform for a reason. So I think that everybody is kind of in agreement that we’re going to do without.”

Not having the letter hasn’t diminished his influence.

Once, Reyes wanted to stay in a game, but was clearly hobbled. Wright, knowing an injured Reyes could be a liability told the manager, then Manuel.

Wright has worked closely with the pitchers and was one of the few players who could reach Mike Pelfrey when he was losing concentration. He often goes to the mound when a rattled pitcher needs to catch his breath.

With the Mets moving in a youth direction, there was no veteran presence other than Wright, who, as an All-Star had the talent to back up the promotion.

At the start of camp, Wright said being captain would be an honor, but wanted it through his teammates and not an edict from ownership or management.

Currently, Wright has been shut down with a strained left intercostal muscle sustained while participating in the World Baseball Classic. Wright said he was hopeful of being ready for Opening Day, but at the time of the injury last Thursday, Collins said he wouldn’t be surprised if Wright were out a month.

After being examined last Friday in New York, Alderson said it would be three to five days. It has now been a week.

Once Wright is cleared to play in the next two weeks, he will likely only play in minor league games. The same will apply to Daniel Murphy, who has a strained right intercostal muscle.

The reasoning is to have the flexibility of backdating his time on the disabled list. If Wright or Murphy played in a major league spring training game and were hurt, they would be backdated to the date of the injury. If injured in a minor league game the Mets could backdate the injury from ten days to Opening Day. This limits his time on the disabled list.

The Yankees made a similar decision today with Derek Jeter, who is recovering from a broken ankle. Wright and Jeter, along with Paul Konerko are the only team captains in the sport.

The Mets also made it official and announced Jon Niese would be the Opening Day starter. However, the team did not make a corresponding announcement of Johan Santana going on the disabled list.

Mar 21

Mets Have Habit Of Placating Pitchers For The Worst

What is it with the Mets and their starting pitchers? Giving them near total control hasn’t worked. It didn’t for Willie Randolph and Jerry Manuel, and it isn’t for Terry Collins.

The impression is the tail is wagging the dog when it comes to Mets’ starters, and this isn’t new. Pitchers tend to be divas by nature, but it has gone to another level with the Mets.

MARCUM: What's going on here?

MARCUM: What’s going on here?

Clearly, free-agent Shaun Marcum did not report to spring training ready to go by telling Collins and GM Sandy Alderson he only needed four starts to get ready. He was allowed to set his own pace, but obviously didn’t have the track record to deserve it.

Marcum received cortisone injections in each of the last three years, and last spring was down for nearly three weeks. Without question, this is a guy who should not be setting his own program.

Marcum vows 200 innings, a level he’s only reached once since 2005. His lifetime 57-36 record was why Alderson gave him the benefit of doubt, but his 124 innings last year should have accounted for something.

Wasn’t Marcum’s history and workout program discussed? If it was, then why agree to this?

Santana does have the resume to set his own program, but abused it when he threw off the mound without Collins’ knowledge the first week of March.

SANTANA: Won't make Opening Day.

SANTANA: Won’t make Opening Day.

The Mets said they monitored Santana in the off-season, and told him to go easy since he rehabbed the previous two winters. Something was lost in the communication as Santana wasn’t ready when spring training began and will open the season on the disabled list.

Collins said Santana knows his own body, but here’s a guy who hasn’t worked an inning all spring and at the beginning wanted to pitch in the World Baseball Classic. Had he done so, the results could have been career threatening.

Early in camp, after Alderson questioned Santana’s conditioning, the lefthander, angry with the Mets and media, threw off the mound without his manager’s knowledge. Collins wasn’t happy then and now must be fuming because Santana has done little since and has no set timetable. One must wonder how much that stunt set him back.

There are other examples of how the Mets let their starting pitches get away with setting their own routine that ended badly.

In 2009, Mike Pelfrey refused to go on the disabled list and miss a start and insisted on the start being pushed back. To placate him, the Mets brought up a starter from the minors, but to make room released reliever Darren O’Day, who only proved to be a key in the Rangers getting to the World Series twice.

O’Day has worked 247.2 innings in his five-year career with 217 strikeouts, 63 walks, a 2.73 ERA and 1.058 WHIP. The Mets don’t have anybody with that production in their current bullpen.

The Mets also let Pedro Martinez march to his own tune with mixed results for several years. Is Pedro pitching today? What’s going on with Pedro? It was like that every spring.

MARTINEZ: Where's Pedro?

MARTINEZ: Where’s Pedro?

The Mets did everything they could, including alienating a future Hall of Famer, Tom Glavine, to placate Martinez and his whims.

Of course, don’t forget Oliver Perez, whom former GM Omar Minaya signed to a disastrous three-year contract. The height of the absurdity is when Perez refused a minor league assignment – as was his contractual right – to work on his mechanics.

Consequently, the Mets carried him the rest of the season rather than release him and eat his contract, which they eventually did the following spring.

Funny, the Mets once had the stones – but no brains – and traded Tom Seaver, who wasn’t happy with his contract. Now it seems they don’t have either, as the trend is obvious, from Alderson to Minaya, and with each of the managers, to let some starters dictate to them how things would be and it turned out for the worse.

Will it be that way in 2013 with Marcum and Santana?