May 10

Wally Backman Out Of Line On Wheeler Comments

Like everybody else, I am anxious to see Zack Wheeler with the Mets. Even if he’s half of what he’s been cranked up to be, he has to be some improvement, if not a gate draw, from what the Mets have now.

BACKMAN: Out of line.

BACKMAN: Out of line.

Yesterday, Las Vegas manager Wally Backman told a local radio station: “Personally, I think if he has a couple of more starts like his last start he’ll be headed to the big leagues, and rightfully so.’’

Huh? I don’t recall GM Sandy Alderson saying something like that.

I’m not saying Backman is right or wrong in his analysis or projection of Wheeler, just wrong in saying anything of that nature in the first place.

Backman manages Triple-A Las Vegas. He does not speak for the Mets’ organization, and his comments put undue pressure on everybody, from Backman, to Wheeler, to Terry Collins, to Alderson.

Once somebody from the organization, even Alderson, suggests a timetable, a clock starts ticking. So, what happens if Wheeler isn’t up in two starts? What then? Another timetable? You can’t keep teasing the fan base that way.

Backman is out of line in making such statements. But, could it be he spoke because the Mets don’t have a policy in place on how to publicly handle Wheeler?

There were no such conflicting messages with Washington about promoting Stephen Strasburg. Why aren’t similar precautions and guidelines in place for Wheeler?

There was more structure to Matt Harvey’s promotion this year in that everybody knew he would go north with the team coming out of spring training. There seemed more structure to Harvey’s promotion last year, primarily because Alderson did most of the talking.

The only structure with Wheeler is we knew he wouldn’t be up at the beginning of the year because of the contractual links to his arbitration and free-agency eligibility seasons. The best-guess estimate for that is the end of the month or early June, but either way that exceeds a couple of more starts.

At least the Mets made a determination, although there was the caveat of “if we really needed someone,’’ that could be waived. Wheeler wasn’t pitching well enough early in his season to warrant a promotion, but he has been good his last two starts. Perhaps, two or three more and he’ll be ready, but that’s Alderson’s call and not Backman’s.

It’s confusing when not all the parties are on the same page. It is Alderson’s responsibility to define that page, and Backman’s to follow the guidelines.

There should be no loose cannons here, just one voice. That’s the case with winning organizations.

Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Apr 25

Are Mets Marketing Harvey Too Much, Too Soon?

While approaching Citi Field last night one couldn’t help but notice the monstrous digital image of Matt Harvey on a video board outside the stadium with the screaming caption, “Harvey-licious.’’

When logging onto the Mets’ website there was an advertisement plugging Harvey T-Shirts. And, all of this is for a guy who was starting just his 15th major league game.

HARVEY: Mets marketing a rock star. (AP)

HARVEY: Mets marketing a rock star. (AP)

I am waiting for the Mets to put him on a banner outside the stadium, joining the likes of Keith Hernandez and David Wright; Ed Kranepool and Bud Harrelson; Jerry Koosman and Jon Matlack.

Make no mistake, Harvey is a good Met, but not yet a great one. There is plenty of time for him to reach that distinction.

“I don’t get caught up in the marketing angle,’’ manager Terry Collins said when asked if this is too much, too soon, much the way it was last winter for the Knicks and Lin-sanity.

“I don’t thing he gets caught up in it, either. Let’s ride the wave. This guy is ready.’’

He might have been ready last night, but clearly was not sharp against the Los Angeles Dodgers despite the relaxed definition of a quality start. The no-decision indicates Harvey still has growing to do, but does not diminish what he’s already achieved.

“I didn’t like it,’’ Harvey said of his performance in Wednesday night’s 7-3, 10-inning victory. “Tonight was about winning, and we did that. … I have work to do.’’

That humility is why the Mets believe they have something special. Technically, it was a quality start – three runs given up in six innings – but Harvey knows he has to do better than 90 pitches. He knows that many pitches should get him to, if not through, the eighth inning.

History is full of powerful young arms that captured the imagination of not only their fan base, but also those across the nation. Look at Tom Seaver, Vida Blue, Mark Fydrych, Fernando Valenzuela, Ron Guidry, Dwight Gooden and Stephen Strasburg.

The Mets are banking on Harvey to join this prestigious list. Last night won’t remove him from consideration and won’t stop the rumblings of him possibly starting the All-Star Game at Citi Field in July.

The Mets are riding the Harvey wave, but there is an underlying fear is the attention could be too much this early. The expectations of Harvey increase with each start, of which last night’s was nationally telecast by ESPN.

