Apr 02

Injuries Solidify Mets’ Opening Day Roster

It would have been great had Michael Conforto made the Mets’ Opening Day roster as a starter. That was the case last season, but a blistering April quickly sputtered and for much of the season he rode the Las Vegas shuttle and bench.

The Conforto whom manager Terry Collins said last April when the left fielder was hitting well over .330 was going to the Mets’ “No. 3 hitter of the future,” appeared to open the season in the minors this winter after Yoenis Cespedes was brought back and they were unable to trade Jay Bruce.

CONFORTO: How will they give him ABs? (Getty)

CONFORTO: How will they give him ABs? (Getty)

However, when Juan Lagares – the Mets’ only natural center fielder – strained his oblique that meant Conforto would need to stick.

“I feel good. Confident,” Conforto told reporters. “It’s a different role for me starting the year, but I feel great. I’m excited about the opportunity to just get in there and hopefully influence some games late and give some guys rest and do what I can to help the team win.”

Conforto always says the right things, so won’t say what should be said. Conforto needs to play and get regular at-bats. He needs more than one token AB at the end of a game he entered as a defensive replacement.

Hopefully, Collins will come up with a rotation with Conforto, Bruce, Curtis Granderson, and yes, Cespedes. Even if the Mets plan to option Conforto when Lagares is ready is a few weeks, I hope he won’t fly to Vegas with only six or seven at-bats on his stat sheet.

An injury also cleared the way for Rafael Montero to make the Opening Day roster over Seth Lugo, and prompt one wonder whether the World Baseball Classic was the factor. Lugo, who pitched superbly for Puerto Rico in the WBC, has struggled with fatigue and soreness in his arm and then conceded he pushed himself too hard to win a spot on the staff.

Maybe none of that happens if there was no WBC this year.

I understand players want to compete for their country, but their first obligation should be to the teams that are the source of their livelihood.

The key is for the Mets to give him the time he needs to heal and regain his strength, and for Lugo to not be thinking he needs to get back to the majors right away because it is a long season.

Mar 24

Gsellman Frontrunner For No. 5 Starter

While there’s nothing official, it’s probably safe to assume the Mets will name Robert Gsellman their fifth starter.

There’s not much to debate after Gsellman gave up one unearned run in Thursday’s shutout loss to Washington. Gsellman reported to spring training to compete with Seth Lugo and Zack Wheeler for the No. 5, and he’s lived up to expectations with a 1.56 ERA, but in only 17.1 innings.

As for Wheeler, he hasn’t helped himself with an 8.59 ERA in three games. He certainly hasn’t worked enough to be stretched out for a rotation spot, and considering his lack of experience in the role, the Mets are reluctant to work him out of the bullpen despite their need.

However, Lugo, who pitched well for Puerto Rico in the WBC – save the championship game against the United States – does have a bullpen background and the Mets envision working in as a reliever in the middle innings.

The need for Lugo in the bullpen coupled with Wheeler’s problems forces Gsellman to the front of the line.

“I have no idea until they tell me,” Gsellman told reporters Thursday about a possible rotation spot. “So we’ll wait and see. I don’t really think about that. I just try to go out and get the job done.”

Gsellman will get one more start to cement his spot in the rotation, and it’s possible – but a likely long shot if the Mets hold to form – both he and Lugo could go in the rotation – if Matt Harvey continues to spit the bit in his final spring start.

 

Feb 08

Mets Send Huge Contingent To WBC

As they always do, the Mets will send a large group to the World Baseball Classic. The marquee names going will be Jose Reyes and Jeurys Familia, both of whom nraised interesting questions. I understand the pull for representing one’s country or heritage, but what about the significance of getting ready to play for the team that pays you?

First, look at Reyes. The Mets are talking about him being a super sub, capable of playing every infield position save first base and even seeing time in center field. Reyes will play for the Dominican Republic, traditionally a very strong team, and if they reach the finals the Mets might not have him back until March 22. That’s not giving Terry Collins a lot of time to see Reyes at second or center. Doesn’t Reyes owe some loyalty to the Mets who signed him – after a suspension for domestic abuse – when nobody else would?

As for Familia, his likely suspension will come down during spring training. How he’ll be used by the Dominican Republic remains to be seen, but I would think the Mets would like to see Familia pitch in save situations before possibly losing him for up to 30 games if not more.

Personally, I think he owes it to the Mets,

Also participating in the World Baseball Classic are Seth Lugo, Gavin Cecchini, Brandon Nimmo, Hansel Robles, Ty Kelly, Rene Rivera and T.J. Rivera, all of whom have compelling reasons to be in camp instead of getting perhaps sparse playing time in the WBC.

