Mar 08

Syndergaard’s Command Off; Bruce Homers In Win

They might have tuned in to see Tim Tebow, but the Mets most worth watching were Noah Syndergaard and Jay Bruce.

Making his second start of the spring, the Mets’ Opening Day starter again had command issues despite throwing 2.1 innings. Throwing mostly fastballs and change-ups, Syndergaard threw 47 pitches to get those seven outs – six pitches per out – which isn’t going to get it done on most days in the regular season.

BRUCE: Has big day. (AP)

BRUCE: Has big day. (AP)

Meanwhile, Bruce, the player Sandy Alderson most wants to trade, had a big day with a two-run homer, RBI double and run-saving diving catch in right field in Wednesday’s 8-7 victory over Boston.

Syndergaard didn’t give up any runs, but that wasn’t the story.

“I threw about 85 percent,” Syndergaard said. “I pulled it back a bit to work on my mechanics. I wanted to close my shoulder on my way to the plate.”

In the regular season, Syndergaard’s pitch count put him on pace to throw 4.2 innings, which is not what he has in mind.

Syndergaard said he gained 17 pounds of muscle in the offseason – disputed by manager Terry Collins – for the purpose of being strong enough to work longer in games. However, what Syndergaard doesn’t realize is what kept him from going deeper into games isn’t a matter of losing strength, but losing command and running up his pitch count.

Syndergaard touched 100 mph. several times and threw mostly in the high 90s – frankly, I don’t see where he dialed it back – but pitching isn’t about velocity. A pitcher relies on location, movement of his pitches and velocity, with velocity the least important.

METS NOVELTY: With the Mets sending a large contingent to the World Baseball Classic and playing a split-squad game, they were in need of bodies and that opened the way for Tebow’s chance to play – as a designated hitter.

Tebow struck out in his first at-bat on four pitches, grounded into a double play in his second to drive in a run and produce a standing ovation, and was hit by a pitch in his third.

Mar 07

D’Arnaud’s Start Good Sign

One of the Mets’ spring training concerns is off to a good start. You wouldn’t be wrong saying Travis d’Arnaud is facing a make-or-break season.

The combination of not performing – at the plate or behind it – and not being able to stay on the field has kept d’Arnaud from being the impact player they envision when they acquired him from Toronto in the R.A. Dickey trade. Believe it or not, there were some who rated d’Arnaud higher than Noah Syndergaard in that deal.

D'ARNAUD: Good start. (AP)

D’ARNAUD: Good start. (AP)

It’s been only 20 at-bats, but d’Arnaud is hitting .450 (9-for-20) with two homers and four RBI. His discipline is better, evidenced by a .450 on-base percentage.

It’s rather simple, d’Arnaud explained to reporters: After working with hitting coach Kevin Long this winter, d’Arnaud ditched his former stance in which he wrapped his bat around his head, he’s seeing the ball better.

Translation: Seeing the ball enables him to hit it.

“My results are more swinging at strikes and hitting the ball on the barrel,” d’Arnaud said. “For me, me it’s being able to see the ball longer and not have to cheat to get to some pitches and just keeping everything slow and not try to do too much.

“We made the swing so it’s more direct and I don’t have to overcommit.”

Even a fraction of a second would give d’Arnaud enough time to recognize and turn on a pitch. It’s the difference between driving a pitch and popping it up or missing it entirely.

For d’Arnaud, it could be the difference between a productive year in the major leagues, or not being there at all.

Feb 16

What’s The Hurry In Signing Walker?

What’s the hurry? That was the first impression after hearing the Mets and second baseman Neil Walker had preliminary discussions on a possible multi-year contract.

WALKER: No hurry? (AP)

WALKER: No hurry? (AP)

I hope those discussions entail waiting to see how Walker copes coming off surgery to repair a herniated disk in his back. After with what the Mets have gone through with David Wright, and his persistent pain and lack of playing time, why would they hurry into another long-term contract with a player coming off back surgery?

“We’ve had some discussions and nothing has come to fruition,” Walker told reporters in Port St. Lucie. “But for me, looking at this, there is no place I would want to be, and looking down the road at what is here and what the next [few] years look like, this is an exciting place to be as a big league ballplayer. I feel confident in my health, and they do, too.”

That’s all good, but there’s a difference between a one-year, $17.2 million qualifying offer and a reported three-year, $40-million contract.

Despite consecutive playoff appearances, the Mets remain a penny-pinching bunch. In addition to Wright’s deal, they are tied to a four-year, $110-million anchor with Yoenis Cespedes.