It has been a long time since the Mets had a pitcher of Harvey’s marketability. Gooden perhaps nearly 30 years ago? Or Seaver? No other homegrown Met arm comes immediately to mind.

Gooden was such a long time ago, so you can’t blame the organization for being excited about having somebody this charismatic to promote. As much as Collins raves about Harvey’s demeanor and composure, a case can be made for going overboard. All this attention is a lot to absorb.

The Mets made sure to handle Harvey with kid gloves before bringing him up, so why push things now?

Let him concentrate on pitching first and not being a rock star.

Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

 

Apr 20

Matt Harvey’s Star Keeps Burning

Tom Seaver. Mike Mussina. Roger Clemens. Dwight Gooden.

Matt Harvey has been compared, whether it be stuff, demeanor or franchise history, in some way has been compared to them all.

Yes, it is not fair. Yes, it places unreasonable pressure. But, that’s the nature of covering and following sports. Managers, general managers and players all do it, too.

HARVEY: Keeps burning. (AP)

HARVEY: Keeps burning. (AP)

Harvey is getting a lot of that these days, and after beating Stephen Strasburg last night, he’ll be getting more.

Gooden, who tweeted Harvey is “the real deal,’’ was spotted last night on the Citi Field video board giving a thumbs-up sign. It was in part acknowledging the ovation; it was in part recognition of who he was watching.

“Yeah, absolutely,’’ Harvey said when asked if he was aware of Gooden’s presence and tweet. “It made it special. I grew up watching that guy. I wanted to be like that guy.’’

Whether Harvey has a career like Gooden, Mussina or Mike Pelfrey, we can’t say now. What we can say is all the arrows are pointed in the right direction.

“A lot of guys can throw 98,’’ manager Terry Collins said. “I like his competitive make-up. … Fear of failure is not in Matt Harvey’s make-up.’’

Harvey doesn’t just want to be a good pitcher; he wants to be the best. Collins said Harvey was in tune with the expectations of going against Strasburg, and the Mets’ present and future ace admitted to being amped early.

When it was over, Harvey was all humility – one of his more likable qualities – when asked about the “Har-vey’s better, Har-vey’s better,’’ chant that consumed Citi Field.

Harvey, in his first full season, is composed enough to know he’ll face Strasburg many more times in the future, and the Mets play the Nationals 18 times a season. This isn’t the NBA; there’s no trash talking. Harvey knew better than to stir the pot.

“It’s nice to hear, but I’ve got a long way to go,’’ Harvey said. “I appreciate the fans and the support and all that. But we’re here to win. We’re the New York Mets. It’s not just one guy out there. Every time I take the ball I’m trying to win for the team.’’

That all sound good, but Harvey knows words are cheap and he has to do it on the mound. That’s why Harvey was more satisfied with getting out of a bases-load, no-outs jam in the seventh rather than the two-hit shutout he had after the sixth.

“I knew I would have to pitch there,’’ Harvey said. “I knew I would have to throw strikes.’’

The Mets took a 4-0 lead into the inning, but the panic meter was running high when the Nationals had a run in and loaded the bases. Harvey knew what was required of him.

“That was a big challenge – bases loaded with no outs,’’ Harvey said. “That’s a tough lineup. At any point it felt like it could unravel and things could have gone the other way.’’

It didn’t because Harvey wouldn’t let it.

“That’s the mark of an ace right there,’’ Collins said. “That’s why we can’t say enough things about him. Games like this can lead to a great season.’’

Harvey has a strong work ethic, but that runs deeper than conditioning and working on his breaking pitches in the bullpen. Not only does Harvey work his body, but also his mind and that’s part of the package.

Harvey pitched seven innings last night in improving to 4-0. His goal is over 200, so there’s a long road ahead.

“I’m going to take the 24-hour rule and definitely be happy about this start and this win,’’ Harvey said. “And after it’s over, tomorrow, it’s time to work hard and get prepared for the next start.’’

They said Seaver once said the same in comparing Harvey to him. Perhaps one day they’ll say that about another hot property when they compare him to Harvey.

Apr 19

Marquee Billing: Matt Harvey Against Stephen Strasburg

If Matt Harvey is as good as advertised, there will be many more nights like tonight, with him going against another’s ace.

The expectations of Harvey is he will become the anchor of the Mets’ rotation for years to come, picking up along the way a Cy Young Award or two, numerous All-Star appearances, and in the best case scenario, nights of glory in October.

HARVEY: Wants the ball.

