Jul 24

Jeremy Hefner Trying To Rebound From Last Start

It is amazing how a team starts getting greedy when it starts playing better. For example, had Bobby Parnell not blown Monday’s save opportunity they would be trying tonight to clinch this series with Atlanta.

After being 15 games under .500, the Mets are again eight below. Several times they’ve been here, but unable to reach seven and get on a roll that would legitimatize their prospects of a successful season.

HEFNER: Trying to rebound after mauling by Phillies. (AP)

HEFNER: Trying to rebound after mauling by Phillies. (AP)

Jeremy Hefner, who sizzled going into the break, was hammered by Philadelphia last Friday. Hefner has 13 quality starts to highlight a staff with a 3.20 ERA since May 26. Collectively, the staff has given up four earned runs in the last 36 innings, or since Hefner’s game coming out of the break.

Here’s tonight’s lineup:

Eric Young, LF: Is 2-for-18 on the homestand. Has .280 average since joining Mets.

Daniel Murphy, 2B: Hitting just .244 at Citi Field.

David Wright, 3B: Hitting .350 since the break. Ranks fifth in the NL with a .395 on-base percentage.

Marlon Byrd, RF: Leads the Mets with 17 homers.

Ike Davis, 1B: Hitting .385 on the homestand, but only .191 at home for the season.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis, CF: Batting just .192 with RISP.

Anthony Recker, C: Has five homers, four of which have either tied the game or given the Mets the lead.

Omar Quintanilla, SS: Only 1-for-15 on the homestand, and batting .122 over his last 12 games.

Jeremy Hefner, RHP: Is 0-1 with a 5.85 ERA in three career games against Atlanta.

GAME NOTES: Mets are 6-4 in their last ten games. … The Mets have come from behind 22 times to win. … Since Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler combined in a doubleheader sweep of the Braves, June 18, the Mets are 19-12, for the best record in the NL East. Philly and Miami are each 15-14, the Braves are 14-16 and Washington is 14-17. … The Mets’ bullpen has a 2.45 ERA in eight July games. The pen has 13 blown save opportunities. … Scott Rice hasn’t given up a run in 13 of his last 14 appearances. … Eight inherited runners have scored off Scott Atchison, the most on the team. … Tonight will be the Mets’ 74th different batting order in 97 games. … Wright’s next homer will be his 220th, to tie Mike Piazza for second in club history. Darryl Strawberry is first with 252. … The Mets are 7-8 in walk-off games.

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

Jul 20

Zack Wheeler Tries To Get Mets On-Track

Well, so much for that fast start out of the second-half gate for the New York Mets.

That great ERA Jeremy Hefner was sporting going into the game? Not so much anymore. The Phillies nailed him for eight runs on ten hits. The carnage was accumulated over 63 pitches, 38 of them in the first inning.

HEFNER: Hammered by Phils, again. (AP)

HEFNER: Hammered by Phils, again. (AP)

The first inning and the Phillies have not been a good mix to Hefner over the years, and before you knew it, the Mets were down 11-0.

Terry Collins tried to put a positive spin on the rout.

“I’ll tell you what, down 11-0, make it a game, pretty impressive by our guys,’’ Collins told reporters after the game, most of who had their storied written by the fifth inning.

Uh huh. Forty years in the game should know by now there are no morale victories in baseball. Few of them, anyway, and last night wasn’t one of them.

Unfortunately for the Mets, them chopping away at the lead provided the illusion there was a chance, and consequently Collins had to go to his bullpen for seven innings.

Otherwise, Collins might have left Hefner in to take his lumps for the team to save the bullpen.

Either way, it was a hot, muggy miserable night, one better spent watching The Great Escape on the Military Channel.

Nonetheless, it is only one game and the Mets have their two of their best, Zack Wheeler and Matt Harvey, going the next two games of this series. After that, it’s four more home games at home against Atlanta before hitting the road to Washington and Miami before the trade deadline.

So, there’s plenty of time for the Mets to make a run at .500 and make the second half of this season worthy of watching. The last four years after the break effectively ended the competitive part of their season.

Was there anything good out of last night’s game?

Juan Lagares had a good at-bat and Ike Davis had a couple of hits. Kirk Nieuwenhuis looked like Mr. Magoo in center field. Other than that, not too much.

I wasn’t crazy about Collins’ managing last night. David Wright did homer in the ninth, but after a busy All-Star break, he should have been pulled and given a rest. The same goes for John Buck, who cramped up.

Here’s today’s lineup against Cole Hamels:

Eric Young, LF

Daniel Murphy, 2B

David Wright, 3B

Marlon Byrd, RF

Josh Satin, 1B

Juan Lagares, CF

Anthony Recker, C

Omar Quintanilla, SS

Zack Wheeler, RHP

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

Jul 17

How Mets Responded To Opening Day Questions

When the New York Mets broke camp this spring, they did so with a myriad of questions for manager Terry Collins. That’s not surprising considering the Opening Day roster featured only nine players from the 2012 first-game roster.

