Apr 08

Mets Should Consider Mike Baxter At Leadoff

Six games into the season and the Mets have used three different leadoff hitters. Evidently, there are answers to be found.

One who should get a longer look is Mike Baxter, who started Saturday and reached base three times on two hits and a walk.

BAXTER: The catch that saved Santana. (AP)

BAXTER: The catch that saved Santana. (AP)

A lead off hitter needs to get on base, and if not then take the count as deep as possible to give the following hitters a chance to learn what they can of the pitcher. Baxter usually runs up the pitch count, and if he plays a full game can see as many as a dozen pitches. That’s an in-game scouting report to those following him in the order.

Little League coaches like to say, “a walk is as good as a hit,’’ and there are times it is the same in the major leagues.

“He takes a base on balls,’’ manager Terry Collins said. “If he was a genuine base-stealer, he’d be dangerous. You look up, and he’s got a .375 on-base. It seems like he’s on first base all of the time.’’

Actually, Baxter’s career on-base percentage is .360, but Collins’ point is well taken. It is an on-base percentage representative of a productive leadoff hitter, as good as they received from Jose Reyes.

The stereotypical leadoff hitter is a base stealer, the kind the Mets enjoyed with Reyes early in his career. However, Wade Boggs didn’t steal many bases and hit .321 batting leadoff in over 900 games in his career.

They all can’t be Rickey Henderson, Lou Brock or Maury Wills.

Although the game has changed and there isn’t an emphasis on base stealing as there once was, the basic fundamental of a lead off hitter has always been the same, which is get on base to set the table for the run-producers.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis was penciled in as the leadoff hitter going into spring training, but has a propensity for striking out. He is still very much a work in progress. Other candidates Collin Cowgill and Jordany Valdespin never had full seasons as a starters.

Cowgill has homered twice and if he continues to flash power he might be needed lower in the order. Valdespin is fast, but can be an out-of-control free swinger. He doesn’t figure to last long at that position, and as a defensive liability, probably won’t get many starting opportunities.

Baxter has a decent glove – Johan Santana wouldn’t have his no-hitter without him – but has never had a full time chance.

So, as long as Collins is searching for answers, Baxter is worthy of an opportunity.

ON DECK: Contrasting pitchers Matt Harvey and Roy Halladay.

Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Apr 06

Mets Looking For Breakout Game From Offense

Nobody expected the Mets to be an offensive juggernaut, and scoring 19 runs in the first two games should have done nothing to change that impression. Certainly the last two games proved it.

They scored five runs last night, but by that time the game had already been decided.

Manager Terry Collins is hoping for a breakout game today against the Marlins.

“We’ve got a couple guys, hopefully they’re gonna start breaking out of it here pretty soon,’’ Collins said.

The Mets’ hottest hitter has been John Buck (7-for-17). David Wright and Daniel Murphy are each 3-for-14 and Ike Davis is a frigid 1-for-16.

The Mets have homered in each of the first four games, with Buck leading with two. The long-time problem of hitting with runners in scoring position has raised its ugly head as they are 2-16 in the last two games after going 10-19 in the first two. They left 12 runners on last night after leaving 16 in the first three games.

Apr 06

Niese Must Grasp Role As No. 1 Starter

By definition, Jon Niese is correct, he is not a No. 1 pitcher, an ace if you will. However, in relation to his status on the Mets, he is the man.

There is no denying Niese’s importance, but his designation of being the leader of the staff should be emphasized more today against Miami than in the status of an Opening Day starter. After two victories to open the season, the Mets have dropped two in a row, and have not looked good in the process.

NIESE: Announcing his presence with authority.

NIESE: Announcing his presence with authority.

Today, the Mets need Niese to stop the losing. That’s the primary goal of a stopper. That’s what staff leaders do.

“As far as leading the staff, I really don’t want to fulfill that role,’’ Niese said. “Everybody, all the guys in the rotation, have something different to offer.

“So I’m willing to learn from them, and I’m sure they’re willing to learn from me. We all have a job to do. Each one of us has a different way of going about it.’’

I can’t buy for a second Niese doesn’t want that role or responsibility. He’s a competitor; you see that every time he pitches. Saying that gives the perception of him willing to be complacent with what he’s achieved, and his 13 career-high victories in not where he wants to peak.

Let’s give Niese the benefit of doubt and say it’s modesty or a reflection of his demeanor. He’s quiet, he’s modest, there doesn’t appear to be a brash bone in his body. But, he’s not a pushover on the mound who easily caves in to the hitter.

Niese wants that role, and manager Terry Collins indicated as much when he told him he would be the Opening Day starter almost a month ago.

“[Niese] said, `All right!’ That means he wanted it bad,’’ Collins recalled. “He got himself ready for it, for sure. He pitched a great game.’’

Niese held San Diego to two runs on four hits and two walks in 6.2 innings. He also had two hits himself.

“I’m not going to lie,’’ Niese said. “The adrenaline was pumping.’’

Catcher John Buck said Niese was easy to catch as everything fell into place for him.

“He had a good two-seamer going. His cutter in was working well for him,’’ Buck said. “So he was spreading the plate really well. And then that curveball, obviously, is a weapon to have with two strikes.’’

No. 1 starters don’t want to leave games. They want to start what they finish. Niese has gone the distance, but knows there have been too many times when he exits with the game still in the balance. That has to stop this year, says Niese, in acknowledging how he must continue to grow.

