Mar 30

Are Mets Rushing Wheeler?

Evidently, Mets GM Sandy Alderson didn’t learn much from Matt Harvey’s innings limit fiasco in 2015. That’s what I took from his comments Thursday with the news Zack Wheeler made the Opening Day roster and rotation.

WHEELER: Why the rush? (AP)

WHEELER: Why the rush? (AP)

I’m happy for Wheeler because it has been a long, two-year road following Tommy John surgery. However, I’m not sure he’s physically ready and it appears the Mets might be pushing him, and possibly for the wrong reasons.

Alderson suggested the decision to take Wheeler north was made in part as a psychological boost to him, but is that a good enough reason?

“From our standpoint, it’s been a long trek for Zack, and we felt if it was kind of an uptick physically, then emotionally and mentally it would be a real positive for him to begin the season and not just be relegated to Port St. Lucie again,” Alderson told reporters. “He’s feeling good and we feel real good about it.”

I’m glad Wheeler feels better – who wouldn’t be? – but is he strong enough? And, do the Mets have a definitive plan to keep him strong and healthy?

Maybe I missed it, but I couldn’t find anything after translating Alderson.

“Assuming things go well, [Wheeler] will pitch until he reaches a limit,” Alderson said. “We have a target, but targets move, so I think it will depend a lot on how he’s performing and how he’s feeling, try to build in a little bit of flexibility. I don’t think he’s going to pitch 200 innings.”

Of course not, but that’s Alderson being sarcastic.

The target initially was 110 innings. Then up to 120 to 125. But, if targets “move,” as Alderson said, then it isn’t really a limit, is it?

Weeding through Alderson’s words, one can’t find when he would be shut down, or if he will even sit at all. That is reminiscent of what happened with Harvey when his agent, Scott Boras, came forward with an innings limit to catch Alderson off guard.

Because they are blessed with depth in Seth Lugo and Rafael Montero, they have the luxury of being able to shut him down.

Wheeler’s in the rotation and will make his first start, April 7, against Miami. Figuring six innings a start, Wheeler would reach his limit after 20 starts, which puts him around mid-to-late July.

What could be a driving force to go with Wheeler is because Steven Matz has been shut down for at least three weeks with a sore left elbow. But, they are trying to fill the void of one injured pitcher with another questionable pitcher.

Where’s the logic in that, especially when they have the Lugo and Montero options?

“It’s been a long road,” Wheeler told reporters. “I know I’m starting probably because Steve got hurt, and that is unfortunate and I wish him a fast recovery. But I’m here and healthy and want to pitch, and that is what I’m about to be able to do.”

I hope this all works out for Wheeler and this doesn’t come back to bite him in the elbow, or Alderson in the butt.

Mar 20

Mets’ Remaining Issues With Two Weeks To Go

It seems hard to believe, but it’s true … Opening Day for the Mets is two weeks from today. Fourteen days and a lot of things needing to be determined, beginning with the rotation.

Let’s take a quick look:

HARVEY: Big start today (AP)

HARVEY: Big start today (AP)

ROTATION: I wrote after his last start that perhaps the Mets should consider leaving the battered Matt Harvey back. They haven’t publicly discussed it, but if Harvey gets hammered today the question should be answered. Pitching coach Dan Warthen said Harvey likely would not be full strength until May, at least. And, with a lot of off days in April, it would be an optimum time to let Harvey get stronger and work on his mechanics.

Assuming Harvey is in the rotation, the fifth starter spot between Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman and Zack Wheeler is undecided. Leaving Wheeler behind would be the prudent option.

BULLPEN: The Mets won’t learn of Jeurys Familia’s suspension until the World Baseball Classic is over. The popular guess is 30 games, but you never know. Addison Reed hasn’t done well as the expected replacement. … Rafael Montero has pitched well, but others have not, like Erik Goeddel. … Fernando Salas just reported to camp following a visa issue. … We’re still waiting for Hansel Robles to show something. … A potential problem with the bullpen is that the starters won’t go long early, so there could be an exposure problem.

FIRST BASE: Jay Bruce as a potential backup hit a snag because he developed a sore hip when he started taking grounders. Could that be because he didn’t start practicing there in earnest until recently? It’s probably Wilmer Flores as the backup for now.

OUTFIELD ALIGNMENT: Michael Conforto has had a good spring, but there’s been no mention as to how – where and how much – he’ll be used. If Conforto and Brandon Nimmo will be on the Opening Day roster, there should be a rough playing rotation as to keep everybody sharp and nobody gets worn down. We haven’t seen a hint of that.

Fourteen days to go and it seems like that many unresolved issues.

Mar 16

Lost Velocity Could Be Best Thing For Harvey

The issue of Matt Harvey’s lost velocity could be the best thing to happen to him in his effort to rejuvenate his career.  The headlines after Wednesday’s loss asked if Harvey would ever be the same.

HARVEY: He shouldn't hold his head. (AP)

HARVEY: He shouldn’t hold his head. (AP)

What exactly is “the same?” Outside of four spectacular months in 2013 and several scintillating starts in 2015 – which culminated in a hissy fit in Game 5 of the World Series – we must remember for all the hype, he is 29-28 lifetime, which, unlike his string of model girlfriends, is nothing to get excited about.

That 2013 All-Star start and career 2.94 ERA and 1.08 WHIP give us reasons to be hopeful, but for all his sparkling moments there has considerable diva tarnish.

Harvey’s scouting report in 2013 showed a fastball in the high 90s, impeccable control and a bulldog, don’t-give-in mentality that culminated in him pitching through the pain of a strained forearm leading to Tommy John surgery.

