Apr 12

Wheeler, Conforto Give Mets Glimpse Of Future

Sometime next season or the year after, Zack Wheeler and Michael Conforto will combine to lift the Mets. They did for awhile Wednesday night in Philadelphia until Hansel Robles sprayed graffiti on their near masterpiece.

i-5Wheeler, backed in large part by Conforto’s homer and Asdrubal Cabrera’s two-run single, cruised into the sixth with a five-run lead. It looked as if manager Terry Collins would let him pitch out of trouble, but pulled him with two outs and the bases loaded in favor of Robles.

Collins feared the Phillies would break through and spoil Wheeler’s night and he’d suffer an emotional setback. Instead, Maikel Franco turned around Robles’ first pitch for a monster grand slam that changed the complexion of the game, but the Mets held on to win 5-4 to complete the sweep.

In winning his first game since coming off Tommy John surgery in 2014, Wheeler gave up three runs on four hits with one walk and four strikeouts. He threw the target 85 pitches, but the key was working ahead in the count with his secondary pitches. Miami hurt Wheeler in his first start – of a cold damp day – when he fell behind in the count and waited on his fastball.

Wheeler coasted into the sixth but the Phillies worked him hard to load the bases.

“I was very happy with the way he pitched tonight,” Collins told reporters of Wheeler’s start. “He threw the ball as well as he could but he ran out of gas all of a sudden.”

Pitchers usually won’t admit to getting tired, but Wheeler was stand-up. He knows the score.

“I was a little tired at the end,” Wheeler said. “It’s all about building myself up. …I had better command. That’s what I needed from my first start. It felt good to bounce back after that rough outing. I was nice to go out there and do well.  It’s a weight off my shoulders.”

Conversely, it hasn’t appeared the Mets were all that interested in building up Conforto’s at-bats. They had a huge lead, but Conforto sat until the end. Conforto was a surprise start over Curtis Granderson and responded with two hits and a walk and scored three runs.

One of those hits was an opposite-field homer to give the Mets an early 2-0 lead.

Conventional wisdom has Conforto going to the minors when Juan Lagares is activated from the disabled list. He needs at-bats, but Collins would not commit to starting him Thursday in Miami.

Conforto hasn’t gotten a lot of playing time but responded with what little he has.

“I’m getting good pitches to hit and getting deep into the count,” said Conforto, who continues to refuse to get drawn into the debate on his immediate future.

Another positive note to the day was the report Matt Harvey, who strained his left hamstring Tuesday night, would be able to make his next start Sunday in Miami.

While Wheeler and Conforto were the headliners, Robles served as a reminder of one of the Mets’ biggest weaknesses, which is the bridge to the back end of the bullpen.

Apr 11

Cespedes Leads Power Onslaught; Harvey Strains Hammy

If it came easy, they wouldn’t be the Mets. There they were, crushing the Phillies behind the power of seven homers – three from Yoenis Cespedes – and the stellar pitching of Matt Harvey, when the reclamation project pitcher strained his left hamstring covering first base.

HARVEY: Tight hammy ends night early. (AP)

HARVEY: Tight hammy ends night early. (AP)

Any injury involving Harvey, whether it appears serious or not, supersedes anything else happening to the Mets that day. There they were, pounding on the Phillies’ pitching staff the way United Airlines does its customers when Harvey came away hobbling in the sixth inning.

There was no fooling around with warm-up pitches as manager Terry Collins immediately went to the bullpen.

“He cramped up going past first base,” Collins said of Harvey’s injury. “We’ll keep him hydrated and know more tomorrow.”

Collins didn’t appear too concerned about Harvey, and wouldn’t speculate on him possibly missing his next start. Harvey isn’t worried, either.

“When I took my last step it cramped up a bit,” said Harvey, who speculated he might have tightened up sitting in the dugout watching his team hit. “It’s nothing serious.”

Harvey has been dominant in his first two starts. Maybe not like in 2013 or 2015, but pretty close.

“It’s definitely a work in progress,” Harvey said. “It’s been definitely fun and I’ll keep working.”

Before Harvey left he was seemingly on cruise control, backed by an offensive onslaught in a 14-4 rout that also featured two homers from Lucas Duda, and one each from Asdrubal Cabrera, and Travis d’Arnaud among their 20 hits, including 14 for extra-bases.

“Don’t think for a second this guy won’t have a good year,” Collins said.

The outcome never seemed in doubt after Cespedes’ three-run homer in the first, but people hung around to see if he could make history by hitting four homers in a game, something no Met has done.

“I wasn’t trying to hit a home run,” Cespedes said through an interpreter. “I was really seeing the ball well tonight. I was just looking for a good pitch and making contact.”

Apparently, the game was a lot closer than the score indicated, as the Mets couldn’t find a way to get Michael Conforto into the game until the eighth inning as a defensive replacement.

EXTRA INNINGS: David Wright began throwing in Florida but a return date has not been determined. … Zack Wheeler will look to complete the sweep in his second start of the season Wednesday. … Cespedes’ first-inning homer was his 50th as a Met. … Jay Bruce added a two-run single. … Jose Reyes singled.

 

Apr 10

Bruce Red Hot; Value Enhanced

How can you not feel good for Jay Bruce? Booed by when he floundered last year following the trade that brought him from Cincinnati and into a pennant race, and whom GM Sandy Alderson desperately wanted to trade over the winter, has emerged as the Mets’ hottest hitter.

And, it isn’t close.

BRUCE: Sizzling (AP)

BRUCE: Sizzling (AP)

It started with three walks on Opening Day and continued Monday night in Philadelphia with a pair of homers in a 4-3 victory over the Phillies.

Bruce hit a solo drive off Phillies starter Jared Eickhoff to pull the Mets within 2-1 in the fourth, then put them ahead with a two-run drive off his image on the video board against reliever Joely Rodriguez.

