Mar 29

Days Dwindling For Mets; Questions Aren’t

The Mets have two games remaining in spring training, and if they don’t know what they have by now they never will.

They break camp today after playing St. Louis, then bus over to the bay side of the state to play the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday. Next will be Opening Day Monday afternoon against San Diego, while at the same time, in a display of scheduling genius by Major League Baseball, across town the Yankees will play the Red Sox.

COLLINS: No shortage of concerns.

COLLINS: No shortage of concerns.

The Mets have a myriad of remaining questions that won’t be answered in the next 18 innings. That’s not to say there aren’t a few things manager Terry Collins would like to see, most of them health related.

Daniel Murphy and David Wright have missed time with strained intercostal muscles. Murphy played yesterday against Washington in a major league game and Wright hopes to play today and tomorrow in major league games.

Both players say they are ready, but also said the gamble of playing in a major league game instead of a minor league game was worth taking because the speed and pace is closer to that of the regular season. If they are injured and have to go on the disabled list instead of being backdated deeper into spring training, then so be it.

Murphy goes into the season with a handful of at-bats, while Wright had the World Baseball Classic. Even so, neither will face the Padres in a groove.

Assuming Wright and Murphy are sound, the lone position to be determined is center field, with Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Jordany Valdespin the two contenders.

Nieuwenhuis entered spring training penciled in to start in center along side Lucas Duda in left and Mike Baxter in right, and was given first chance at the leadoff spot.

After a miserable start, Nieuwenhuis bruised his left knee and Valdespin emerged as a starting candidate in center – competing with Collin Cowgill – or at second with Murphy hurt.

As of yesterday, Collins said center field was up in the air, but wanted Nieuwenhuis to get at-bats, which presumably means the Mets want him to win the job.

Figuring seven or eight at-bats in the next games, that’s not enough for Nieuwenhuis to get in a groove, but it will have to do. Presumably, if Nieuwenhuis starts over Valdespin he would hit leadoff.

Pitching wise, Johan Santana wasn’t going to be an issue, but now the Mets can place him on the 60-day disabled list that would open up a spot on the 40-man roster. Call it Santana’s last contribution to the Mets, because with a re-tear of his anterior shoulder capsule, his career is likely over.

Jeremy Hefner will take his spot in the rotation, but took a ball off his right elbow Tuesday and Collins wants to give him a couple of innings to see how he feels. Hefner is scheduled the fourth game of the season, Friday against Miami at Citi Field.

The Mets still don’t know when Shaun Marcum can pitch, and could go with Aaron Laffey instead.

Even with Santana’s career-threatening injury, the Mets are adamant about not bringing up Zack Wheeler.

 

Mar 28

Mets Have More Questions Than Days Left Before Opening Day

With four days until Opening Day, most teams have their rosters, rotation and batting order set. The Mets are not most teams.

Their three remaining exhibition games will do little to answer questions for manager Terry Collins, who undoubtedly won’t be satisfied with what he sees Monday and will be mixing and matching for weeks.

The Mets think David Wright and Daniel Murphy will be ready, this after serious doubts just days ago. How things can change so quickly is puzzling.

Also, head scratching is the decision today to play Murphy at second against Washington in his first major league game of the spring. If something happens, it will be at least two weeks on the disabled list. If they play him in a minor league game, like they are with Wright, if he were re-injured they could backdate his time on the disabled list.

If this is about facing major league pitching, why against left-hander Gio Gonzalez?

This is asking for trouble.

The original plan was to replace Wright with Justin Turner, but he has a strained left calf – could it be residual from his sprained ankle? – and seems headed for the disabled list.

With their infield concerns, conventional thinking had Omar Quintanilla making the 25-man roster as a reserve, including backup to shortstop Ruben Tejada. This idea was heightened when Brandon Hicks was optioned.

The Mets also have concern with their defense in center field. Matt den Dekker is out with a broken wrist, so they are again considering Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who entered spring training penciled in as the leadoff hitter playing center field. However, he missed most of spring training with a bruised left knee. When Nieuwenhuis wasn’t taking treatment, he was mostly striking out (11 times) in his 26 at-bats (with only two hits). Those numbers will preclude Nieuwenhuis leading off should he make the team.

