Jun 04

Hoping Flores’ Opportunity Is Legit

I am on record as being an advocate of Wilmer Flores long before the tears. He’ll be getting his second straight start Saturday in Miami as David Wright‘s replacement at third base. Here’s hoping this opportunity is legitimate.

FLORES: Be patient. (Getty)

FLORES: Be patient. (Getty)

By that, I mean if he goes hitless for two or three games that he goes out there for a fourth game. He played a lot last year when Wright was injured and Terry Collins needs to keep him in the lineup now. It has to be Flores’ job to lose.

Pulling him after a week for Eric Cambell or Ty Kelly isn’t a good idea. If they can pull off a solid trade now, go for it, but it really is too soon for a major trade.

I floated several trade options Friday, among them getting Kelly Johnson back from the Braves, Milwaukee’s Aaron Hill, San Diego’s Yangervis Solarte or the Angels’ Yunel Escobar. All are making more than Flores, but honestly, are any of them that far superior they should get the job instead?

Probably not.

It is also premature to move Neil Walker off second base and bring up Dilson Herrera. The latter has done nothing to prove he’s more deserving of a full time shot than Flores.

The Mets will never learn of Flores’ true abilities – and value – if he’s not given a long-term opportunity. If he’s not adding something offensively by the All-Star break, then explore other options before the trade deadline.

If the Mets appear too eager now in the trade market, they could overpay, so it’s in their best interests to stay with Flores right now.

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May 31

Collins Handled Harvey Catcher Situation The Right Way

The pitcher-catcher relationship is a tenuous one, which is why I’m not buying Mets manager Terry Collins’ reason for starting Rene Rivera, Monday, over Kevin Plawecki.

COLLINS: Knew what he was doing with catcher. (Getty)

COLLINS: Knew what he was doing with catcher. (Getty)

Collins said he and his staff examined everything in trying to pull Matt Harvey out of his funk, so you would have to figure they’d at least consider the catcher. I would be stunned if they didn’t, if for no other reason than to eliminate him as a reason.

Nothing against Travis d’Arnaud or Plawecki, but both are young and have a lot on their own plate already. For them to figure out Harvey is adding one more chicken leg on your paper plate at a picnic. Something is going to fall.

The veteran Rivera is here to handle pitchers; he’s not worried about his batting average. Collins isn’t about to say to the press he has to do a better job hitting, the way he did Plawecki before the West Coast trip.

So you have to be skeptical when Collins says: “This morning I came in and said, ‘I want Rene to catch today.’ That is how much thought went into it. Let him catch today and see how it goes.”

Yeah, right. If Collins said he wanted to see if there was a different chemistry with Rivera, it would have been interpreted as a slight to Plawecki. Sometimes in the manager-reporter relationship not all questions can be answered matter-of-factly. Sometimes answers are given in code.

It worked Monday, which is why it is essential to give it another try in Harvey’s next start. When Harvey gets in trouble maybe he Hneeds a veteran presence behind the plate. You’ll recall he loved throwing to John Buck in 2013.“`I went to the mound a couple of times to remind him to just to get back to the focus he had and what he’s been doing,” Rivera told reporters. “I want to give him the confidence back. I let him know he’s been throwing

“`I went to the mound a couple of times to remind him to just to get back to the focus he had and what he’s been doing,” Rivera told reporters. “I want to give him the confidence back. I let him know he’s been throwing good. That’s my game.”

Translation: “I went to the mound a couple of times to kick him in the butt.”

Harvey’s presence can be overwhelming. We saw after he ducked the media following his Washington debacle how uncomfortable Plawecki was in covering for him. Perhaps he’s not comfortable yet standing up to Harvey.

As for Harvey, he was smart enough to handle the obvious hot grenade question with this answer: “All our catchers have been doing a great job. It’s just me who hasn’t been throwing good.”

That was on the black.

May 30

What Will Mets Get From Harvey?

The Mets set the bar low for Matt Harvey’s last start. It’s been set even lower for what could be a water-logged Memorial Day start this afternoon against the Chicago White Sox.

Before the Nationals ripped him last week, manager Terry Collins wanted a “quality’’ outing from his former No. 1 starter. He didn’t get it, Harvey’s ERA zoomed to 6.08 and he left the clubhouse without speaking to reporters.

HARVEY: What will we get? (AP)

HARVEY: What will we get? (AP)

This time out, “I’m hoping that he relaxes,” said Collins.

If he does, Harvey will have to shift it into a higher mental gear we haven’t seen before.

“I’m hoping that he just goes out and pitches like he knows how – and that is worrying about making pitches, not so much about the mechanics,” Collins said.

Meanwhile, Collins believes Harvey’s problems are a combination mechanical and mental. In addition to working with pitching coach Dan Warthen on his mechanics – from release point to where his lead foot lands – Collins said Harvey is also working with the Mets’ mental skills coach.

Collins wouldn’t specify the next step for Harvey if he gets routed.

“I just think we’ve got to wring the rag dry here,” Collins said. “This is not just a Triple-A guys who’s up for a tryout. This is a guy who pitched in an All-Star Game a couple of years ago and was one of the best in the game. And, I think we need to push a little bit farther.”