“I think it is an approach,” was how Bruce explained his hot start to reporters. “I concentrate on being ready. Every day, I go into the game looking for the right pitches and taking a good swing.”

Bruce insisted he wasn’t daunted by the pressures of playing in New York when he struggled last summer, and that he didn’t want to leave his new team.

And, Alderson shouldn’t be in any hurry to deal Bruce, even if those teams that played hardball with him over the winter start calling him now.

It’s early, but Bruce leads the Mets with four homers and six RBI, and overall, they aren’t hitting, and in each of the last two seasons, they went into lengthy hitting droughts in the second half.

Quite simply, there will be a time this summer when the Mets have to count on Bruce carrying them the way he did the Reds for so many years.

Bruce, who has had 30-plus homers in four of his last six years, was moved to the clean-up slot to replace Curtis Granderson, and will likely remain there in the foreseeable future as the latter struggles.

Bruce, 30 is making $13.1 million this year, while the 36-year old Granderson is pulling in $15 million, which could give him a greater long-term value to the Mets.

Granderson has more of an immediate value to the Mets because he can play center field. However, that shouldn’t last too long because Juan Lagares will be coming off the disabled list shortly, at which time Michael Conforto will be shipped to Triple-A Las Vegas.

The Mets will need Bruce this year, and likely they’ll need him next year. I can’t see the Mets bringing back both Bruce and Granderson. If they don’t bring back either, having just Lagares and Conforto next season to complement Yoenis Cespedes probably won’t be good enough and the Mets could go shopping again in July.

Meanwhile, at 37 next season, the Mets could lowball Granderson and bring him back for less in 2018. However, they couldn’t pull that off with Bruce because after a good year, his free-agent market value would he higher than Granderson’s.

 

Sep 29

Phillies Want To Make Things Hard For Mets

For over a decade now, we’ve heard about the Mets’ rivalry with the Phillies. When Jimmy Rollins said his Phillies “were the team to beat,’’ and for a few years the Mets couldn’t.

The Mets won three of four last against Philly last weekend at Citi Field and were lucky to do so. Take away late home runs by Jose Reyes and Asdrubal Cabrera and last weekend would have been a split.

The Phillies have already beaten the Mets a half-dozen times this season, and twice lost to them by two runs or less. Obviously, the Phillies have played them tough and it will make their season to make things as difficult as possible for the Mets, if not keep them out of the playoffs entirely.

When you have an arch enemy, if you can’t win then you want anybody but your foe to win. The Phillies got off to a decent start this season – as high as six games over .500 on May 22 – but fell below .500 on June 1 and have remained under since.

It’s going to be awhile before the Phillies are considered good again, but when it comes to the Mets they can be regarded as competitive.

It has been thought by many 87 victories would be enough to get in as a wild-card, and as it turns out that could happen but the Mets must win twice.

If they don’t, it could get tight Sunday afternoon, and if the Phillies hate the Mets as we think they do, they want that more than anything.

Sep 26

Three Mets’ Storylines: Marlins Won Emotional Battle From Start

Unquestionably, the Miami Marlins played – and won – the emotional card Monday night in beating the Mets. The pre-game ceremonies honoring Jose Fernandez were touching and emotional; not a dry eye in the house.

The trumpet solo of “Take Me Out To The Ballgame,’’ was beyond belief. Who would have expected that? Then there was the emotional meeting of the Mets and Marlins at the pitcher’s mound, reminiscent of the night of Mike Piazza’s homer when the Mets and Braves embraced.

“This is bigger than baseball,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. “This kid touched a lot of people. They jumped on us early and took the air out of the balloon.”

CESPEDES AND GORDON EMBRACE (AP)

CESPEDES AND GORDON EMBRACE (AP)

While it had to be tough for them, the Mets’ players conducted themselves with class and dignity and understood the anguish of the Marlins and let them have their moment.

“This team is first class,” Collins said of his players. “Our organization is first class. … They respected the night.”

None of that can be planned. That has to come from the heart.

“There’s no script for this,” said Marlins manager Don Mattingly.

Dee Gordon immediately captured the hearts of the crowd by leading off the game with a home run. He first honored Fernandez by taking the pitcher’s right-handed stance and wearing his helmet. After one pitch, he switched to his normal left-handed stance and homered and broke down in tears when he reached the plate.

The game was emotionally over then, but the Marlins put a nice touch on the night when they circled the mound and left their caps on the rubber that was Fernandez’s domain.

Collins understood the emotion of the night, that didn’t but didn’t share the fans’ enthusiasm with the Marlins’ 7-3 victory.

“It’s hard,’’ Collins said. “It’s always for Jose, but I like to win. … I said yesterday I would be glad when this day is over, and I’m glad it is over.’’

Through it all, the Mets caught a break when Cincinnati routed the Cardinals in St. Louis.

Emotions, of course, was the main storyline. The others were Bartolo Colon’s short night and the Mets’ listless offense.

COLON DIDN’T HAVE IT: Colon flexed his legs that made us wonder if something is physically wrong with the Mets’ only remaining healthy pitcher.

Colon gave ups seven runs on eight hits in 2.1 innings. He hadn’t had a start this poor since only four innings, Aug. 15, in Arizona.

“He didn’t have his good stuff tonight,’’ Collins said, adding he hopes it is different Saturday in Philadelphia.

Collins thought something was wrong with Colon’s calf, but said the pitcher is fine.

THE OFFENSE DISAPPEARED: The Mets scored 44 runs in their four games against the Phillies, but came up empty tonight.

The Mets produced only seven hits against nine Marlins pitchers.

Jay Bruce started again and got another hit. Perhaps he’s turned it around.

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