What is apparent is Jordany Valdespin, who leads the Mets with 21 hits, will make the team. But, where will he play if Nieuwenhuis and Murphy are both on the Opening Day roster? It should be center, but do they really want to put Nieuwenhuis on the bench for late-inning defense when he’s hit so poorly and should be getting at-bats on the minor league level?

The batting order is also unsettled.

Valdespin, by virtue of his hot spring, should bat leadoff, and if he’s ready, Murphy would likely hit second. With the way Tejada is hitting – .080 with just four hits – there’s no way he should be at the top of the order. Put him eighth.

If Wright is ready he will bat third, followed by Ike Davis, perhaps catcher John Buck or right fielder Marlon Byrd and then left fielder Lucas Duda, who has 16 strikeouts. Assuming Wright does not play, Byrd could bat third.

Collins wants to separate lefty strikeout machines Davis and Duda. Collins could sandwich both Byrd and Buck ahead of Duda, but that would leave him at the bottom of the order with Tejada and the pitcher.

Neither scenario is appealing.

The rotation would open with Jon Niese, Matt Harvey and Dillon Gee. Jeremy Hefner would get the fourth start and if Shaun Marcum’s neck injury isn’t better, they would bring back Niese. If Marcum goes on the disabled list as expected, it would enable Collins to carry an extra reliever, presumably Jeurys Familia.

The Mets will open with Johan Santana, Jenrry Mejia and Frank Francisco on the disabled list. Marcum could be another, and regardless of their optimism, Wright and Murphy remain possibilities.

Four days, but a lot more questions.

Mar 27

Opening Day Prospects Improve For Wright And Murphy

After repeatedly expressing doubt recently David Wright and Daniel Murphy will in the Opening Day lineup, the Mets changed course today and indicated otherwise.

Murphy, speaking on WFAN, said he expects to play. Manager Terry Collins said Murphy could play in a major league exhibition game tomorrow, which represents a huge mistake if he were injured and had to go on the disabled list.

WRIGHT: News getting better.

WRIGHT: News getting better.

If went on the DL now, he would miss five or six games because the assignment would be backdated into spring training; if he goes on the DL after playing in a major league game he would miss a minimum of two weeks.

The same applies to Wright, who will play in a minor league game tomorrow. Obviously, the Mets want to have some good news going into Monday’s Opening Day game against San Diego at Citi Field, but this seems pushing too much.

While they could still make it without playing in major league exhibition games now, this is simply not a risk worth taking.

SANTANA DL UPDATE: Johan Santana will be on the disabled list to start the season, but despite the possibility of missing up to two months, he will not go on the 60-day disabled list.

When Santana goes on the disabled list it will be retroactive into spring training and he would miss a week. Although it is expected he will be out longer, going on the 60-day disabled list means exactly what it says and he wouldn’t be available until June.

It makes no sense to guarantee him being out two months if that isn’t certain.

Placing Santana on the 60-day disabled list would open up a spot on the 40-man roster, which will be needed to accommodate LaTroy Hawkins, Scott Atchison, Marlon Byrd, Aaron Laffey and Omar Quintanilla.

However, the Mets will be listening to trade proposals for some of their minor leaguers. They might also re-assign several players to make room.

HEFNER UPDATE: Jeremy Hefner was struck on his elbow yesterday, but said he hopes to make his start in the rotation.

It hasn’t been decided if Hefner, penciled in as the fifth starter with Santana down, will start the fifth game of the season, or if the Mets will go twice with Jon Niese before going to Hefner.

Laffey could be brought up if Shaun Marcum, who has a pinched nerve in his neck, isn’t available to start the second game of the season.

FELICIANO ACCEPTS ASSIGNMENT: Calling the Mets “home,’’ lefty reliever Pedro Feliciano accepted a minor league assignment over free agency.

His reasoning is three-fold: 1) there’s a familiarity between Feliciano and the Mets, 2) there’s a greater probability of getting back to the majors with the Mets, and 3) a minor-league salary is better than nothing.