The Cespedes deal has been an obstacle in dealing either Jay Bruce ($13 million) or Curtis Granderson ($15 million), although both will be off the books after this season. They are also in the middle of a long-term contract with Juan Lagares, but he’s not even starting.

They are apparently in no rush to sign any of their pitchers to long-term contracts, which is just as well since four of them are coming off surgery. Even so, in two years they’ll have to deal with Matt Harvey’s free-agency. Then come the rest.

Make no mistake, Walker had a terrific year, batting .282 with 23 homers and 55 RBI, but he only played in 113 games, but said he was in persistent pain.

“I’d probably wake up every single morning and as soon as I’d throw my feet over the side of bed, I could tell whether it was going to be a good or bad day,’’ Walker said.

Even that, one would think the Mets would operate with some hesitancy in this case.

Feb 02

Mets’ D’Arnaud Down To Last Chance

One Met I’m hopeful for this season is catcher Travis d’Arnaud, who has to know he might be down to his last chance at becoming a starter. He hasn’t come close to reaching his potential – both at the plate and behind it – since coming over in the trade (along with Noah Syndergaard) that sent R.A. Dickey to Toronto.

D'ARNAUD:  Needs good year. (ESPN)

D’ARNAUD: Needs good year. (ESPN)

He has scary power when he connects – wasn’t he the guy who dented the home run apple? – but has been largely been inconsistent. But, I’m liking what I’m reading in The New York Post from Port St. Lucie.

D’Arnaud, who avoided arbitration by signing a one-year deal for $1.875 million, has been working hard with new coach Glenn Sherlock, and has come away with a new stance. Last year d’Arnaud wrapped the bat around his head which resulted in a longer and slower swing.

That’s gone now and the bat is on his shoulder pointing straight behind him instead of pointing at the pitcher. Sherlock is also working with d’Arnaud on quickening his throws to second base. Both are essential improvements for d’Arnaud, who hit only four homers with 15 RBI and threw out only 22 percent of potential baserunners.

“He was a huge help,” d’Arnaud told The New York Post about Sherlock. “For the team to bring him in shows they have my back and they want me to get better. So, it’s cool that he’s here.”

General manager Sandy Alderson said in addition to a shoulder injury, d’Arnaud’s confidence at the plate as impacted by his defensive problems:  “I just think there was a general loss of confidence that was reflected in his offense. It was reflected in his defense. I think that’s something that can be restored.”

Most importantly, d’Arnaud says he feels strong, which is important since injuries have limited to 250 games over the past three years. The Mets always believed keeping d’Arnaud on the field has always been the key to his production.

While the early reports have been encouraging, it’s still only February and d’Arnaud’s new stance and revised throwing mechanics haven’t been tested in a game.

The Mets have so many issues and questions going into spring training and d’Arnaud is certainly one of the most important. The Mets still have confidence in d’Arnaud – at least they have more in him than Kevin Plawecki – but after three years of little production, both parties have to realize this might be d’Arnaud’s last chance.

Nov 23

Alderson’s Dilemma: Cespedes Now Or Pitching Later?

The New York Post reported what I speculated for weeks, and that’s Yoenis Cespedes wanting a five-year contract. The dollar figure is north of $100 million, likely in the neighborhood of $120 million.

SYNDERGAARD: Paying him or Cespedes. (FOX)

SYNDERGAARD: Paying him or Cespedes. (FOX)

That’s a lot of money, and with his reputation of offensive inconsistency – too many strikeouts against his home runs and RBI – and on-again-off-again hustling, that’s too much.

Also, he showed signs of physically breaking down last year by playing in only 132 games. You might say 2016 was a fluke, but think about his durability four or five years from now.

That brings us to the five years, figuring the Mets could be paying Cespedes close to $30 million for the last two years when he’s 35 and 36 and possibly not playing in more than 100 games in those seasons.

Considering they’ll also be on the hook for the remainder of David Wright’s contract, not to mention any long-term deals they might have for their young pitching. What do you want in five years: a fading Cespedes or Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard or Steven Matz locked up? You can throw in Matt Harvey if you want, but I’m still banking on him bolting when he’s a free agent in two years.

That’s the dilemma GM Sandy Alderson is facing: Does he go in deep for Cespedes now or save it for those young, powerful arms?

Frankly, since there’s usually a bat or two in the free-agent market every winter, it’s really a no-brainer.

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