I broke the questions down to pitching and position players, limiting each category to just five questions. So, let’s go back and address each question to see how they’re being answered.

PITCHING QUESTIONS

 Q: Will Jon Niese assume the role of No. 1 with Santana done with the Mets?

NIESE: Key loss. (AP)

NIESE: Key loss. (AP)

A: Niese came out strong in his first two starts, including winning Opening Day. However, back-to-back high-pitch outings in freezing weather in Minneapolis and Denver caused tightness in his back. Niese’s inability to get loose caused a strain in his shoulder and eventual tear to the rotator cuff. He’s on the disabled list and not expected back until mid-August, if at all. The Mets won’t come close to getting the 200 innings they hoped from him. As far as being the ace, Matt Harvey grabbed that role and shows no signs of relinquishing it.

Q: Matt Harvey: Boom or bust?

A: The expectations are high, but high by Harvey’s standards. Harvey wants to be among the best and is living up to that desire. People might not recognize him as evidenced by his skit with Jimmy Fallon, but after his strong first half and starting the All-Star Game that will change. If Harvey isn’t recognized, that’s more a reflection of SNY’s ratings than anything else. The Mets are planning on cutting Harvey’s innings in the second half to 220. The Mets aren’t sure whether they want to skip starts or shave innings off each start.

Q: What will they get from Shaun Marcum?

A: Marcum started the season on the disabled list and is back on after losing feeling in his hand and fingers. The hope was he’d become an innings eater and win at least 12 games as the No. 4 starter. He’s 1-10 and will never pitch for the Mets again. Zack Wheeler replaced him in the rotation.

Q: Will Bobby Parnell seize the closer opportunity?

A: Parnell spit the bit before, but is holding tight and developing into a viable closer. He’s so good that we’ll never see Frank Francisco again. Parnell has drawn attention in the trade market and is coveted by Boston and Detroit.

Q: How good is the bullpen?

A: Parnell is the only one from last year’s Opening Day pen. The pen came out of the gate strong, faltered and is now showing signs of reliability. After 14 years in the minors, left-hander Scott Rice is among the league leaders in appearances. Josh Edgin broke camp with the Mets, but was sent down. He’s been better since his recall. LaTroy is a veteran presence, but struggling with a biceps issue. Bullpens come and go and the Mets have traditionally had problems.

HITTING QUESTIONS

 Q: Will David Wright respond to his contract?

A: Wright appeared in his seventh All-Star Game Tuesday night and a .300, 25, 90 year is within reach. He shows his captain stripes on a continual basis. Wright was in the middle of things trying to defuse the Jordany Valdespin powder keg. He also lobbied to keep Ike Davis from being sent down, but that didn’t work. He continues to play a strong defense and ranks among the NL leaders in on-base percentage.

DAVIS: It has been that kind of year.

DAVIS: It has been that kind of year.

Q: Can Ike Davis put together two strong halves?

A: No. Mets got little from him at the start last year and this season was more of the same. This time, the Mets had enough and sent him to Las Vegas. Davis rebounded to finish with 32 homers last season, but there are no signs of duplicating that this year. GM Sandy Alderson said the organization’s patience is wearing thin. If things continue as they have, the Mets are unlikely to tender Davis a contract for 2014.

Q: How will the outfield shake out?

A: Collin Cowgill’s stint in center field lasted roughly a week and he’s now out of the organization. Kirk Nieuwenhuis seems to be making the most of his opportunity. The team is also interested in seeing what they have in Juan Lagares. Marlon Byrd has exceeded all expectations in right field with 15 home runs, while Lucas Duda sputtered again. Duda is currently on the disabled list, but the team hardly misses him after picking up Eric Young.

Q: What will the Mets get from Ruben Tejada?

A: After a solid 2012, Tejada had a miserable spring training that carried over into the season. Compounding matters is his defense declined. Tejada’s offensive strength was getting on base, but that also declined. Tejada was replaced by 31-year-old Omar Quintanilla, who has been everything the Mets could have hoped for.

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

Jul 12

Jeremy Hefner On Roll For Mets

There is a likeable quality to New York Mets pitcher Jeremy Hefner. He’s modest and unassuming, and has been stand-up in the bad times.

However, recently it’s been good times for Hefner, Friday’s starter in Pittsburgh, who will be trying for his eighth straight strong outing. Hefner is coming off a one-run performance in seven innings last weekend in Milwaukee. Hefner has 12 quality starts, and had he any support earlier this year might have a winning record.

HEFNER: On a roll. (AP)

HEFNER: On a roll. (AP)

Roughly a month ago Hefner appeared the odd-man out in making room for Zack Wheeler, but his roster spot was preserved because of injuries to Jon Niese and Shaun Marcum.

Hefner told ESPN he knew he was vulnerable.

“I was maybe one or two bad starts from being in Las Vegas,’’ Hefner said. “So something had to change.’’

In seven starts since June 4, Hefner has a 1.64 ERA, which is better than Harvey over a similar span. He has given up two earned runs or fewer in those seven starts. The Mets have won his last five starts.