Mar 27

Don’t Force Wheeler Because Of Marcum

There are two no-brainers in place for the Mets with their latest injury news.

The first was the slam-dunk Shaun Marcum would be injured. The surprise was it happened before the team broke camp, but considering the shape he reported in, well, maybe not so much.

WHEELER: Not ready.

WHEELER: Not ready.

The second is the inevitable early clamor for the Mets to promote prospect Zack Wheeler, which should be an emphatic NO WAY.

Manager Terry Collins told reporters today in Port St. Lucie, but he has a few more days to mull it over in his mind, especially throwing Johan Santana’s name on the soon-to-be-DL list.

“There’s a reason why we sent him out,’’ Collins said. “He needs to face hitters in Triple-A.’’

Although Wheeler was impressive in his first appearance since straining his oblique muscle, too much can’t be read into that because he wasn’t facing major league hitters.

The send-off the Mets gave Wheeler was to work on his command, especially lower in the strike zone and on the corners. That includes both his fastball and breaking pitches.

GM Sandy Alderson was adamant at the start of spring training of putting Wheeler, “in a chance where he has a chance to be successful,’’ but said he’s not there, yet.

Alderson wouldn’t identify a concrete timetable, and some of it pertains to the free agent and Super Two issues. Based on service time within the first 20 days of the regular season, Wheeler would become a free agent after the 2018 season instead to 2019, and be eligible for an extra year (four instead of three) in salary arbitration.

An example of a Super Two player is the Phillies Cole Hamels, but it should be remembered he was first played in that status in 2009, the year Philadelphia went to the World Series. At last check, the Mets haven’t been over .500 since that year.

People accuse the Mets of being cheap off the time, but this is more a prudent option and an accountant’s decision. However, Alderson said if there’s a need for a player such as Wheeler or catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud they would be promoted regardless.

If Marcum isn’t ready for the season – it seems doubtful he will make Thursday’s start – the Mets will likely place him on the disabled list. It would be foolish to wait to see if he’ll be ready for the season’s second start, or even worse to push him back in the rotation.

Under those scenarios, if Marcum pitched and was re-injured, he would go on the disabled list backdated to the time of that injury and be out two-weeks. If not, he would be backdated into spring training and miss time.

Marcum sustained a pinched nerve in his neck sustained throwing in the bullpen Monday. Marcum has only broken 200 innings once during his career, and only had 124 last year.

Mar 26

Mets’ Jenrry Mejia Shutdown With Elbow Inflamation

Jenrry Mejia

According to Jorge Castillo of The Star LedgerJenrry Mejia, who has not pitched since March 11 due to what the Mets first labeled forearm tendinitis, has been shutdown for at least six weeks due to inflammation in his elbow.

“I feel a little pain, not much,” Mejia said in Spanish. “But sometimes a little pain turns into a lot so you don’t want to force anything. It’s better to not force anything to get ready and finish the season healthy.”

Mejia said he will not throw for another two weeks, after which he will start a four-week throwing program with the end goal of making his season debut.

“I feel good knowing what I have because I was wondering,” Mejia said.

In two starts this spring, Mejia allowed five runs, four earned, in just two innings pitched. Mejia tore the mediate collateral ligament in his right elbow in May 2011 and underwent Tommy John surgery. he’s less than a year removed from his return to the mound so obviously this is a huge concern.

The news comes at amid reports that Shaun Marcum, the team’s projected No. 2 starter, will not be able to make his first start after a bullpen session was cut short yesterday due to a neck issue.

Marcum was plagued with arm woes last season and throughout his career. The Mets have already shut him down twice this spring because of arm weakness and had to give him a cortisone shot a week ago. He was to be the replacement for R.A. Dickey in the rotation.

I thought it was a risky move replacing a 200+ innings pitcher like Dickey with a pitcher who had a history like Marcum. I thought the odds of getting more than 100 innings out of Marcum were a longshot at best. And then of course you have the caliber and quality contrast on top of the durability issue.