Back then, Harvey’s high profile personality was outlined by his high 90s heater. Pitching coach Dan Warthen said we might not know until May whether his velocity will return. If two surgeries aren’t enough of a wake-up call, perhaps the velocity issue could be. It’s important Harvey stay in Florida at the start of the season to find his confidence more than his fastball.

Nolan Ryan was a freak who threw triple digits into his 40s. A chemically-induced Roger Clemens threw high heat late into his career. However, they, like Sandy Koufax, Bob Feller, Tom Seaver, eventually lost what made them great. Age and injury reaffirmed their pitching mortality.

Harvey is lucky in comparison. He’s only 27 and hopefully will take advantage of his lost fastball to learn how to pitch. Let’s hope he’ll learn how to pitch like Mike Mussina, Jack Morris, John Smoltz, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine – don’t snicker on the last one, because after all, he won over 300 games and is in the Hall of Fame – which could extend the career of the pitcher many have given up on.

I wrote yesterday how the Mets should leave him off the Opening Day roster and send him for an extended spring training. I didn’t say Harvey’s career was over and the column didn’t bash him. To the contrary, I still think he can become a solid major league starter.

I have previously been hard on Harvey for his attitude and I’m not backing off. I don’t expect Harvey to consistently throw 98, but I do hope he’ll be smart enough to capitalize on being given the great gift of being young enough in his career to reinvent himself.

Hopefully, he was taking notes the past two years from watching Bartolo Colon. Harvey’s career is not over unless he mentally gives up.

 

 

 

 

 

Mar 15

Do Mets Have Guts To Leave Harvey Off Opening Day Roster?

The question must be posed: Does the Mets’ top brass have the stones to leave Matt Harvey off the Opening Day roster?  While it is clear Jacob deGrom is ready for the start of the season, it is also painfully obvious Harvey is not.

HARVEY: Not ready. (AP)

HARVEY: Not ready. (AP)

While exhibition numbers aren’t important, after Harvey was pasted once again today by the Marlins, it is hard to ignore his 0-3 record and 7.88 ERA. That high an ERA is hard to dismiss any time of the year.

Harvey broke into our consciousness in 2012 with near pinpoint control, supreme confidence and a fastball that regularly clocked in the high 90s. Today, an elbow and shoulder surgery later, his confidence as battered as his body, and a fastball in the low 90s, Harvey isn’t close to being the stud pitcher and cartoon superhero character Mets’ fans yearn to see again.

Earlier this spring Harvey said he had no doubt his velocity would return. He was far less optimistic today; he appeared to concede to a new chapter in his career.

“I’m not looking to throw 100 mph., again or 97 even,” Harvey told reporters. “My job is to get people out no matter what I’m throwing, and I’m looking forward to it. [The velocity] is going to be there.”

But, what will it be?

Pitching coach Dan Warthen said the Mets won’t know about Harvey’s physical abilities for several months, claiming he’s guessing May.

“History says with [thorasic surgery] it’s 10 months out,” Warthen said. “That’s when you really start to feel strong. Generally, when you open a season you gain two miles per hour. If he’s playing at 94, 95, it’s a completely different story.”

But, Harvey’s throwing 92 these days at best, which means he basically must reinvent himself, which will be hard to do with another three exhibition starts remaining.

That brings us back to the original question as to whether the Mets if Harvey doesn’t immediately turn it around, would leave him back to get stronger and work on his mechanics. Considering their potential depth with Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman – and possibly Zack Wheeler – that would be the prudent option.

The Mets are blessed to have the depth most teams don’t possess, so why not take advantage of it? Assuming Harvey isn’t ready in three three weeks – and that’s what Warthen is saying – it would be better to utilize that depth in April to get him ready rather that use it later if he breaks down.

Harvey won’t like it, but that’s not important. Getting him ready is.

Mar 06

Despite Encouraging Signs Mets Must Be Cautious With Wheeler

Hopefully, the other shoe won’t fall for the Mets’ Zack Wheeler, who hasn’t pitched in nearly two years because of elbow issues. He’s back to throwing batting practice, and Sunday clocked out at 93 mph. Most importantly, however, is he left the mound feeling no pain.

WHEELER: Take your time. (AP)

WHEELER: Take your time. (AP)

If he can stay setback free for the rest of the week, he’ll start Friday against the Braves. It seems like forever, when Wheeler and Matt Harvey stuffed the Braves in a doubleheader. Then came Tommy John surgery in 2015 and a myriad of setbacks that has Wheeler wondering.

“I kind of feel like I’m waiting for a setback, but everything is going good,” Wheeler told reporters. “I feel good about it. Everything was coming out of my hand nice today. It definitely felt better than last time.”

When the Mets see Wheeler, they envision their Golden Arms Rotation, that when healthy has the potential to be one of baseball’s best. But, they’ve never been healthy together, with Wheeler, Harvey, Steven Matz and Jacob deGrom all coming off surgery. Noah Syndergaard pitched through a painful bone spur in his elbow, otherwise, there would have been five coming off the knife.

Although Wheeler said he feels good, he added he’s not there, yet.

“I wouldn’t say I’m 100 percent letting it go,” Wheeler said. “But I’m 90- to 95-percent effort, breaking off curveballs and sliders. It feels good.”

Even if he’s full strength, don’t bet on Wheeler making the Opening Day roster as the Mets are figuring a limit of 110 innings and currently have eschewed the up-and-down risk of working him out of the bullpen. So, the prudent plan would be to let him build himself up with an extended spring training, then possibly bring him up in late May or early June when the weather is warmer.

In previous seasons the Mets had Bartolo Colon to eat up innings. This year they have Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman, so there’s no sense in forcing this.