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

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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.

Apr 17

Sanity Prevails: Mets And Rockies Bagged

Either sanity or winter prevailed as tonight’s Mets game at Denver was snowed out. It is the third game this week the Mets had postponed by winter weather.

The Rockies don’t want a doubleheader tomorrow, so their regularly scheduled afternoon game will be played with Jonathan Niese going against Jon Garland.

“It’s been odd,’’ manager Terry Collins told reporters in Denver of this week’s postponements. “This is a game of consistency. This is a game of repetition. And when you lose those reps, you can change the outcome a lot and how things go. … This has been a tough trip for us. It really has been. Guys are tired of sitting at the hotel.’’

Collins said not playing the doubleheader is beneficial to the Mets in the short-term, although the team have to squeeze in a trip to Denver later this summer.

The Mets return home Friday against Washington and the marquee match-up of Matt Harvey against Stephen Strasburg.

Tonight’s starter, Jeremy Hefner, will be pushed back to Saturday against Gio Gonzalez, and Dillon Gee will face Jordan Zimmermann Sunday.

The way the Mets’ rotation plays out, they won’t need a fifth starter until April 27, when they host Philadelphia. That will give Shaun Marcum another ten days to get ready.

NOTE:  Reliever Frank Francisco is scheduled to throw an inning tonight for Single-A St. Lucie. Francisco underwent surgery in December to remove a bone spur in his right elbow.

Apr 15

Interesting Week Facing Mets

Not surprisingly, yesterday’s game at Minnesota was bagged by the weather, which doesn’t figure to be much better in Colorado this week.

I wrote last week Matt Harvey could pitch against Stephen Strasburg in the first game of the Washington series, and depending on possible postponements it could still pan out that way.

GEE: Goes tonight against Rockies.

GEE: Goes tonight against Rockies.

The Mets will have the back end of their rotation in the first three games of the Colorado series, with Dillon Gee, Aaron Laffey and Jeremy starting in the Coors Field bandbox. Who doesn’t believe the bullpen will get a lot of work?

Jon Niese is scheduled to start Thursday afternoon, where the temperatures could be in the teens.

It’s hard to hit in the cold, but might be more difficult to pitch as the ball is difficult to grip and the pitchers’ command is usually off.

In looking at the Rockies series, there are several things in addition to the Mets’ bullpen we should be curious in seeing:

* There’s the sizzling John Buck, who needed yesterday’s day off. Buck is the first player in history with 19 RBI in his first ten games with a new team. Buck is also one of four players with 19 RBI in his team’s first ten games, joining Lou Gehrig (1927 Yankees), Manny Ramirez (1999 Indians) and Chris Davis (this year’s Orioles).

Buck’s streak of homers in four straight games was snapped, but his six homers is more than Mets catchers hit last year (five).

* Marlon Byrd went deep yesterday to give the Mets a franchise-record 11 straight games with a homer to start a season. It’s the longest since the Rays homered in 12 straight in 2007.

* Whether Jordany Valdespin hits leadoff tonight. Despite their winning record, the Mets have not found a consistent leadoff hitter among the four they have used. Like him or not, Valdespin does generate a buzz.

* How long will Ike Davis’ slump last? He’s hitting .128 with a .244 on-base and .205 slugging percentage.  Coors Field was built to end slumps. Of all Davis’ poor numbers, 12 strikeouts and just five hits might be the most stunning.

* Will Daniel Murphy continue to sizzle? He’s hitting .381 with hits in seven of his last eight games. Murphy has 16 hits, with eight going for extra bases. He has a .413 on-base percentage and .690 slugging percentage.

* Will David Wright get his first homer? Coors Field has always been kind to Wright. He is a lifetime .385 hitter with a .461 on-base percentage, eight homers and 33 RBI in 29 games in the Rocky Mountains. In comparison, he has 14 homers and 35 RBI in 74 games at Turner Field, and seven homers and 41 RBI in 58 games at the Marlins’ old park.

The Mets return home Friday to start a three-game series with the suddenly vulnerable Nationals this weekend.

Apr 10

Mets Have Rotation Concerns; Wheeler Not Answer

The night Dillon Gee had in Philadelphia happens to all pitchers. It happened to Stephen Strasburg the other day. It will happen to Matt Harvey. It is premature to worry about Gee two starts into the season. It was not a game worthy of capital punishment.

It was a file-and-forget game.

GEE: Spent week in Philly last night. (AP)

GEE: Spent week in Philly last night. (AP)

“There’s not a whole lot to say. A terrible night,’’ Gee told reporters. “But you’ve got to move past it.’’

He’s right, so let’s move on to something worthy of concern.

With Gee’s short outing and Aaron Laffey not getting through five innings Sunday, the Mets’ bullpen has worked 4.2 and five innings in two of the last three games. That’s over the equivalent of an entire game.

The accumulation of innings by the bullpen is already a concern for manager Terry Collins as it indicates a three-fold problem: 1) the Mets have a problem with the back end of their rotation, 2) they lack a quality long man, somebody who can give them three or more innings when a game gets away early, and 3) this will eventually add up to a bullpen meltdown.

That is why Collins took Lucas Duda out of the game in a double-switch in the fourth inning. He explained the need to get two innings out of Greg Burke, and the No. 9 spot in the order was due up second the next inning.

It makes total sense.

Last night was the 51st start of Gee’s career, and he’s gone at least five innings in 47 of them, so let’s not get crazy with him. However, he’s also a No. 3 starter and the Mets need him to get out of the sixth on a consistent basis.

The difference between five and six innings over a full season – considered 34 starts – is 34 innings, or roughly four games. It adds up and if Collins is already thinking of these things, it isn’t an indication of comfort.

That’s why the Mets’ refusal to consider Aaron Harang is puzzling. Since 2005, he’s worked at least 180 innings in all but two years. Three times he’s gone over 200 innings. That’s acceptable for a No. 4 and No. 5 starter. Unless Harang has an injury we don’t know about, if he becomes a free-agent in a week (he was recently designated for assignment) the Mets should be calling him.

The Mets were fortunate to have Harvey to slot in between Gee and Laffey – caused by the off day last week – but that won’t always be the case. If Collins can maneuver it, he should separate Gee and Laffey whenever possible to avoid consecutive short days by the starters.

However, he is limited because there’s also Jeremy Hefner, who is not a proven long haul starter. With the exception of last night and Laffey, the Mets have received strong starts in every game, but that won’t last all season.

Naturally, when the topic is the Mets needing a quality starter the talk turns to Zack Wheeler. Let’s say it one more time about Wheeler: He is not ready.

Wheeler was rocky again last night as he gave up four runs on eight hits and three walks in 5.1 innings and 92 pitches. For Wheeler’s stuff, 92 pitches should translate into eight or nine innings, not one out into the sixth. It doesn’t matter that three of the runs were unearned. The unearned runs indicates Wheeler strained to get out of trouble.

So, unless Wheeler proves he can get himself out of trouble, he won’t be able to get the Mets out of trouble.

ON DECK:  A look at Jeremy Hefner.

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