HARVEY: Wants the ball.

Late October.

He will become this generation’s Tom Seaver; he will become Dwight Gooden without the fall.

Think Sandy Koufax and Juan Marichal. Don Drysdale and Bob Gibson. Jim Palmer against Denny McLain.

It would be fun if that unfolds, but before we get lost in the future, let’s appreciate the present, which is Harvey against Washington’s Stephen Strasburg.

It shouldn’t be lost tonight is more than a marquee pairing of franchise arms, but for the Mets the need to shake a three-game funk in which their rotation and bullpen were hammered by the Colorado Rockies.

Harvey has known of this for a week, and had a good four hours on a plane last night from Denver to contemplate tonight. Not only of the Nationals’ potent line-up, but the electricity in the stands about the duel and expectations of him being “the real deal,’’ and rescuing this summer.

The scouting report on Harvey is not only about his plus-stuff, but his demeanor and poise. Harvey is very much aware what awaits him tonight, and most importantly, relishes the moment. He has confidence without the cockiness.

“He knows exactly who he is facing,’’ manager Terry Collins told reporters in Denver before the Mets lost their third straight game against the Rockies.

“He’s one of these guys who says, `I’ll take the next game.’ He knows what’s going on and who he is facing. … I know he will be ready.’’

Fifteen games into the season and already the Mets are facing a pivotal moment. If they lose tonight, Jeremy Hefner and Dillon Gee are up next, and who can’t envision three losses spiraling into six? Who can’t imagine the Mets losing control of their season before the kids are out of school for the summer?

Hey, with their bullpen and back end of the rotation, the Mets could lose their summer before the Kentucky Derby.

The Mets are 7-7, which honestly exceeded spring training expectations. However, the expectations are greater than competing for the playoffs, but instead striving for respectability and relevance. Catching the Braves and Nationals will be for another year.

Statistically, Harvey has three of the Mets’ victories with a microscopic 0.82 ERA. He has given up six hits and six walks with 25 strikeouts in 22 innings. And, he’s done it when the belief was he wouldn’t have given the Mets anything less.

Collins said Harvey covets the big stage. He wants the ball. And, when he gets it tonight, he’ll know what to do.

Apr 18

A Rocky Series Comes To End After 11-3 Mauling

terry collins

Screenshot_15

The road trip that began with a stumble in Philadelphia mercifully ended with a fall this afternoon in freezing Denver. The Mets left Citi Field at 4-2 and will arrive home tomorrow at 7-7. After losing two of three to the Phillies, the Mets won two in Minnesota in brutal conditions, then lost three games in Colorado, including today’s 11-3 mauling of Jon Niese, and of course, the bullpen.

ON THE MOUND:

Niese was not effective, and in his worst start of the season gave up three runs on nine hits and a walk in six innings. Technically, that’s a quality start, but Niese would agree that it was not. The Rockies ripped the Mets’ pen for six runs after two outs in the seventh. For the series, the bullpen gave up 18 runs on 22 hits in 11 innings.

AT THE PLATE:

David Wright went 2-for-3 with two RBI. The top three in the order, Jordany Valdespin, Daniel Murphy and Wright each had two hits. The Mets had eight total. … Ike Davis went 1-for-4 to raise his average to .146. No, they did not stop the game to give him the ball after the hit. … Since his grand slam last Friday in Minnesota, John Buck has gone 2-for-16.

METS MUSINGS:

Matt Harvey wasn’t around to watch the carnage as he took an early flight to New York in preparation for Friday’s start against the Washington Nationals.

Frank Francisco pitched a scoreless inning Wednesday night in a rehab assignment. There is no timetable for his return.

Terry Collins said not to expect any prospect be brought up soon.

Shaun Marcum threw 41 pitches today in an extended spring training game today in Port St. Lucie. He was scheduled to throw 65 pitches. Collins said Marcum must throw 90 pitches in five days, and then possibly another game before he’s activated. The Mets aren’t scheduled to need a fifth starter until April 27.

Lucas Duda did not play because of tightness in his back. The Mets wouldn’t say if he would be available Friday.

Lefty reliever Josh Edgin gave up two runs and has been hit for six in his last two appearances.

Triple-A catcher Travis d’Arnaud will be in New York Friday to have his broken left foot examined. GM Sandy Alderson said he doesn’t know if surgery will be required. That should be determined tomorrow.

ON DECK:

The Mets are home Friday to start a three-game series against Washington, beginning with the marquee match-up of Harvey against Stephen Strasburg.