Mar 26

Encouraging News For Wright; Opening Day A Possibility

After he played in a minor league game today, the Mets softened their position on whether David Wright could be ready for Opening Day. When Wright was pulled from the World Baseball Classic last week, manager Terry Collins was thinking a month. Not any longer.

“I would not be surprised if David Wright is there Opening Day,’’ Collins told reporters today. “There will be a lot of things considered here on Thursday or Friday.’’

The Mets are doing the right thing in that both Wright and Murphy are playing in minor league games, so if there was a setback and they had to start the season on the disabled list it could be backdated into spring training.

Among the variables Collins will consider is the weather, as the intercostal muscles both are fighting could be vulnerable to further injury in the cold.

Both players were 1-for-5 today.

THE GAME: The Mets were ripped today, 11-4, by St. Louis, but the most thing to take from the game was Jeremy Hefner – who’ll replace Johan Santana in the rotation and on the roster – left early with a bone bruise on his right elbow.

On a bright note, Lucas Duda had three more hits, including his fifth homer, to raise his average to .302.

Mar 25

Did Santana Commit Career Suicide?

Santana10

HOW MUCH IS SANTANA CAUSE OF HIS OWN PROBLEMS?

When Johan Santana said he doesn’t know when he will pitch again, it isn’t inconceivable it could be never.

Santana’s left shoulder is not getting better and it isn’t unfair to wonder if the prideful or stubborn lefthander – take your pick – may have committed career suicide on March 3, a quiet Sunday that turned into one of the Mets’ loudest days of spring training.

The day after GM Sandy Alderson said he thought the Mets’ $31-million commitment was at least ten days from getting on the mound and not in good shape, Santana took it upon himself to prove him and the questioning media wrong.

Now, there’s no longer doubt of him staying in Florida or being on the Opening Day roster.

“I’ve just got to stay here and work out and get ready,’’ Santana told reporters over the weekend. “… I’m making progress. It’s just I don’t know when I’m going to be pitching again. That’s the thing: We cannot think ahead. The way we’re approaching everything is every day make sure we have a good day.’’

Too bad he wasn’t thinking that way when he expressed displeasure in not playing in the World Baseball Classic, and later anger at Alderson. Who knows what went through Santana’s mind when he took the mound with an “I’ll show you’’ chip on his shoulder.

How can there be progress when he can’t think ahead? How can there be progress when his shoulder isn’t close?

Since that day, Santana threw a light session, but was scratched from a start and has been reduced to 90-foot long tossing. Do you realize how far away that distance is from a regular season game?

He must gradually build up to 180 feet, and after cleared at that distance will he be allowed on the mound. Then, it’s throwing batting practice and building his pitch count up to 100. Manager Terry Collins said Santana needs to go through a spring training, which is six weeks. But, that clock doesn’t start until he gets on the mound, and nobody can say when that will be.

That’s progress?

And, that’s assuming there are no setbacks, of which there have been several during this struggle since shoulder surgery in September of 2010 to repair a torn anterior capsule.

Of course, it is hard to pinpoint an exact time when a pitcher’s million-dollar arm turns to ten cents. There was the injury in 2010, but Santana had issues with his shoulder in Minnesota before the trade to the Mets.

The wear and tear on a major league pitcher’s arm begins with the first pitch. Santana made 34 starts in 2008, his first year with the Mets, but had surgery in the off-season and hasn’t come close to pitching a full season since.

After two winters of rehab, Santana made it back last year with initial success, including a controversial no-hitter, the only one in franchise history.

Did Collins make a mistake leaving Santana in for 134 pitches, thinking he was giving the pitcher a shot at a career moment and Mets’ fans their lone bright spot in what would be a dark summer?

Of course, Santana didn’t want to come out, and no pitcher admits to being tired, but this was different. Had the no-hitter not been on the table Santana never would have continued pitching. His summer quickly unraveled and included a career-worst six-game losing streak.

After two winters of rehab, Santana, with the Mets’ knowledge, did not have a normal offseason. Then again, nothing has been routine about his winters since 2007 as there has been an injury issue each year.

“I’ve been in this game for a while,’’ Santana said. “I went through that [surgery] a couple of years ago and I’m still here. So I’m going to battle and try to come back and help as much as I can. When that is going to happen, I don’t really know.’’