Hefner said he didn’t feel pressure in his turnaround: “It was a challenge for me. And I embraced it. And I’m doing pretty good.’’

Part of his turnaround is mechanical, in that he twists his torso to give the hitter a glance at his back. The intent was deception, but the bonus was increased velocity.

Hefner is one of the Mets’ bright spots this season. There’s some talk about him being dealt to a contender, but the Mets are better off keeping him because they don’t know if Niese will need surgery and Marcum is gone for the year.

Hefner moved up the pecking order for a promotion during spring training when it was apparent Jenrry Mejia wasn’t going to be healthy. Mejia is pitching in Double-A and is scheduled to pitch six innings Saturday. Apparently, there was no thought of bringing him up to replace Harvey that day.

Here’s the Mets’ lineup tonight behind Hefner against the Pirates’ Charlie Morton:

Eric Young, LF

Daniel Murphy, 2B

David Wright, 3B

Ike Davis, 1B

Marlon Byrd, RF

Kirk Nieuwenhuis, CF

Anthony Recker, C

Omar Quintanilla, SS

Jeremy Hefner, RHP

METS MUSINGS: Reliever Frank Francisco – remember him? – pitched one inning in a Gulf Coast League game over the weekend. He gave up an unearned run on one hit with on strikeout. Francisco is recovering from surgery to remove a bone spur in his elbow. Francisco is making $6.5 million this season and is not in the Mets’ plans.

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

Jul 12

Mets Should Stay Intact And Try For Strong Second Half

Rarely does a major league roster go unchanged from Opening Day to the end of the season and the 2013 New York Mets are no exception. The roster Terry Collins will be playing with this weekend in Pittsburgh and taking into the All-Star break barely resembles that of the one that left Port St. Lucie.

WRIGHT: Not the only positive. (AP)

WRIGHT: Not the only positive. (AP)

Less than a month ago the Mets were 15 games below .500, and with a sweep of the Pirates could be five games under. Nobody expects a sweep, but nobody thought they could go 5-0-2 in their past seven road series, either.

Think about it, the Mets are playing their best ball of the season and the Pirates are cooling. It can be done. But, if not, that still leaves the Mets with two weeks before the trade deadline. Should they be buyers or sellers?

Next winter is when the Mets tell us they could be active in the free-agent market, but who wants to wait that long? History tells us the Mets came from behind in 1969 and 1973 to reach the playoffs, so why not at least be thinking along those lines now, even if the odds are long?

A Mets executive recently told me a successful season would be defined as finishing .500, which would be a 14-game improvement over 2012. That is not unrealistic and should be ownership’s commitment to its fan base. The mantra should be: There will not be a fifth straight losing season.

The Mets are where they are because:

* An All-Star first half from David Wright. Even if  he’s not hitting a lot of home runs, he’s driving the ball, getting on base, playing a strong third base and producing with runners in scoring position.

* A strong first half from Matt Harvey, who could start the All-Star Game despite ten no-decisions. With a little support, .500 would be even more realistic.

* The acquisition of Eric Young, who as the tenth option, became the leadoff hitter the Mets have sought. Young is the kind of player the Mets, if they got creative again, could add. The Giants won two of the last three World Series with mid-season acquisitions such as Cody Ross, Aubrey Huff and Angel Pagan. None were marquee players, but pushed the Giants over the top. Proof the Mets don’t have to splurge to make second-half noise.

* Marlon Byrd has become the productive outfielder the Mets have been seeking. Why trade him now? Maybe he’ll cool, who knows? But, he’s produced and there are others like him out there.

* John Buck had a monster April. After a prolonged cooling off period, Buck is hitting again. He’s also been a stabilizing influence for Harvey.

* Josh Satin gave the Mets production they lacked from Ike Davis. While Davis will get most of the playing time, the Mets can’t afford to ignore Satin. Collins said he wants to get a look at Satin at second and the outfield. He’s waffled before, but needs to see what Satin can do.

* If Ruben Tejada hadn’t been hurt, he would have been demoted to the minor leagues. Omar Quintanilla is hitting and playing the kind of shortstop the Mets hoped from Tejada, who doesn’t deserve to have his old job handed to him.

* Jeremy Hefner and Dillon Gee rebounded from slow starts to become reliable starters. Hefner, especially, has been terrific, even better than Harvey over the past month. There’s the temptation of dealing Hefner now with the thought this is a fluke, but why not ride him out and see what you have over a full year?

* When the Mets become serious contenders they will need a closer, so trading Bobby Parnell, as I suggested yesterday, would be counterproductive.

Yes, we’ve been here before, seduced by a good run from the Mets. However, this is a season we never expected much from them. They are giving us more than we could have envisioned despite adversity.

In each of the past four seasons the Mets have gone into the All-Star break thinking they would be sellers at the break, only to have them do nothing but let talent slip away during the winter.

This year has a different feel to it. After a miserable start, they have stabilized and are playing competitive, aggressive baseball. There are still holes, but this time management should reward its players and fan base and give us something to watch after the national attention goes away following the All-Star Game.

Stay intact and give us a reason to come out in the second half.

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