“I think last year was kind of a year where I kind of hit that sixth inning and had 95 pitches and they kind of shut me down,’’ said Niese, who pleaded for an extra inning and finished with 101. “I think this year I want to be that guy who goes back out and finishes my starts.’’

That won’t happen if Niese hits 100 in the seventh. He needs to be more efficient with his pitches. Too often he’ll work deep into the count, throwing four or five pitches to a hitter.

One less pitch to a hitter could mean two more innings. And, in their minds, staff leaders can’t throw enough innings.

Apr 04

Mets’ Manager Terry Colliins Planning Line-up Changes

Despite a preference for a consistent line-up, manager Terry Collins knows the importance of keeping every player sharp, which can be hard to do when the weather is cold.

To that regard, Collins pays attention to the match-ups. So, with right-handers scheduled this weekend Collins opted to start Justin Turner at second base today against left-hander Eric Stults.

TURNER: Not sitting today.

TURNER: Not sitting today.

Collins said this was not to be interpreted as a setback for Daniel Murphy, who missed most of spring training with a strained right intercostal muscle. Murphy has shown no signs of being reinjured or in discomfort, although he’s struggling at the plate, going 2-for-9.

Collins also plans to give left-handed hitters Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Mike Baxter and Jordany Valdespin each a start. It is presumed Nieuwenhuis will start in center and Baxter in right, but Valdespin is undecided.

Here’s this afternoon’s batting order against the Padres’ Stults:

Collin Cowgill, CF: Won the center field job by hitting .303 in spring training. Hit a grand slam in the opener, becoming the first Met to slam in his debut.

Justin Turner, 2B: Sustained ankle sprain at the end of spring training, but it was a last-day decision to keep him off the disabled list.

David Wright, 3B: Wright is 2-for-7 on the homestand with two stolen bases. He’s 3-for-6 lifetime against Stults.

Ike Davis, 1B: After striking out four times in the opener he hit a two-run homer last night. Davis hit .327 in spring training so he wasn’t concerned about Monday’s strikeouts.

Marlon Byrd, RF: Has three hits in the first two games, including two with runners in scoring position. Hit 16 homers playing winter ball in Mexico, so there’s some pop in his bat.

Lucas Duda, LF: His on-base percentage was a preseason concern, but he’s reached base five times in the two games, including a mammoth two-run homer last night. After a slow start this spring he finished at .270.

John Buck, C: Making his third straight start, which is surprising considering it is a day game following a night game. But, four hits in two games, including a two-run homer last night kept him in the line-up. The chemistry has been immediate with the starters.

Ruben Tejada, SS: Had a brutal spring hitting .096 in 21 games, but drove in the Mets’ first run of the season with a double. Had five hits in spring training, but two already. Committed an error last night.

Dillon Gee, RHP: Making his first start since undergoing shoulder surgery last July to repair a blocked artery. Went 1-2 with a 5.87 ERA in spring training.

The following is San Diego’s line-up:

Everth Cabrera, SS

Will Venable, RF

Mark Kotsay, LF

Yonder Alonso, 1B

Jedd Gyorko, 3B

Alexi Amarista, 2B

Cameron Maybin, CF

John Baker, C

Eric Stults, LHP

Apr 03

Mets’ Collins Keeps Pat Hand; Roster Notes

True to his word, manager Terry Collins is keeping a pat hand. Of course, why would you change anything after scoring 11 runs?

COWGILL: Back on top of order.

COWGILL: Back on top of order.

However, too often in recent seasons the Mets lineup seemed to change daily, with no regard of who was hot or slumping. Granted, there are times when a slump or bad pitching match-up will force a change, but I like Collins’ intent of keeping an even keel.

Collins wants consistency and stability. The bench players will play soon enough, but now it is time for the starters to develop continuity.

Here’s what he has going tonight against Padres left-hander Clayton Richard. My intent is to follow each name in the lineup with a pertinent stat or note. Everybody posts a lineup, but I want to give you something more and a reason to come back:

Collin Cowgill, CF: Was surprise winner of center field job because he’s the best combination of offense and defense. Hit first career grand slam in opener.

Daniel Murphy, 2B: Has shown no ill effects from strained muscle that kept him out of most of spring training. Murphy’s patience makes him an ideal No. 2 hitter.

David Wright, 3B: Named fourth captain in team history. Had a hit and two steals in the opener. Wright will not give a statistical goal, but we all know he’s a .300 hitter with power potential to reach 30 homers and drive in close to 110 runs.

Ike Davis, 1B: Struck out four times in the opener. His swing it too long now. Davis said he doesn’t worry about hitting homers, saying he’s a home-run hitter and knows he must produce to off-set the times he walks back to the bench.

Marlon Byrd, RF: Played well Monday, but wasn’t talking later. He’s a veteran presence with some pop to his bat.

Lucas Duda, LF: Another with high strikeout and power potential. Everybody wants to say he has the power to hit 35 homers. Let him hit 20 first.

John Buck, C: The pitchers like how he calls a game. He’s been an upgrade over Josh Thole. Buck is far from an automatic out at the plate.

Ruben Tejada, SS: Doubled in a run after rough spring training at the plate. Collins said Tejada told him he would be ready and he lived up to his word.

Matt Harvey, RHP: Gave up five runs in five innings in only career start against San Diego. Harvey said commanding his secondary pitches will be the key for him.