Apr 06

Niese Must Grasp Role As No. 1 Starter

By definition, Jon Niese is correct, he is not a No. 1 pitcher, an ace if you will. However, in relation to his status on the Mets, he is the man.

There is no denying Niese’s importance, but his designation of being the leader of the staff should be emphasized more today against Miami than in the status of an Opening Day starter. After two victories to open the season, the Mets have dropped two in a row, and have not looked good in the process.

NIESE: Announcing his presence with authority.

NIESE: Announcing his presence with authority.

Today, the Mets need Niese to stop the losing. That’s the primary goal of a stopper. That’s what staff leaders do.

“As far as leading the staff, I really don’t want to fulfill that role,’’ Niese said. “Everybody, all the guys in the rotation, have something different to offer.

“So I’m willing to learn from them, and I’m sure they’re willing to learn from me. We all have a job to do. Each one of us has a different way of going about it.’’

I can’t buy for a second Niese doesn’t want that role or responsibility. He’s a competitor; you see that every time he pitches. Saying that gives the perception of him willing to be complacent with what he’s achieved, and his 13 career-high victories in not where he wants to peak.

Let’s give Niese the benefit of doubt and say it’s modesty or a reflection of his demeanor. He’s quiet, he’s modest, there doesn’t appear to be a brash bone in his body. But, he’s not a pushover on the mound who easily caves in to the hitter.

Niese wants that role, and manager Terry Collins indicated as much when he told him he would be the Opening Day starter almost a month ago.

“[Niese] said, `All right!’ That means he wanted it bad,’’ Collins recalled. “He got himself ready for it, for sure. He pitched a great game.’’

Niese held San Diego to two runs on four hits and two walks in 6.2 innings. He also had two hits himself.

“I’m not going to lie,’’ Niese said. “The adrenaline was pumping.’’

Catcher John Buck said Niese was easy to catch as everything fell into place for him.

“He had a good two-seamer going. His cutter in was working well for him,’’ Buck said. “So he was spreading the plate really well. And then that curveball, obviously, is a weapon to have with two strikes.’’

No. 1 starters don’t want to leave games. They want to start what they finish. Niese has gone the distance, but knows there have been too many times when he exits with the game still in the balance. That has to stop this year, says Niese, in acknowledging how he must continue to grow.

“I think last year was kind of a year where I kind of hit that sixth inning and had 95 pitches and they kind of shut me down,’’ said Niese, who pleaded for an extra inning and finished with 101. “I think this year I want to be that guy who goes back out and finishes my starts.’’

That won’t happen if Niese hits 100 in the seventh. He needs to be more efficient with his pitches. Too often he’ll work deep into the count, throwing four or five pitches to a hitter.

One less pitch to a hitter could mean two more innings. And, in their minds, staff leaders can’t throw enough innings.

Apr 02

Mets Have MLB’s Highest Winning Percentage On Opening Day

opening day ceremonies

The attendance for Opening Day at Citi Field was 41,053 and it was a complete sellout. The team later announced that another 1,000 tickets on top of that were given away to those affected by Hurricane Sandy. Newsday reports that it was the 15th straight year the Mets sold out their home opener.

You could see plenty of empty seats once the pre-game ceremonies got underway, but by the end of the second inning the place was packed and the throngs of fans were vocal and could be heard throughout the broadcast. The 42,000+ all got to see a great game.

The Mets have always reigned supreme when it came to Opening Days and yesterday’s 11-2 win was no different. In fact, the Mets improved their Opening Day winning percentage to an MLB-best .654 (34-18).

Apr 01

Niese Sparkles; Offense Rocks In Mets’ Opening Day Rout

How appropriate.

It was overcast for much of the day, but shortly after this afternoon’s 11-2 rout of the San Diego Padres, it started to rain on Citi Field. If there could be universal laws in baseball, is it isn’t supposed to rain on Opening Day and the home team has to win.

