Jul 03

Player Mets Avoid Playing, Conforto, Is All-Star

The first thing I thought of when I heard Michael Conforto would be the Mets’ representative in the All-Star Game was: Isn’t this the guy they don’t want to play?

The guy GM Sandy Alderson didn’t want to bring up, and manager Terry Collins doesn’t want to start, will be in Miami next week, hopefully for the first of many All-Star appearances. And, hopefully, when he rejoins the Mets, Collins will find a place for him in his outfield.

CONFORTO: Player Mets don't want to play is All-Star?

CONFORTO: Player Mets don’t want to play is All-Star?

Perhaps the Mets will clear a spot for him by trading Curtis Granderson or Jay Bruce, but what they do this week in Washington and St. Louis will determine whether they are buyers or sellers.

Yoenis Cespedes, foolishly re-signed by Alderson, has a no-trade clause in his four-year, $110-million contract so he isn’t going anywhere.

Conforto began the season coming off the bench, primarily as a pinch-hitter, but moved into the starting lineup when Cespedes was injured (his injury history, along with his salary and the Mets’ other needs are why I didn’t want him back).

Conforto started hitting the way he did at the end of the 2015 season and in April of 2016 before he tailed). At the time, Collins proclaimed him as the Mets’ No. 3 hitter of the future. He dropped off again this season, then sustained a bruise bone when he was struck by a pitch last week in San Francisco.

“I really didn’t think back to that,’’ Conforto told reporters of his role coming out of spring training. “Really, what I thought back to was the hard work that I’ve put in this offseason and in spring training. I always had a feeling that even if I didn’t start with the team, I knew I was going to make an impact at some point.’’

Conforto is hitting .285 with a .405 on-base percentage and .356 with 26 RBI with runners in scoring position.

“Obviously, last year was a learning experience for me and something I had to go through,’’ Conforto said. “I look at it as part of my journey. … You have to let it fuel your fire, which is definitely something it did for me.’’

 

Jun 29

Mets Wrap: Bruce, Lugo Beat Fish To Salvage Trip

The way things started on this road trip by being pummeled four straight in Los Angeles, the Mets stared at the end of their season.

However, after Seth Lugo and Jay Bruce combined to beat the Marlins, 6-3, tonight they have now won five of their last six games. They are still miles behind the Nationals, but went from ten games under .500 after the Dodgers’ series to six games under heading into a three-game series against Philadelphia tomorrow at home.

BRUCE: Sizzling (AP)

BRUCE: Sizzling (AP)

Should they sweep the Phillies, entering the All-Star break at .500 is possible. That’s something most of us couldn’t imagine a few weeks ago.

“I thought we played very well [following the series in Los Angeles],’’ manager Terry Collins said. “It showed we won’t back down. … We have to continue to play well. We have to continue to pitch. If we keep pitching it could be an exciting second half.’’

Bruce wasn’t biting on the notion the Mets turned their season around. He was being a realist.

“We still have a lot of work to do,’’ Bruce said. “We have to play great baseball. We have to be consistent with our approach and mindset. We know the talent that we have, and we know what we have to do.’’

The Mets close the first half with three games each in Washington and St. Louis, two clubs that traditionally have bullied them.

On the positive, the Nationals bullpen is suspect after blowing another ninth-inning lead against the Cubs and losing Trea Turner indefinitely with a broken wrist. The Cardinals have been inconsistent this year, but have won four of their last five games to pull within 3.5 games of Milwaukee.

The Mets open the second half with a ten-game homestand against the suddenly slumping Rockies, Cardinals and Oakland. They close the month with four games at San Diego and three in Seattle.

BRUCE MERITS ALL-STAR CONSIDERATION: Bruce is ranked 13th in the fan voting for National League outfielders, but his statistics dictate he should be much higher and deserves a spot on the All-Star team.

Wouldn’t that be wild? The player Sandy Alderson was practically begging teams to take him off his hands could represent the Mets in Miami.

Bruce was a force in the Mets’ victory over the Marlins tonight going 2-for-3 with two RBI (he has 54) and two runs scored. Overall, he’s hitting .270 with 20 homers (tied for third).

Quite simply, Bruce is playing the way the Mets envisioned when they traded for him last year at the deadline. Bruce pressed trying to make a good impression, but had a strong last two weeks in helping the Mets clinch a wild card.

The Mets re-signed him as a hedge to losing Yoenis Cespedes, but after they extended the latter, they made it clear they wanted to trade Bruce.

However, Alderson’s public desire to trade Bruce lessened his value and he opened the season as the starting right fielder.

With injuries to Cespedes, David Wright, Asdrubal Cabrera and Neil Walker, Bruce literally carried the Mets in the first half. While the Mets floundered for much of June, Bruce hit .299 with eight homers and 17 RBI and a .346 on-base percentage and .934 OPS.