Nobody knows what will happen today, but perhaps Harvey will come up with a performance worth talking about.

May 26

Matz Passes Watershed Moment; Collins Should Be Applauded

There comes a time in every player’s path from prospect to star when he faces a watershed test he must pass, which is what happened to Mets pitcher Steven Matz Wednesday afternoon in Washington. Hopefully, it will be something Matz will wistfully recall down the road, perhaps before All-Star and playoff games.

MATZ: Passes the test. (AP)

MATZ: Passes the test. (AP)

Pitching coach Dan Warthen immediately recognized it and told manager Terry Collins, “we’re going to see what the kid is made of.”

The Mets were hanging to a slim 2-0 lead when the Nationals had a runner on with two outs in the eighth. Collins knew it, too, when he glanced into the Nationals’ dugout and saw Bryce Harper, the 2015 NL MVP, selecting a bat.

Matz was at 100 pitches and this was his last inning regardless and Collins had a warmed-up Jerry Blevins in the bullpen. The conventional choice, one Collins has frequently made in the past, was to go to the mound with his hand extended for the ball and pat Matz on the back.

Instead, Collins nodded to Warthen and did nothing.

“When you have a young player in certain situations, you have to challenge him,” Collins would say to reporters. “If he’s going to be a big winner for us, he’s got to learn to get the big out.”

It was an important gesture Collins and it was more than symbolic. It was one of confidence not lost on the young left-hander. It might turn out to be the most important decision Collins will make this season.

“It definitely means something,” said Matz, now 7-1 this year and already 11-1 in his young career. “As a competitor, you don’t want to come out in that situation. And for your manager to have faith in you to leave you out to face arguably the greatest hitter in the game right now, it’s pretty awesome.”

And, awesome was Matz’s response as he threw four more pitches – all fastballs – to wrap up his gem, the last one to get Harper to meekly ground out to second. From the other dugout, Nationals manager Dusty Baker made a comparison Mets’ fans should appreciate.

“You don’t see many lefties like that,” Baker told reporters. “He was very determined. He’s a good athlete. He reminded me of Jon Matlack back in my day, with the Mets. He was throwing the heck out of the ball, working quick. He threw a heck of a game. A heck of a game.”

Yeah, “heck” was a good term for Baker to use. We can go on for a long time raving about Matz, but for now Mets’ fans should settle for being grateful to have him.

And, for Collins’ unconventional, yet essential decision of loyalty to trust him.

As Matz’ career hopefully progresses to stardom, this will be a moment he will frequently recall.

May 25

Mets Opt To Keep Harvey In Rotation

As beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, the same can be said of a Matt Harvey start.

Harvey has been awful most of this season, so I would have sent him to the minor leagues for a couple of starts. However, Mets manager Terry Collins – after conferring with GM Sandy Alderson and pitching coach Dan Warthen – said enough was seen to let Harvey make his next start, Monday, against the Chicago White Sox at Citi Field.

HARVEY: Gets another chance.  (AP)

HARVEY: Gets another chance. (AP)

It isn’t the first time I disagree with a Collins decision and won’t be the last.

Harvey opened the game with three scoreless innings, but as has been the case with him this year, he lost it in the middle innings giving up five runs on three homers in the Mets’ 7-4 loss to the Nationals.

It could have been worse, but a diving play by Neil Walker in the second thwarted a potential big inning.

“You saw the game,” catcher Kevin Plawecki told reporters wanting to know what is wrong with Harvey.

“`Even though his command wasn’t good, we saw great movement on his fastball,” began Collins’ explanation of why Harvey is getting another chance. “His velocity was up. There was tightness in his slider. These are all things we haven’t seen in his last couple of starts.

“We have to quit looking at the negatives and start looking at some positives. We’re going to try to build on it and see what he’s like next Monday. … This guy is too big a piece to write-off.”

Although I would have done it differently, I do applaud Collins’ loyalty toward his player, even when it backfired on him before.

Collins wouldn’t speculate as to what might happen with Harvey if he bombs again; most likely more drama. Collins certainly won’t say this is his last chance before Vegas because that put added stress on him.

Collins ruled out the disabled list because there apparently is nothing wrong with him, although players have been stashed there before. Reportedly, the minor leagues and bullpen weren’t options, but pushing him back was discussed.

Former Mets pitcher turned SNY analyst Ron Darling disagreed, saying he didn’t see much to build on, saying his slider looked good only 30% on the time and it is no big deal for a pitcher to amp it up occasionally.

Darling also criticized Harvey for not speaking after the game, saying “he lost some street cred’’ in the clubhouse, because it forced his teammates – in particular, Plawecki – to clean up his mess.

“His teammates are thinking, `we’re not here to clean up your mess, you clean up your own mess.’

“Part of being a professional athlete is you have to answer the questions,’’ Darling said.

Collins didn’t comment on Harvey’s unprofessional silent act, but Nationals manager Dusty Baker noticed.

“`It’s his prerogative to do what he wants to do,” said Baker, probably recalling his time when Barry Bonds was on his team. “`If he [doesn’t want to talk], he doesn’t have to talk. But he’s making it harder on himself. New York will eat you up.”

The nibbling has begun.

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