NIESE: Scintillating start. (AP)

NIESE: Scintillating start. (AP)

Let the Padres win Wednesday night and when they return to San Diego, but today belonged to the Mets, played as complete a game as possible while their crosstown rivals, the Yankees, lost to Boston.

With the victory the Mets improved their Opening Day record to a MLB best 34-18 (.654). It’s astounding considering their overall history.

THE PITCHING: Jon Niese was superb, going 6.2 innings and giving up two runs on four hits. He also collected two hits. Niese’s wife said she wears a special pair of blue panties when he pitches. Wash them and have them ready for the weekend. Niese said he didn’t feel any added pressure of starting on Opening Day, but admitted, “the adrenalin was pumping.’’ … Niese is now the de facto ace with Johan Santana gone. “He has stepped into a role where he leads the rotation,’’ manager Terry Collins said.

WRIGHT STREAK CONTINUES: Wright said he didn’t feel anything different when he was introduced as captain, but reiterated, “I’m very proud to represent this team.’’ With a third-inning single, Wright has hit in every Opening Day since his first in 2005. Overall, he is 13-for-36 (.361) in home openers. Wright also made several sparkling plays in the field and stole two bases.

OFFENSE TAKES OFF: Today marked the fifth time the Mets scored double-digit runs on Opening Day. … The Mets scored nine runs after two outs and went 7-for-14 with runners in scoring position. … Collin Cowgill hit is first career grand slam in the seventh inning. Only Todd Hundley previously hit a slam on Opening Day. … Cowgill, Marlon Byrd and John Buck combined to go 6-for-14 with five runs scored and seven RBI. “I’m just grateful for this opportunity and want to make the most of it,’’ Cowgill said. Byrd declined to speak to reporters after the game. … Ruben Tejada doubled home the Mets’ first run. “He told me he would be ready,’’ Collins said of Tejada’s dismal spring training.

BEST STORY: The best story of the day was reliever Scott Rice’s major league debut after 14 years in the minor leagues. He pitched one scoreless innings and struck out two. Buck saved the ball from the first strikeout by throwing it into the Mets’ dugout. Rice presented the ball to his father after the game. “Maybe this will hit me later,’’ Rice said.

METS MUSINGS: The Mets held their annual Welcome Home dinner at a Manhattan hotel. … Shaun Marcum could be activated from the disabled list to start this weekend against Miami. … Matt Harvey (3-5, 2.73) will start against left-hander Clayton Richard (14-14, 3.99) Wednesday night. The Mets play Thursday afternoon and will host Miami this weekend.

Mar 31

What Did MLB Do With Opening Day?

There have been many changes and lost traditions in baseball over the years. One particularly missed is the spectacle that used to be Opening Day.

The season always started on a Tuesday in Cincinnati and Washington; the home of the sport’s oldest franchise and in the nation’s capital for the national past time.

SELIG: Needs to do right thing for game.

SELIG: Needs to do right thing for game.

This year, lost in the midst of the NCAA Tournament, the start of the baseball season begins with Sunday’s highly anticipated Houston Astros-Texas Rangers clash.

You can’t yawn anymore if you hadn’t slept in three nights. The hook of Houston moving to the American League is a lot of things, but compelling is not among them.

Thankfully, baseball didn’t go overseas for Opening Day, as when the Mets played the Cubs in Japan days before every other team, and several years ago the Yankees played Tampa Bay in Tokyo, then returned to Florida for more exhibition games. There might have been worse ideas, but few come immediately to mind.

For a financial fix – the only reason Major League Baseball does stuff like this – the sport traded something unique and cherished for generations in exchange for a check.

This season, Opening Day in Cincinnati is polluted by interleague play with the Angels coming in. Not only is interleague distasteful for Opening Day, but if you’re going to do it, why the Angels?

A good team, yes, but if the weather is awful and the game postponed, the Angels will be scrambling for a make-up date to fly cross-country.

Inane scheduling just as the Padres at the Mets tomorrow. Can’t they see the folly in this?

Baseball’s Opening Day was always special and anticipated. Now, it’s like the NBA and NHL, where some years you pick up a paper and two games have been played before you realize the season started.