Bruce could go based on every team needing one representative. However, based on that premise, tomorrow’s starter, Jacob deGrom (7-3) might go.

DeGrom has been lights out in winning his last three starts – going at least eight innings in each – following those two dreadful games in which he gave up 15 runs. During his winning streak he’s given up just three runs over 25 innings.

LUGO TREMENDOUS: You wouldn’t expect Seth Lugo to be listed with Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman, but he joined those two pitching icons by winning his sixth straight road decision.

For his second straight start, Lugo struggled in the sixth, but he made it out of the inning to close his line at three runs on six hits and importantly, only one walk.

“I think everything was there,’’ Lugo said. “What I’d like to improve on is going deeper into games.’’

Jun 19

Rivera And Flores Need To Play Fulltime

I don’t care where they play him, but T.J. Rivera needs to start every day. The same goes for Wilmer Flores. It doesn’t matter that neither fit into the Mets’ long-term plans heading into the season.

Manager Terry Collins said “those who hit will play,’’ and both are hitting and deserve to start, and the struggling Mets need to put their best offensive foot forward, especially against Clayton Kershaw.

RIVERA: Needs to play. (AP)

RIVERA: Needs to play. (AP)

Rivera, who had a career-high four hits Sunday, is batting second – between Michael Conforto and Yoenis Cespedes – which theoretically should provide RBI opportunities for Cespedes and Jay Bruce.

Rivera is hitting .474 (9-for-19) since being recalled last Tuesday. The minor league batting champion hit .333 in 105 at-bats for the Mets last season and is hitting .289 this year in 117 at-bats.

That’s worthy of the chance to play full time.

“Right now, he’s one of the keys,’’ Collins said. “You got to put him in the lineup. This guy’s gonna get hits.’’

Rivera played first when he was with the Mets earlier this season when Lucas Duda was injured. He’s at third tonight.

“I just try to keep a positive mentality no matter what happens, whether it’s being sent down or not playing that day,’’ Rivera said. “I’m always looking forward to an opportunity to play. It’s not easier, but you get a little more comfortable in your at-bats, you see more [pitching] and it’s easier to react to things. The opportunity’s nice, and I’m just trying to help contribute in any way possible.’’

With Rivera at third, Flores is at first. Flores is the Mets’ leading hitter against Kershaw going 3-for-9 while Duda (1-for-11) is on the bench.

The rap on Flores has been his defense, but that’s mostly based on his play at shortstop. He’s had some yips at third, but he’s played generally well at first and hasn’t been too bad at second.

However, his best position is batter, where he’s hitting .296, with six homers and 20 RBI. He’s a lifetime .396 hitter (21-for-53) against the Dodgers. In 39 games since May 1, Flores is batting .331 (42-for-127), with eight doubles, four homers and 17 RBI.

When Cespedes was down, Flores has been the Mets’ best right-handed hitting threat.

When Asdrubal Cabrera and Neil Walker get off the disabled list, somebody’s at-bats will dwindle, but whatever Collins does he needs to find at-bats for Rivera and Flores.

If they’re still hitting, Collins would be putting his best team on the field.

Here’s the rest of the lineup for tonight:

Conforto – CF

Rivera – 3B

Céspedes – LF

Bruce – RF

Flores – 1B

Travis d’Arnaud – C

Jose Reyes – SS

Gavin Cecchini – 2B

Zack Wheeler – RHP

 

Jun 18

DeGrom Carries Mets Again

With his father and son watching, Jacob deGrom had one of those dream games when he smacked his first career home run and dominated the Washington Nationals. The win prevented the Mets from being swept and temporarily stopped what could be a free fall.

Whether competing for a pennant, a wild card, or just trying to reach .500, a team needs a stud pitcher.

DEGROM: Hits and pitches Mets to win. (AP)

DEGROM: Hits and pitches Mets to win. (AP)

Sandy Koufax once told me that if you’re going to win you need a pitcher who is 12 games over .500,’’ manager Terry Collins said. “You have to have that kind of guy. Jake is here to win.”

DeGrom has pitched back-to-back stellar starts after back-to-back stinkers in which he gave up 15 runs. DeGrom followed up his complete-game against the Cubs by going eight innings today, giving up one run on three hits with two walks and six strikeouts.

He’s given up one earned run in 17 innings after solving his mechanical issue of flying open and throwing across his body.

“I was able to keep my front side close,’’ was how deGrom explained what’s been working for him. “I was able to locate [my change-up] on both sides of the plate.’’

At 6-3, I don’t know if deGrom will finish 12 games over .500, but he’s pitching like an ace. Some pitchers when they struggle can’t turn it around, but deGrom seemingly has fixed his problems.

That’s what aces do.

With the Mets heading on a brutal trip to Los Angeles (four games), San Francisco (three) and Miami (three) represent ten games that could define their season.

