Sep 06

The Mets Should Explore Six-Man Rotation For 2017

This won’t be a popular suggestion with the Mets’ starters, but with everybody in the rotation having been shelved at one time or another with an injury – save Bartolo Colon – perhaps it might be time to consider a six-man rotation for 2017.

HARVEY: Maybe he could stay healthy in 6-man rotation. (Getty)

HARVEY: Maybe he could stay healthy in 6-man rotation. (Getty)

None of the young bucks want this, and understandably so because they’ve been raised on the five-man rotation. Change is difficult, but then again one time there was a four-man rotation. This suggestion is prompted by Rafael Montero replacing Jacob deGrom today in Cincinnati, coupled with the report the latter might miss multiple starts.

It also coincides with solid outings from Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman.

Matt Harvey is done for the year. So is Zack Wheeler, and nobody knows when he’ll pitch again. After all, it’s been two years now. Steven Matz, sidelined with a bone spur and an impingement in his shoulder, will try to throw in Port St. Lucie today, but his return status is basically a hope.

Noah Syndergaard has also been pitching with a bone spur. Matz’s bone spur will require surgery, but it isn’t known what will happen with Syndergaard.

Meanwhile, deGrom missed time early with a strained lat muscle. His velocity has dipped and after three horrible starts, he has gone from manager Terry Collins not knowing he motioned for the trainer to deGrom saying, “I’m fine,” to missing today’s game, to nobody knows.

The Mets’ rotation for the ages won’t happen this year.

Several weeks ago I wrote how the Mets should re-evaluate the handling of their pitchers. I’m calling for it again, but adding the suggestion they go to a six-man rotation.

Years ago pitchers just pitched. But, the times were different. The salaries have skyrocketed, so there’s a greater need to protect these guys. That’s a partial explanation for why the DL is used so often. What has also changed is pitchers used to throw a fastball, curveball and change-up. Today, there are sliders, sinkers, cut fastballs, all which put strain on the arm.

There’s plenty to share responsibility for Harvey being lost twice, including the player, who wasn’t always upfront. I admire his grit, but we don’t need any heroes. I don’t know if he’ll ever learn, so this might protect him for his own good.

A six-man rotation could save the starters at least a game a month, which is a savings of roughly six starts a year, or as many a 36 innings. Injuries can occur any time despite the greatest precautions, but this could improve the odds or staying healthy.

There will be the natural attrition, such as free agency, trades and injury. Colon might eventually retire. But, if the idea is to keep these guys healthy and pitching, a first step could be reducing the workload.

Some team was the pioneer going from a four-man to a five-man rotation. The Mets have the depth other teams don’t, so why can’t they be the pioneer going to six?

To make this work, it must be installed in spring training with a defined rotation. There can be no deviation, as it will throw off the rest.

If it keeps them off the disabled list, then why not? It’s better than what’s happening now.

ON DECK: Looking at tonight’s starter, Montero.

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Sep 05

Three Mets’ Storylines: The Importance Of Colon

To a player, every year is an audition for the next, and here’s hoping the Mets are taking copious notes on Bartolo Colon. With how well he’s pitched, how ravaged the rotation has been, and the uncertainty of Zack Wheeler’s future, it should be a given re-signing Colon is a priority.

It doesn’t matter he’s 43, or can’t throw his fastball through a wall, or the ceiling of their younger pitchers, Colon knows how to pitch. Colon knows what he has, or more importantly, what he doesn’t possess.

COLON: Bring him back. (AP)

COLON: Bring him back. (AP)

“We had a man on the mound,” manager Terry Collins said. “Nothing fazes him. He gave us what he always does, which is quality innings. He’s an amazing guy.

“Every fifth day he takes the baseball. You don’t have to worry about pitch counts. You don’t have to worry about innings. All he does is make pitches.”

But, none of those pitches were more important than in the third and sixth innings when the Reds had a runner on third with no outs, and twice came away empty. That enabled the half-asleep Mets’ offense time to wake up with three tack-on runs to beat the Reds, 5-0, on Labor Day.

With the victory, the Mets kept heat on St. Louis for the second wild-card and moved to six-games over .500 (72-66), a level they hadn’t been since the night of July 27 when they lost to the Cardinals as Jeurys Familia blew his first save of the season.

