Sep 13

Mets’ Three Storylines: T.J. Rivera Steps Up

Pennant races aren’t just for guys like Yoenis Cespedes and Bryce Harper. They also belong to guys like T.J. Rivera, a undrafted free agent who carried the Mets on this night over their closest rivals.

RIVERA: Blast lifts Mets over Nats. (AP)

RIVERA: Blast lifts Mets over Nats. (AP)

Getting his first start in three weeks, Rivera had three hits including a tenth-inning homer that lifted the Mets over the Nationals, 4-3 in 10 innings, at Nationals Park Tuesday night. The victory, coupled with the Cardinals beating the Cubs in St. Louis, kept the Mets with a half-game lead for the second wild-card (they are even in the loss column).

“Somebody you don’t expect has to step up and tonight it was T.J.,” manager Terry Collins said. “He’s hit everywhere he’s been. He has a simple, short swing.”

In 45 at-bats since joining the Mets, Rivera his hitting .333 with his first career homer and six RBI. He’s also been solid defensively, regardless of where Collins starts him.

“It’s definitely not to hit a home run,” Rivera said of his thinking heading to the plate against Nationals closer Mark Melancon. “I just wanted to put the bat on the ball. When you haven’t been around the team much you want to contribute.”

With Neil Walker out for the season with a back injury and Wilmer Flores currently hurting following a home plate collision Saturday in Atlanta, Rivera should get more opportunities to play. Collins said it was a gut feeling to start Rivera, who won the Triple-A batting title for Las Vegas.

It’s probably a stretch to say Rivera could make the postseason roster, but he’s made enough of an impression to where he can compete for a job next spring.

Rivera was the main storyline, with the others being Noah Syndergaard’s wasted effort and Jerry Blevins picking up for Jeurys Familia.

TOUGH LUCK NOAH: Collins said with the Mets starting their best pitcher, this was a game they had to win. Syndergaard was poised to win his 14th game until Familia blew his fourth save opportunity in the ninth.

Syndergaard gave up one run on four hits with one walk and 10 strikeouts – including his 200th of the season – in one of his best outings of the season. Unlike previous outings where he ran up his pitch count, Syndergaard was extremely pitch efficient throwing 99.

“He was amped up,” Collins said. “He knew we needed to win this game.”

Syndergaard became the second-fastest Met behind Dwight Gooden to reach 200 strikeouts.

BLEVINS PICKS UP FAMILIA:  Familia blew his fourth save opportunity when the Nationals tied it on RBI singles by Anthony Rendon and Wilson Ramos (an infield chopper over Familia’s head).

After Rivera’s drive, the Nationals to tie the game again, but Blevins struck out Daniel Murphy on a wicked curveball to end the game.

It was his first save since 2012.

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Sep 13

Did Collins Fall On Sword For Scott?

It hasn’t been a great week for Mets manager Terry Collins, who had three major brain cramps, all of which should have been preventable.

First, on Saturday he failed to pinch-run for Wilmer Flores, who was then subsequently thrown out at the plate, injured and hasn’t played since. On Sunday, he admitted screwing up. He said he was preoccupied talking with pitching coach Dan Warthen about his pitching.

BACKMAN: Could he have saved Collins this week? (AP)

BACKMAN: Could he have saved Collins this week? (AP)

That day, in a blowout win over the Braves, he left shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and left fielder Yoenis Cespedes – both of whom spent time on the disabled list with leg injuries and still aren’t running well – in the game too long. Blowout wins are rare and represent a chance to grab rest for tired players.

Finally, Monday, when it was apparent Rafael Montero didn’t have it, he kept the shell-shocked starter in the game too long. He could have pulled Montero in the first or pinch-hit for him. He did neither and Montero let the game away. Would the Mets have won had Montero been pulled? Who knows, but it can’t make Collins feel any less angst.

Ironically, the Montero gaffe occurred hours after the Mets split with Triple-A manager Wally Backman.

All three events should fall under the responsibility of bench coach Dick Scott, but not once did Collins point blame in his direction. That fits in with Collins’ makeup. He’s not one to throw his staff or players under the bus. For that matter, he doesn’t take shots at GM Sandy Alderson for leaving him shorthanded at times.

Frankly, too many times.

Scott, it should be mentioned, beat out Backman for the bench coach job last winter. Alderson had his reasons for choosing Scott, but it should also be noted his relationship with Backman is frosty at best.

Many decisions a manager makes these days are on the fly. However, with the abundance of statistics and scouting reports available, the bench coach has come into play. The bench coach has to analyze this information and be able to think two or three moves ahead and give it to the manager when the need arises.

In all three decisions within the past week, Collins didn’t shuffle blame on Scott. That’s not who he is; he’s not one to throw his staff or players under the bus.

We don’t know what Scott said, or didn’t say. What we do know, based on reputation, Backman – no shrinking violet – wouldn’t have been shy to make a suggestion.

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Sep 12

Met On The Mound: Montero Pitching For Spot On Playoff Roster

I’m not crazy about the Mets having to start Rafael Montero tonight in Washington, but I’m glad they have an experienced arm to turn to and manager Terry Collins isn’t forced to alter his rotation by flipping him with Noah Syndergaard.

MONTERO: Pitching for playoff spot. (AP)

MONTERO: Pitching for playoff spot. (AP)

It’s a smart move on Collins’ part not to toy with Syndergaard, who is showing signs of regaining his command after a stretch where he was bothered by a bone spur and poor command.

The Mets have been fortunate to win both of Montero’s starts despite his wildness. Collins likes that Montero throws hard – ten walks in 9.1 innings – but said command is the central issue.

