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.

Mar 27

Mets Shouldn’t Push Wright For Opening Day Start

With most strained and pulled muscles, a sound approach is whatever timetable is given just add a week.

Given that, I don’t see why the Mets seem to be rushing David Wright, who sustained a strained left intercostal muscle while at the WBC. I also don’t see why Wright is rushing himself.

WRIGHT: Needs to slow down.

WRIGHT: Needs to slow down.

Didn’t anybody learn anything from the Johan Santana fiasco? What is to be gained by him playing in a handful of games? Could it be nobody wants to point a finger at the WBC? Could it be that both parties want to put their handling of the injury on the back burner?

Wright made it to the field yesterday, getting five at-bats in a pair of minor league games, but not playing defense. For that, he’s taking ground balls from third base coach Tim Teufel.

In both cases, he didn’t face anything coming to close to the actual speed of a major league game.

Wright says he feels better, which is positive news. He said he’s optimistic about Opening Day, which is what you would expect him to say.

“I’ve been optimistic about Opening Day since I came back to St. Lucie, and talked to the doctors and the trainers about the diagnosis,’’ Wright told reporters yesterday. “It’s another step closer, so I’m still very optimistic.’’

We could end it there, which would be the puff story way to go, but that wouldn’t be accurate.

What is accurate is Wright is as tough as they come, once playing a full month with a stress fracture in his lower back. He’s had muscle pulls and a beaning-related concussion. This player, the best the Mets ever produced outside of Tom Seaver, is strong and fearless.

However, there are times when he’s lacking in judgment. There is a difference between pain and injury. All players have some type of pain, but an injury can be career damaging.

Wright should have been more cautious with the back; he needs to be more cautious with his current injury.

In the grand scheme of things, what is the difference if Wright plays April 1 or April 7? Seriously, do you expect it to be the difference between making the playoffs and going home for the winter as they have every season since 2007?

What pushing the envelope with Wright could mean is the difference between missing the first half dozen games of the season and potentially a month if he’s reinjured.

Wright could play and not be reinjured, but it could impact him at the plate or in the field. It could lead him to bad habits and consequently another injury. If the Mets and Wright constantly find themselves looking at first the calendar, and then the clock, he’s simply not ready.

How much time Wright needs, I don’t know. But, what I believe from all the information the Mets and Wright are putting out about his injury in relationship to Opening Day is he’s not ready.

I would like to see him play, because he’s arguably the best reason to watch the Mets, but I am willing to wait a week. The season will still be here when he gets back.

However, it might not be if he has to sit for another month or longer.

Mar 26

Encouraging News For Wright; Opening Day A Possibility

After he played in a minor league game today, the Mets softened their position on whether David Wright could be ready for Opening Day. When Wright was pulled from the World Baseball Classic last week, manager Terry Collins was thinking a month. Not any longer.

“I would not be surprised if David Wright is there Opening Day,’’ Collins told reporters today. “There will be a lot of things considered here on Thursday or Friday.’’

The Mets are doing the right thing in that both Wright and Murphy are playing in minor league games, so if there was a setback and they had to start the season on the disabled list it could be backdated into spring training.

Among the variables Collins will consider is the weather, as the intercostal muscles both are fighting could be vulnerable to further injury in the cold.

Both players were 1-for-5 today.

THE GAME: The Mets were ripped today, 11-4, by St. Louis, but the most thing to take from the game was Jeremy Hefner – who’ll replace Johan Santana in the rotation and on the roster – left early with a bone bruise on his right elbow.

On a bright note, Lucas Duda had three more hits, including his fifth homer, to raise his average to .302.

Mar 25

Did Santana Commit Career Suicide?

Santana10

HOW MUCH IS SANTANA CAUSE OF HIS OWN PROBLEMS?

When Johan Santana said he doesn’t know when he will pitch again, it isn’t inconceivable it could be never.

Santana’s left shoulder is not getting better and it isn’t unfair to wonder if the prideful or stubborn lefthander – take your pick – may have committed career suicide on March 3, a quiet Sunday that turned into one of the Mets’ loudest days of spring training.

The day after GM Sandy Alderson said he thought the Mets’ $31-million commitment was at least ten days from getting on the mound and not in good shape, Santana took it upon himself to prove him and the questioning media wrong.

Now, there’s no longer doubt of him staying in Florida or being on the Opening Day roster.

“I’ve just got to stay here and work out and get ready,’’ Santana told reporters over the weekend. “… I’m making progress. It’s just I don’t know when I’m going to be pitching again. That’s the thing: We cannot think ahead. The way we’re approaching everything is every day make sure we have a good day.’’

Too bad he wasn’t thinking that way when he expressed displeasure in not playing in the World Baseball Classic, and later anger at Alderson. Who knows what went through Santana’s mind when he took the mound with an “I’ll show you’’ chip on his shoulder.

How can there be progress when he can’t think ahead? How can there be progress when his shoulder isn’t close?

Since that day, Santana threw a light session, but was scratched from a start and has been reduced to 90-foot long tossing. Do you realize how far away that distance is from a regular season game?

He must gradually build up to 180 feet, and after cleared at that distance will he be allowed on the mound. Then, it’s throwing batting practice and building his pitch count up to 100. Manager Terry Collins said Santana needs to go through a spring training, which is six weeks. But, that clock doesn’t start until he gets on the mound, and nobody can say when that will be.

That’s progress?

And, that’s assuming there are no setbacks, of which there have been several during this struggle since shoulder surgery in September of 2010 to repair a torn anterior capsule.

Of course, it is hard to pinpoint an exact time when a pitcher’s million-dollar arm turns to ten cents. There was the injury in 2010, but Santana had issues with his shoulder in Minnesota before the trade to the Mets.

The wear and tear on a major league pitcher’s arm begins with the first pitch. Santana made 34 starts in 2008, his first year with the Mets, but had surgery in the off-season and hasn’t come close to pitching a full season since.

After two winters of rehab, Santana made it back last year with initial success, including a controversial no-hitter, the only one in franchise history.

Did Collins make a mistake leaving Santana in for 134 pitches, thinking he was giving the pitcher a shot at a career moment and Mets’ fans their lone bright spot in what would be a dark summer?

Of course, Santana didn’t want to come out, and no pitcher admits to being tired, but this was different. Had the no-hitter not been on the table Santana never would have continued pitching. His summer quickly unraveled and included a career-worst six-game losing streak.

After two winters of rehab, Santana, with the Mets’ knowledge, did not have a normal offseason. Then again, nothing has been routine about his winters since 2007 as there has been an injury issue each year.

“I’ve been in this game for a while,’’ Santana said. “I went through that [surgery] a couple of years ago and I’m still here. So I’m going to battle and try to come back and help as much as I can. When that is going to happen, I don’t really know.’’

Several questions are raised through Santana’s uncertainty. How much did the no-hitter hurt him? How carefully was Santana monitored in the offseason? Did going slower backfire? It is easy to suggest the no-hitter hurt, but how much did Santana contribute to his own demise this spring?

“I’m just building up my strength and throwing more volume,’’ Santana said. “… With injuries you never know. I got to spring training feeling good. And then, once I started getting to pitch and stuff and I got on the mound, I didn’t feel I was making progress.’’

If he didn’t believe he was making progress, then why consider the WBC?  More to the point, if he wasn’t making progress why did he get on the mound March 3, when his manager wasn’t expecting him to throw for nearly two weeks?

What forced him, pride or anger? Perhaps, he simply ran out of patience waiting to find out if he’ll ever make it back.

Santana might finally have his answer.