The Mets, save Colon, who flew in Sunday afternoon, were dog tired after playing a night game and flying in well past midnight. The Mets were asking Colon to carry them, which he has done now for three seasons.

On Aug. 19, the Mets fell two games below .500 with a loss in San Francisco. Colon beat the Giants the next day to jumpstart the Mets on a stretch where they have won 12 of their next 16 games.

During that stretch, Colon won three games at a time when the Mets lost Steven Matz and Jacob deGrom from the rotation.

Colon gave up five hits and a walk in six scoreless innings to raise his record to a team-high 13-7 with a 3.22 ERA. Colon does it by keeping the Reds off balance by working quickly and staying ahead in the count with a fastball that didn’t stray much over 90 mph.

While Noah Syndergaard throws in the high 90s and sometimes touches triple digits, and deGrom raises red flags when his fastball drops to 91 mph., Colon remains a testament to the pitching tenants of location and movement over velocity.

It’s something the vaunted Mets youthful rotation should learn from, as well as they could from how often to throw between starts. In essence, he’s an active pitching coach.

“If you don’t learn stuff watching him pitch, you’re wasting your time,” Collins said.

For as well as Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman pitched as spot starters, here’s hoping the Mets aren’t seduced by their success and don’t assume Matt Harvey, deGrom and Matz will return without incident. And, for not pitching for the last two years, the Mets can’t assume anything with Wheeler.

However, for the bargain basement cost of $7.25 million, Colon leads the rotation in wins (13), starts (28) and innings pitched (164.2).

Colon doesn’t fit the prototype, but all he does is come through and that’s something that shouldn’t be overlooked.

REYNOLDS RAKES: While everybody was tired, probably nobody was more drained than Matt Reynolds, who flew all night from Salt Lake City and arrived a few hours before game time.

Reynolds caught the red-eye from Salt Lake City to catch a connection in Boston before heading to Cincinnati. And, it didn’t help he was seated next to one of those obnoxious fliers who insist on talking non-stop.

Reynolds drove in two runs on three hits, including a homer, to lead an offense that rested Yoenis Cespedes, Jose Reyes, Curtis Granderson and Asdrubal Cabrera (he appeared as a pinch-hitter and singled).

“I just wanted to go out there and play and have fun,’’ Reynolds told SNY. “I didn’t try to put too much pressure on myself.”

Reynolds said a key was an adjustment he made in Triple-A to move closer to the plate, which forced him to shorten his swing.

BULLPEN STRONG AGAIN: Before this season is over, the Mets’ bullpen will throw a pile of innings, perhaps too many for Collins’ liking.

Collins was able to rest Addison Reed and Familia, who were both used in a non-save situation the night before.

Collins got an inning from the recently-and-frequently abused Hansel Robles; two-thirds of an inning from Jerry Blevins; and 1.1 innings from the recently acquired Fernando Salas.

BRUCE RETURNS HOME: Cincinnati will always be home to Jay Bruce, who went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in his return to Great American Ballpark.

The Reds honored Bruce prior to the game with a video tribute and made a donation to his foundation that supports children with development disabilities.

“It was good. It was a bit odd,” said Bruce. “The Reds took the time to welcome me back. It was what I expected out of this organization. They treated me great the whole time I was here.”

EXTRA INNINGS: Kelly Johnson hit his tenth homer. In looking ahead, the Mets need to seriously consider bringing back Johnson, who doesn’t appear ready to retire. … Wilmer Flores had an interesting day, getting thrown out at second trying to stretch a single and at third attempting to stretch a double. I admit, I was hoping to see him try for an inside-the-park homer. C’mon, admit it, so were you. … The shutout was the Mets’ 11th of the year.

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Aug 26

Why Can’t Collins And Alderson Get Together On A DeGrom Plan?

Why does it take so long for the Mets to make even the simplest decisions? The latest is whether to rest Jacob deGrom after he was roughed up Wednesday night in St. Louis.

“To me, it looks like he’s getting run down,” manager Terry Collins said after deGrom was hammered for the second straight start. In his last two games deGrom has given up a combined 13 runs on 25 hits in 9.2 innings.