DeGrom’s win comes before the Mets face Clayton Kershaw Monday to start a four-game series against the Dodgers. This has the potential to be an ugly week, and stopping losing streaks is also the definition of an ace.

CESPEDES RESTS: Twice Saturday Yoenis Cespedes legged out infield hits and went from first to third on singles. He also scored on a sacrifice fly and made running catch down the line on a fly ball. That proves his hamstring didn’t bother him yesterday, but it’s the day after that is important.

“I’m more concerned with fatigue and some of the other things that have happened in the past,’’ Collins said.

When they brought Cespedes off the disabled list, they did so with a plan. And, for once they stuck with their plan.

Too many times the Mets abandoned a plan with a player and he later was reinjured.

A struggling team like the Mets needs all the help it can get, but they did the right thing this time.

A SPOT FOR REYES: With Asdrubal Cabrera expected off the disabled list shortly, we’ll be seeing less and less of Jose Reyes at shortstop. And, as long as T.J. Rivera keeps hitting – four more hits today – he should play third base – or someplace, every day.

“He keeps getting hits,’’ Collins said. “He has to play.’’

Conversely, Reyes went 0-for-5 today to see his batting average drop to .193 and his on-base percentage to .269.

For now, Wilmer Flores must stay at second and Rivera on third. So, when Cabrera returns, Reyes has to go to the bench.

EXTRA INNINGS: With a ninth-inning double, Daniel Murphy has reached base in each of the 29 games he’s played against his former team. Murphy is batting .391 with ten doubles, eight homers and 29 RBI vs. Mets. … With the win the Mets are now 1-6 vs. Washington at Citi Field. …  Michael Conforto showed breakout signs with two hits and two RBI.

UP NEXT: The Mets begin a season-defining stretch of playing 16 of their next 19 games on the road tomorrow night in Los Angeles when Zack Wheeler starts against Kershaw.

Jun 02

Mets Wrap: Harvey Doesn’t Have It

After a rough start, the Mets’ Matt Harvey struck out five of six hitters to provide the illusion he might have turned things around. However, that stretch became the illusion to give credence to speculation his last start was more smoke than substance, if not a fluke.

It’s hard to believe Harvey’s 31-pitch first inning was his high point as he ended up giving up six runs on five hits and four walks in five innings in taking the loss in losing to Pittsburgh, 12-7, tonight at Citi Field.

HARVEY: Didn't have it. (AP)

HARVEY: Didn’t have it. (AP)

Once again, it was Harvey’s inability to locate his fastball and command his secondary pitches. In short, nothing worked for Harvey, now 4-3 with a 5.43 ERA.

“Last week he was so good,” said manager Terry Collins said. “There are times when you have to battle through it.”

Coming off thoracic outlet surgery, pitching coach Dan Warthen said it wouldn’t be until mid-June at the earliest that Harvey would regain his velocity. Well, he’s topped out at 97 several times but was consistently in the low 90s tonight.

`My location wasn’t there,” Harvey said. “When you score seven runs you should win the game. … My location was off. I felt good (physically), but the location was off.”

However, regaining his pinpoint command has been another issue. It was clear in the first his command was off by the high pitch count, and further underscored by a leadoff walk and three runs given up in the fourth.

After Lucas Duda’s homer gave the Mets a lead for a second time, Harvey helped give it back again with a leadoff homer by Josh Bell and walk to Andrew McCutcheon in the sixth.

Why Collins let Harvey come out for the sixth is beyond me.

BULLPEN LOSES IT IN SIXTH: It’s hard to figure out what Collins was thinking as he left Paul Sewald in to struggle in the sixth inning as he retired only one of the eight hitters he faced.

Sewald gave up a single, two-run homer, infield hit, RBI double, single, hit a batter and issued a bases loaded walk.

Yeah, I know the Mets are short-handed in the bullpen, but one would think sometime before the walk to Bell to force in a run a light-bulb would have gone on in Collins’ head telling him Sewald didn’t have it tonight and short-handed or not, the Mets still had a game to win.

The Mets lead 7-5 going into the inning and trailed 11-7 when it was over.

Sewald should have been pulled after Elias Diaz’s homer (he drove in three with a bases-loaded double in the fourth off Harvey).

“It was one of those nights,” Sewald said. “I didn’t have my best stuff. I didn’t have my best fastball. I was struggling to get people out.”

Yeah, I get it, Collins doesn’t have many reliable relievers in the bullpen. Sewald was one of them before tonight.

“We were short tonight in the pen,” Collins said. “We didn’t want to burn too many guys in the pen. … He’s got to get us through the inning and he couldn’t do it.”

Now what?

If Collins doesn’t trust his relievers, then they shouldn’t be on the team, and that’s on GM Sandy Alderson.

DUDA’S POWER WASTED: Duda homered twice against Pirates starter Gerrit Cole giving him ten for the season.

Duda has been sizzling with six homers in his last eight games.

Too bad it was wasted.