Command will be a deciding factor if the Mets get down to making a playoff roster. Montero has the experience and is capable of giving the Mets innings. Montero must show tonight and in possibly two remaining starts that his control won’t be a liability.

The Mets have no choice but to stick with Montero for now because both Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz are now throwing off flat ground. They are likely two weeks away.

So for now, Montero has his immediate destiny in his hands. The Mets won’t have five starters on their playoff roster, and unlike last season, unless Matz and deGrom return, Bartolo Colon won’t work out of the bullpen.

I never imagined I would write that with Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman ahead of him – and barring no returns from the DL – Montero has tonight and possibly two other starts later to make the impression he belongs.

Yes, there’s always next year, but Montero has a chance to pitch in the playoffs this season and these opportunities don’t come often.

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Sep 06

The Mets Should Explore Six-Man Rotation For 2017

This won’t be a popular suggestion with the Mets’ starters, but with everybody in the rotation having been shelved at one time or another with an injury – save Bartolo Colon – perhaps it might be time to consider a six-man rotation for 2017.

HARVEY: Maybe he could stay healthy in 6-man rotation. (Getty)

HARVEY: Maybe he could stay healthy in 6-man rotation. (Getty)

None of the young bucks want this, and understandably so because they’ve been raised on the five-man rotation. Change is difficult, but then again one time there was a four-man rotation. This suggestion is prompted by Rafael Montero replacing Jacob deGrom today in Cincinnati, coupled with the report the latter might miss multiple starts.

It also coincides with solid outings from Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman.

Matt Harvey is done for the year. So is Zack Wheeler, and nobody knows when he’ll pitch again. After all, it’s been two years now. Steven Matz, sidelined with a bone spur and an impingement in his shoulder, will try to throw in Port St. Lucie today, but his return status is basically a hope.

Noah Syndergaard has also been pitching with a bone spur. Matz’s bone spur will require surgery, but it isn’t known what will happen with Syndergaard.

Meanwhile, deGrom missed time early with a strained lat muscle. His velocity has dipped and after three horrible starts, he has gone from manager Terry Collins not knowing he motioned for the trainer to deGrom saying, “I’m fine,” to missing today’s game, to nobody knows.

The Mets’ rotation for the ages won’t happen this year.

Several weeks ago I wrote how the Mets should re-evaluate the handling of their pitchers. I’m calling for it again, but adding the suggestion they go to a six-man rotation.

Years ago pitchers just pitched. But, the times were different. The salaries have skyrocketed, so there’s a greater need to protect these guys. That’s a partial explanation for why the DL is used so often. What has also changed is pitchers used to throw a fastball, curveball and change-up. Today, there are sliders, sinkers, cut fastballs, all which put strain on the arm.

There’s plenty to share responsibility for Harvey being lost twice, including the player, who wasn’t always upfront. I admire his grit, but we don’t need any heroes. I don’t know if he’ll ever learn, so this might protect him for his own good.

A six-man rotation could save the starters at least a game a month, which is a savings of roughly six starts a year, or as many a 36 innings. Injuries can occur any time despite the greatest precautions, but this could improve the odds or staying healthy.

There will be the natural attrition, such as free agency, trades and injury. Colon might eventually retire. But, if the idea is to keep these guys healthy and pitching, a first step could be reducing the workload.

Some team was the pioneer going from a four-man to a five-man rotation. The Mets have the depth other teams don’t, so why can’t they be the pioneer going to six?

To make this work, it must be installed in spring training with a defined rotation. There can be no deviation, as it will throw off the rest.

If it keeps them off the disabled list, then why not? It’s better than what’s happening now.

ON DECK: Looking at tonight’s starter, Montero.

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Sep 04

Three Mets’ Storylines: Has Granderson Answered Wake-up Call?

The Mets have waited all season for Curtis Granderson to answer his wake up call. Did he finally pick up the phone?

Moved to the cleanup spot, Granderson drove in three runs with a sacrifice fly and two-run homer in the Mets’ 5-1 victory Sunday over the Washington Nationals.

i-1Granderson drove in two runs with a bases load single Saturday.

“When he’s hitting we’re a completely different team,” said manager Terry Collins.

Granderson has three homers, eight RBI and has scored six runs over his last six games, but even if he continues on a streak of historic proportions, he won’t finish with the numbers he envisioned coming out of spring training.

He’s hitting .222, but what is alarming is his homers-to-RBI ratio of 23-43.

Perhaps also warming up – just in time to his return to Cincinnati – is Jay Bruce, who had two hits, including a two-run homer.

With Steven Matz and Jacob deGrom currently out with injuries, the Mets might be in position where their offense must carry them.

With the victory, the Mets remain one game behind St. Louis for the second wild card. They have now won 11 of their last 15 games.

LUGO SUPERB AGAIN: About that comment about the offense carrying the Mets, well, that might not be the case if they continue to get strong pitching from Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman.

Starting on the heels of Gsellman’s strong start the previous night, Lugo was terrific, giving up one run on six hits in seven innings.

He’s now 3-2 with a 2.38 ERA since joining the Mets.

If there was a turning point, it came in the first inning when the Nationals loaded the bases, but Lugo escaped untouched.

“Absolutely,” Collins said when asked if that was a deciding factor. “He needed to get out of it and he did. He settled down and pitched well.”

Lugo, Gsellman and Gabriel Ynoa have a combined six victories as spot starters.

KEEPING IT GOING: Yes, the Mets are hot, and yes, their schedule is seemingly easier than the rest of their competitors for the wild card.

“We need to go and have a good road trip and see where we are when we get back,” Collins said.

Here’s hoping the Mets sleep fast tonight as they have a 1 p.m., game tomorrow in Cincinnati.

Brilliant scheduling.

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