DE GROM: Needs rest. (AP)

DE GROM: Needs rest. (AP)

The Cardinals got him for five runs on 12 hits in 4.2 innings. The start before that the Giants hit him for eight runs on 13 hits in five innings.

Collins suggested deGrom could be tired after the Giants’ game, and several times this season attributed the stamina of his starters to their 2015 workload. That was eight days ago, and according to Collins in today’s press briefing, he still hasn’t spoken with GM Sandy Alderson about resting deGrom, which suggests two things.

The first is Collins doesn’t have the authority to unilaterally decide how to use his pitchers. Does he really need Alderson’s permission to push deGrom back a few days or even skip a turn? Do you think Joe Torre needed to talk with Brian Cashman before resting Andy Pettitte?

The second is there’s a lack of communication between Collins and Alderson, which represents a disconnect between the two I’ve suggested several times already this season.

In the two days since deGrom was ripped, couldn’t Collins have picked up the phone to call Alderson to tell him what he was thinking? Or, after reading Collins’ thoughts the next day, couldn’t Alderson have phoned his manager?

Why must there need to be a face-to-face meeting?

If Collins believes deGrom needs to miss a turn, then just do it and stop making this a daily soap opera. How hard can that be?

If Collins tells Alderson “we need to skip deGrom,” then it’s up to the general manager to provide the manager a starter.

The Mets took nearly a month before deciding to put Yoenis Cespedes on the disabled list? They took several weeks before putting Steven Matz on the disabled list? They’ve also dragged their feet on Noah Syndergaard and Michael Conforto and a handful of other issues.

There are 35 games remaining in a season that his slipping away. Sure, you hate to lose a deGrom start, but it’s preferable to miss one now than risk getting him hurt and missing several.

It’s not all that hard. Just make a decision.

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Aug 21

Is There Connection Between Elbow And Shoulder For Matz?

In ascertaining Steven Matz’s shoulder issue, perhaps the Mets should revisit their earlier proclamation the left-hander’s bone spur injury was simply a matter of pain tolerance, as suggested by both GM Sandy Alderson and manager Terry Collins.

On June 28 – nearly two months ago – I wrote that was nonsense. Everybody knows, and I should lump Alderson into that group, any injury with a pitcher should be considered more serious than it is and, injuries/hurts leads to overcompensation with another part of the body.

MATZ: Is there connection between elbow and shoulder? (AP)

MATZ: Is there connection between elbow and shoulder? (AP)

I undoubtedly admire Matz’s warrior spirit, but let’s face it, this is his first full season in the major leagues and he doesn’t have the resume to call his own shots. He wants to pitch, I get that, but like most young players he doesn’t have the smarts or backbone to tell his real feelings to Collins or management.

As baseball lifers, both Collins and Alderson should realize what was going on with Matz and protect him.

This is what Alderson said in late June: “At this point, it’s a function of whether he can tolerate the discomfort while continuing to pitch. What we will do is monitor that level of discomfort.”

I take two things from that statement. The first is, and I said it at the time, Alderson’s comment was garbage, that pain tolerance is simply a misguided assumption. You can’t assume anything with an injury. Can’t be done.

The second is if Matz’s shoulder is now an issue their level of monitoring leaves a lot to be desired.

Look, I can’t say with 100 percent certainty there is a connection between the elbow and the shoulder, but the flip side Alderson can’t say with 100 percent absoluteness it isn’t.

I believe, and this comes from years of following the Mets, they too frequently play fast and loose with injuries.

The Mets’ first course of action with injuries should always be caution. They weren’t with Matz and the same it appears is happening with Noah Syndergaard. They weren’t with Matt Harvey.

Matz will travel to New York Monday to be examined by team doctors, something that should have been done as soon as he was scratched from his last start.

Nobody knows what the doctors will find with Matz, but the Mets’ appropriate response should be getting him better and stronger, not seeing if he can throw five innings next weekend against the Phillies.

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Aug 17

Has Syndergaard Turned The Corner?

UPDATED: Adding quotes by Syndergaard and Collins.

For awhile last night it appeared Noah Syndergaard turned the corner and all would be right with the Mets again. However, as has been his pattern, he ran into the wall otherwise known as the sixth inning and was haunted by familiar ghosts.

