Jul 13

What Went Wrong For Mets In First Half

When a team is eight games below .500 and 12 games behind, there’s plenty of blame to go around. The following didn’t perform to expectations in the first half:

Noah Syndergaard: Reportedly showed up to spring training muscle-bound by 17 pounds because he erroneously believed it would help him last longer in games. The watershed moment for the Mets in the first half was when Syndergaard refused to take an MRI and subsequently partially tore his lat muscle pitching against Washington in late April. He has been on the disabled list since and is still at least two weeks from throwing. Reportedly, pitching coach Dan Warthen is considering initially using him in relief.

SYNDERGAARD: Downfall started with his injury. (AP)

SYNDERGAARD: Downfall started with his injury. (AP)

Matt Harvey: Went on the DL with a stress injury to his scapula. Could this be because he was overthrowing trying to build up his velocity? In spring training Warthen estimated Harvey wouldn’t be at full strength until late May or early June. Given that, he shouldn’t have been on the Opening Day roster. Harvey wasn’t pitching well, evidenced by a 5.25 ERA when he went on the DL. Compounding Harvey’s poor season was when he was suspended for a game because of an unexcused absence from a game prior to a start in May.

Yoenis Cespedes: He missed six weeks with a hamstring injury, likely caused by the Mets not initially putting him on the DL. He’s back but entered the All-Star break with no extrra-base hits in 11 straight games. Manager Terry Collins said Cespedes was playing at 75 percent.

Jose Reyes: Was hitting under .200 for much of the first half, but raised his average to .215 over the last three weeks. Reyes’ game is based on speed, but he lost his job based on a .284 on-base percentage. He has little trade value and certainly won’t be re-signed.

Asdrubal Cabrera: Has twice been on the disabled list. His range is reduced which prompted his move from shortstop to second base. He has been hitting better since demanding to be traded. Both him and Reyes will be expendable once Amed Rosario is brought up.

The bullpen: Where to begin? Familia’s suspension didn’t help. Then he had a blood clot in his shoulder that required surgery. There’s no timetable for his return, but if the Mets believe they’ll make a run they can’t afford to mess with Addison Reed in the closer role. … Fernando Salas, Neil Ramirez and Josh Edgin haven’t done the job. … Paul Sewald has run hot-and-cold.

Sandy Alderson: Is largely responsible for the decline in the pitching. He never constructed a productive bullpen, which was essential considering five starters were coming off surgery and would pitch deep into games.  Alderson also made mistakes with Syndergaard and Harvey. He should have insisted Syndergaard take the MRI and told him he wouldn’t pitch until he had done so. Regarding Harvey, when Warthen said it would take a couple of months before he was full strength, Alderson never should have had him on the Opening Day roster. … Alderson also made a mistake by not putting Cespedes on the DL when he was initially injured.

May 17

Alderson Must Take Responsibility Of Mets’ Pitching Collapse

Going against Zack Greinke, it was expected the Mets’ losing streak would reach six, and this morning the fingers would start being pointed.

ALDERSON: Faces a lot of questions. (AP)

ALDERSON: Faces a lot of questions. (AP)

What didn’t happen in the Mets’ 5-4 loss to Arizona was another bullpen meltdown. If you want to call it a moral victory, go for it. I looked for moral victories in the standings and the only thing I could were the regular ones, which have them six games under .500 and nine games behind Washington.

But, wasn’t this team supposed to be a World Series contender if not win the whole thing? They sure were, because many; including GM Sandy Alderson said the Mets possessed the game’s best pitching.

I never bought into that because it simply wasn’t true. How could it be if the vaunted five of Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler had never started a complete cycle in the rotation?

How could it be if there isn’t a 20-game winner among the group?

How could it be if they only have two with at least 30 victories (deGrom 32-23) and Harvey (31-31), with Syndergaard (24-18), Wheeler (20-18) and Matz (13-8) to follow? That’s not greatness, that’s potential.

How could it be, if four entered the season coming off significant surgery, and a fifth – Syndergaard – currently on the 60-day DL?

Wishful thinking is nice to have, but building on it is like a house of cards, capable of collapsing at the slightest nudge or breeze.

The Mets tried to build a group of back-ups, but Seth Lugo is on the DL, Robert Gsellman needs be optioned or sent to the bullpen to work on his mechanic, and Rafael Montero can’t find the plate.

New acquisition Tommy Milone was passable tonight, but you don’t win on passable. The best thing Milone did was work into the sixth, which was followed by Paul Sewald (1.1 innings), Fernando Salas (0.2 innings) and Jerry Blevins (0.1) not allowing a run.

The pen worked just 2.1 innings, but most nights it goes three or four, if not longer.