The NFL stole the concept of Opening Day when it kicks off its season the Thursday before the first weekend with the Super Bowl champion at home. By the way, good job by the Orioles for telling the Ravens and NFL to take a hike by not rescheduling their game.

It wouldn’t be hard to have Opening Day the day after the NCAA Championship in most years. But, if not, go back to Cincinnati and Washington the first Tuesday in April.

Or, have everybody play that day, and taking a page from the NCAA Tourney, have wall-to-wall games from afternoon to late at night, with conceivably four games, the first starting at 1 p.m., and the last at 10.

Make the whole day, from coast to coast, special.

I want Opening Day back, and in New York, both the Mets and Yankees should have the town to themselves. Not only are they playing on the same day in the city, but the same time.

Nobody thought this was bad idea?

Sure, the times and economics change, but does Major League Baseball have to abandon everything that was once cherished?

Mar 28

Mets Have More Questions Than Days Left Before Opening Day

With four days until Opening Day, most teams have their rosters, rotation and batting order set. The Mets are not most teams.

Their three remaining exhibition games will do little to answer questions for manager Terry Collins, who undoubtedly won’t be satisfied with what he sees Monday and will be mixing and matching for weeks.

The Mets think David Wright and Daniel Murphy will be ready, this after serious doubts just days ago. How things can change so quickly is puzzling.

Also, head scratching is the decision today to play Murphy at second against Washington in his first major league game of the spring. If something happens, it will be at least two weeks on the disabled list. If they play him in a minor league game, like they are with Wright, if he were re-injured they could backdate his time on the disabled list.

If this is about facing major league pitching, why against left-hander Gio Gonzalez?

This is asking for trouble.

The original plan was to replace Wright with Justin Turner, but he has a strained left calf – could it be residual from his sprained ankle? – and seems headed for the disabled list.

With their infield concerns, conventional thinking had Omar Quintanilla making the 25-man roster as a reserve, including backup to shortstop Ruben Tejada. This idea was heightened when Brandon Hicks was optioned.

The Mets also have concern with their defense in center field. Matt den Dekker is out with a broken wrist, so they are again considering Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who entered spring training penciled in as the leadoff hitter playing center field. However, he missed most of spring training with a bruised left knee. When Nieuwenhuis wasn’t taking treatment, he was mostly striking out (11 times) in his 26 at-bats (with only two hits). Those numbers will preclude Nieuwenhuis leading off should he make the team.

What is apparent is Jordany Valdespin, who leads the Mets with 21 hits, will make the team. But, where will he play if Nieuwenhuis and Murphy are both on the Opening Day roster? It should be center, but do they really want to put Nieuwenhuis on the bench for late-inning defense when he’s hit so poorly and should be getting at-bats on the minor league level?

The batting order is also unsettled.

Valdespin, by virtue of his hot spring, should bat leadoff, and if he’s ready, Murphy would likely hit second. With the way Tejada is hitting – .080 with just four hits – there’s no way he should be at the top of the order. Put him eighth.

If Wright is ready he will bat third, followed by Ike Davis, perhaps catcher John Buck or right fielder Marlon Byrd and then left fielder Lucas Duda, who has 16 strikeouts. Assuming Wright does not play, Byrd could bat third.

Collins wants to separate lefty strikeout machines Davis and Duda. Collins could sandwich both Byrd and Buck ahead of Duda, but that would leave him at the bottom of the order with Tejada and the pitcher.

Neither scenario is appealing.

The rotation would open with Jon Niese, Matt Harvey and Dillon Gee. Jeremy Hefner would get the fourth start and if Shaun Marcum’s neck injury isn’t better, they would bring back Niese. If Marcum goes on the disabled list as expected, it would enable Collins to carry an extra reliever, presumably Jeurys Familia.

The Mets will open with Johan Santana, Jenrry Mejia and Frank Francisco on the disabled list. Marcum could be another, and regardless of their optimism, Wright and Murphy remain possibilities.

Four days, but a lot more questions.