I won’t go into the bone spur issue because when you live in a 98 mph., neighborhood, your arm has to be sound. Stolen bases are a problem – the Diamondbacks had four more Tuesday night and nine in his two starts against them – but one he should eventually solve with his experience.

SYNDERGAARD: Good and bad signs. (AP)

SYNDERGAARD: Good and bad signs. (AP)

The main issue with Syndergaard has been his pitch-count efficiency and inability to put away a hitter or shut down an inning. It’s why he doesn’t give the Mets the number of innings he should considering the number of pitches he throws.

Of his 23 starts, he has gone at least seven innings only nine times. Only twice did he venture into the eighth inning. Twice.

Last night he cruised through five innings and was good as advertised but unraveled in the sixth. Yes, he was hamstrung by T.J. Rivera‘s defense, but when you’re supposed to be an ace, you must find a way to get out of the inning. The Mets survived the inning, but not Syndergaard.

This is not what you’d expect from somebody deemed an ace, much less a Super Hero.

Roughly one of four pitches he throws is fouled off, meaning he’s not putting away hitters. He averages over a strikeout an inning, but only four times has he reached double-digits in strikeouts, the last being June 15 against Pittsburgh.

Double-digit strikeout games signify going deep into games. Syndergaard went deep with a two-run homer in the fifth but was done an inning later. He expects more of himself.

From how he overpowered the Diamondbacks early in the game, his final line of four runs on seven hits in 5.2 innings was a disappointment despite going to 10-7 in the Mets’ 7-5 victory. Also discouraging was he threw 106 pitches.

Syndergaard took a six-run lead into the sixth. He should have coasted the way he did against Pittsburgh and the Cubs on July 3, his last win before last night. He went into the eighth in those games.

Jake Lamb reached on Rivera’s error and moved to second on a wild pitch. Syndergaard struck out Yasmany Tomas, but gave up a single to Wellington Castillo and two-run triple to Mitch Haniger. A second error by Rivera let in another run. After an infield single, Syndergaard left in favor of Jerry Blevins and the last image of him was throwing his glove in anger in the dugout.

Sure, blame the inning on Rivera, but it’s up to the pitcher to overcome disaster and put away the next hitter, something Syndergaard didn’t do. With his mounting pitch count manager Terry Collins didn’t have the confidence to let him finish the inning.

When Syndergaard cruised early in the game, he challenged hitters inside, his command was sharp and his curveball had bite. All encouraging signs.

“In the middle innings I thought he threw the ball great,” Collins said. “When he commanded his fastball in the right spots they weren’t able to do much against him.”

But, he couldn’t sustain. Whenever he loses it quickly, it raises the question about the bone spur. The Mets believe – and Syndergaard concurs – this is a pain tolerance issue. The spur is something that should be dealt with by surgery in the offseason as it will be with Steven Matz.

“My arm felt great,” Syndergaard said. “I was fluid in my delivery. I felt it was a step in the right direction.;;

There are games, like those against the Pirates and Cubs – and for five innings last night – where he dominates and pitches to the ace-like levels of Dwight Gooden and Tom Seaver. But, he’s not there yet on a consistent basis.

The elbow spur bothers me, and I’m sure it bothers Syndergaard more than he lets on. Of his last seven starts he reached the sixth three times before being pulled. Is it the spur or did hitters catch up to him?

Before last night, Syndergaard had four losses and two no-decisions in his previous six starts. In looking for an explanation for what’s happening one thing surfaces.

This is Syndergaard’s first full season and there are growing pains. His fastball averages 98 and his changeup averages 89, but there’s more to pitching than throwing hard. Just because he throws lightning and is built like a linebacker doesn’t mean he’s automatically Don Drysdale.

Syndergaard is ahead of most with his experience level, but not where he envisions himself. He needs more polish. He must learn to take something off his pitches; to reach back for the 100 mph., heater when he needs it, not with every pitch.

The bone spur is an issue, but one surgery should resolve. The real problem with Syndergaard is the expectations are exceedingly high from the Mets, his teammates, the media, and the fans. Everybody expects more of him – including the pitcher himself – than he is capable of giving.

Too many expect him to be the second Seaver instead of letting him develop into the first Syndergaard. He is still growing. He’s not the force he expects of himself to be.

Not yet, anyway.

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