When fingers are pointed, they are initially directed at manager Terry Collins, but that’s too easy. It’s also too easy to blame pitching coach Dan Warthen. In finding out who is responsible for the Mets’ pitching problems, we must look at the nature of the injuries, and who acquiesced in the handling of Harvey and Syndergaard.

That would be general manager Sandy Alderson.

 

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.

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.

Sep 17

DeGrom Surgery Raises Old Injury Questions About Mets

Today’s news about Jacob deGrom needing season-ending elbow surgery was disappointing, but hardly surprising considering the Mets’ history with injuries. Sometimes, they mishandle things and other times they are struck down by bad luck.

This is a combination of both.

DE GROM: Out for year. (AP)

DE GROM: Out for year. (AP)

DeGrom has been out since Sept. 1 after experiencing elbow pain in a game against Miami, his third in a string of three poor starts in which he gave up a combined 16 runs on 31 hits in 14.2 innings. You’ll recall that was the game deGrom called for the trainer as he left the dugout for the clubhouse.

After that game, manager Terry Collins said he wasn’t aware of deGrom’s gesture. The pitcher said he felt fine, that he just wanted to talk with trainer Ray Ramirez and the problem was mechanical.

The injury was described the next day as inflammation in his right forearm and he was put on the disabled list.

The Mets seemed to push deGrom’s return in a way they might not have in May or June. He threw ten pitches off the mound last Saturday when the Mets were in Atlanta. DeGrom then had a 35-pitch bullpen Friday, after which Collins cleared him to start Sunday. That start will now be made by Gabriel Ynoa.

Normally, when a pitcher is on the disabled list with an elbow problem, it takes more than one bullpen session before he’s activated. There was immediate speculation the Mets were pushing deGrom. However, from the time of that session to GM Sandy Alderson’s announcement today deGrom would need surgery to repair the ulnar nerve in his pitching elbow, a lot of questions were raised.

In Collins’ pre-game press briefing prior to Friday’s game – probably an hour after deGrom threw – he said: “We think he’s ready. He looked great.”

Collins also said deGrom would have a pitch count of 75, and “our intentions are to build him back up a little bit.” Building deGrom back up indicates he wasn’t ready, which Alderson acknowledged this afternoon when he said: “[deGrom] threw a bullpen yesterday, felt great, went out to shag in the outfield, threw the ball and had some pain as a result. It is unlikely he will pitch the rest of the season.”

However, Collins said today: “I watched Jake’s bullpen yesterday and it was outstanding and 15 minutes after batting practice is over he walked and said, ‘I can’t pitch.’ We certainly have no plans to have him pitch in the near future.”

Collins’ comments indicate he knew deGrom felt pain before Friday’s game. Why then, did Collins make the announcement deGrom would start? If not before the game, then why not update deGrom’s injury status after the game? If nothing else, Collins could have said they were waiting until deGrom was re-examined Saturday. Doing so eliminates the bungling angle, which is frequently an issue with the Mets on an injury.

DeGrom told reporters today there is no ligament damage, but probably scar tissue build-up from his 2010 Tommy John surgery that was rubbing against the nerve.

“I just tried to lob it into the bucket, and I guess throwing that bullpen messed with that nerve,” deGrom said. “After I threw it I said, `OK, I’ve got to say something.’ One throw, that I felt it on, and it was definitely disappointing.”

If you give the Mets benefit of doubt on this, had deGrom not felt pain on the innocent toss from the outfield, perhaps he would have Sunday, or maybe in the playoffs. It’s even possible he might not have felt anything until spring training.

That this happened now could put a crimp in the Mets’ playoff push, could be looked at in a positive light because if deGrom immediately has surgery, he should be ready for spring training.

DeGrom said he’s had numbness in his ring and pinkie fingers for several weeks, but didn’t feel pain until the Sept. 1 start. DeGrom said the span of numbness ran five or six starts, but he decided to pitch through it. At the time, Collins attributed deGrom’s performance to being fatigued. Collins said nothing about numbness.

DeGrom was obviously not “fine” as he said after the Sept. 1 game. Was deGrom – who finishes the year 7-8 with a 3.04 ERA – totally upfront with Collins or Alderson about the numbness? I don’t know. If so, were the Mets assuming the DL stint was enough time for him to overcome it?

You also have to wonder if deGrom was not totally forthcoming, why didn’t he learn from watching what the Mets went through with Matt Harvey? Another idle thought is if what happened with deGrom will give the Mets pause in trying to rush back Steven Matz?

Enough things were done and said, and enough questions raised, to indicate this wasn’t handled well by a lot of parties.

Resiliency has been a Mets’ buzzword the past two years, and now they need to show that quality more than ever.

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