Lugo, who distinguished himself last year in a starting role, could be used as a fifth starter or out of the bullpen. If it’s the latter, pitching coach Dan Warthen would like to see it. With Familia expected to be suspended, it could mean an expanded role for Robles. Warthen would probably like to see that, too. Warthen would also probably like to see Rene Rivera work with the rotation.

Cecchini, Nimmo, Kelly and T.J. Rivera are all competing for spots on the bench. They arguably could get more playing time in spring training for the Mets than for Teams Italy, Puerto Rico and Isreal in the WBC.

The World Baseball Classic isn’t going anywhere, and the Mets have always been big supporters, but eventually they have to stress to their players they have obligations to them, also.

Neither Collins nor GM Sandy Alderson would say this, but I wonder what they are truly thinking.

Mar 16

Former Met Nelson Figueroa Is The Essence Of Baseball

I always regarded the WBC as Dancing With The Stars with spikes. It’s a manufactured competition, but with its roots in nationalism.

However, last night’s USA-Puerto Rico elimination was compelling, far more interesting than your average Mets-Marlins spring training game. That interest was generated by the passion in the stands. The WBC means more in terms of national pride to the teams and fans in Asia and Latin America than to the United States.

FIGUEROA: Remembrer him?

FIGUEROA: Remembrer him?

Puerto Rico is now in the international sports spotlight. The American players who are always in the spotlight can now return to their major league teams and big contracts.

Nationalism represented some of the motivational fuel for Nelson Figueroa, a journeyman pitcher who has toiled for six teams in parts of nine years – including the Mets – but pitched like a star last night in sending the United States home for the third straight time.

Figueroa was special, doing what he used to do at times with the Mets, which was burn innings. But, last nigh he gave Puerto Rico six shutout innings in his 80-pitch allotment. Working both sides of the plate effectively with everything but an electric fastball, he gave US hitters nothing to hit.

Putting on a show was the rest of his motivational fuel.

Figueroa told reporters. “It was motivation to show them what kind of pitcher I was.’’

Maybe he showed what kind of pitcher he can be to somebody with the power to make a decision on his career as so many other have done.

Figueroa was signed by Arizona to a minor league contract as organizational depth in December. If Figueroa were higher on the pitching food chain, but not good enough to be a given, he might have been better off in spring training.

However, in this case, showing what he could do against major league hitters should count for more points than a couple of innings against the Dodgers minor leaguers.

Sometime this year, the Diamondbacks or somebody else, will have a sudden need for an arm and think back at how Figueroa toyed with the US lineup.

Figueroa is not flashy. He does not have a great fastball or singular dominant pitch. What he has is command of the corners and guile. When both are on he’s tough to beat.

“I don’t throw very hard, but I pitch inside,’’ Figueroa said, giving us his personal scouting report. “It was a great exhibition of what can be done without a plus fastball. It was an opportunity to demonstrate that good pitching beats good hitting.’’

That’s the way it always has been and always will be. From a fundamental perspective, that’s baseball’s essence. From a human perspective, Figueroa is also the essence of the sport.

History has given us far more Figueroas in the game than Matt Harveys or Stephen Strasburgs. Harvey and Strasburg have power potential and will always get a shot. Things must break right for Figueroa to get his.

Figueroa has bounced around the globe in search of a job, last pitching in the major leagues with Houston in 2011. He’s been with the Phillies. Toronto and the Yankees released him without his cup of coffee. He has pitched in the winter leagues, for Mexico, for just about anybody who would give him the ball and a few dollars.

Figueroa pitches because that’s what he does. The sport is in his blood, rushing through his veins and consuming his soul. Until he’s physically unable, or run out of teams, Figueroa will pitch. It is players like him, perhaps even more than players like Justin Verlander, as the reason we watch.

Verlander is elite. Figueroa is more like us, who once dreamed of the big leagues. However, unlike us, he persevered through rough times, rejection and defeat to get the taste we will never.

Nov 11

Beltran willing to move to right

One of Sandy Alderson’s objectives is to convince Carlos Beltran to accept a move to right field and it looks as if that might happen.

In a conference call Thursday, Beltran said he would be open to moving to right field and waiving his no-trade clause.

BELTRAN: Open to move and trade

“I still feel that I can play center field,’’ Beltran said. “But, if the organization has different things in mind, then we have to talk about it.’’

Beltran wants to finish his career with the Mets, but is aware the club would like to shed his $18.5 million salary.

“If the organization is looking at different options, I have to be aware,’’ Beltran said. “So if a situation comes between them and us, we’re going to handle it in a very professional way.’’

The talking could start Saturday when Alderson travels to Puerto Rico for Beltran’s fundraiser for the construction of his baseball academy.

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