Several questions are raised through Santana’s uncertainty. How much did the no-hitter hurt him? How carefully was Santana monitored in the offseason? Did going slower backfire? It is easy to suggest the no-hitter hurt, but how much did Santana contribute to his own demise this spring?

“I’m just building up my strength and throwing more volume,’’ Santana said. “… With injuries you never know. I got to spring training feeling good. And then, once I started getting to pitch and stuff and I got on the mound, I didn’t feel I was making progress.’’

If he didn’t believe he was making progress, then why consider the WBC?  More to the point, if he wasn’t making progress why did he get on the mound March 3, when his manager wasn’t expecting him to throw for nearly two weeks?

What forced him, pride or anger? Perhaps, he simply ran out of patience waiting to find out if he’ll ever make it back.

Santana might finally have his answer.

Mar 23

Mets Batting Order Reveals How Unsettled Team Is

There must be times Mets manager Terry Collins sits in his office with the door shut, puts his head in his head and wonders how he is going to handle his team.

There are probably times he thinks retirement might not be such a bad thing.

COLLINS: What's he thinking?

COLLINS: What’s he thinking?

In most camps, positions and batting orders are set a week from Opening Day. That isn’t the case with the Mets, where Collins is still juggling his options with one eye on the calendar.

Maybe he’s hoping that blizzard in Denver last night during the soccer game hits Citi Field on Monday.

In fairness, the order hasn’t been helped by the absences of David Wright and Daniel Murphy. Also, in fairness, he doesn’t have much to work with, as there will be no late arriving help for a roster, such that it is, that for the most part is set.

However, there’s nothing fair about baseball, and a manager must figure out what to do with the cards he’s dealt, good or bad. That’s his job; that’s what Collins signed up for.

There are times the batting order is a team’s GPS, as it tells you exactly where the team his headed. Today’s line-up is indicative of Collins’ dilemma:

Collin Cowgill, CF: If they aren’t going to carry Matt den Dekker in center, then Cowgill is the best option defensively. He’s there today, but has moved around all spring both in the outfield and his position in the order. It was thought Ruben Tejada could lead off, but he’s not hitting.

Justin Turner, 2B: With Wright out, Turner is supposed to play third. So why is he at second today? He’s hitting second, as has at least half a dozen Mets this spring. It’s clear the Mets aren’t settled at the No. 2 spot in the order.

Marlon Byrd, RF: I recently suggested Byrd hit third because he’s a veteran and arguably one of their more versatile hitters. I didn’t say best. If Byrd has the inside track to hit third, he should stay there this week. Byrd appears to have won the right field job from Mike Baxter.

Ike Davis, 1B: Hitting him third was never a good idea, but he has the most power. Clean-up figured to be his spot, so he never should have been hitting anywhere else this spring.

John Buck, C: I was wondering when they were going to insert a right-handed hitter between strikeout-prone Davis and Lucas Duda. Righty or lefty, somebody needs to hit between them as you can’t afford a combined 300 potential strikeouts hitting back-to-back.

Lucas Duda, LF: Duda is here for his power potential. But, with it comes his high strikeout potential and low on-base percentage. The Mets sent him down last year when he struggled, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the same thing this summer. He’s still a work in progress, both at the plate and in the field.

Zach Lutz, 3B: He’s hit clean-up this spring, which is pointless because that’s for Davis. He’s still getting reps at third base, which means they are thinking of him there. That would also mean they are also thinking of Turner at second and not Jordany Valdespin.

Ruben Tejada, SS: Tejada is having the kind of spring offensively that would have sent most players to the minors. The Mets don’t have the depth to make that move. Until he starts hitting, he stays eighth.

Rafael Montero, RHP: Getting the spot start today because there are already holes in the rotation.

Sad to say, the only consistent and sure thing about the Mets’ batting order is the pitcher hitting ninth.

Mar 23

Mets Outfield Still A Mess; No Help Coming

For those hoping for a last minute trade or free-agent signing to give the Mets a representative outfield, there will be no meteor like event to change the obvious impression it will be a long season.

Sandy Alderson did not make a significant move over the winter to build the outfield. Instead he tinkered and went into spring training with a “hope for the best” mentality. Now, he’s telling reporters what nobody – outside the players involved – wants to hear which is the Mets are keeping a pat hand.

COWGILL: Could be in center on Opening Day

COWGILL: Could be in center on Opening Day

And, it’s not a full house.

“I think we’ve got a sense of who the five or six are who might be on the team,’’ Alderson said. “How exactly they’re used is something that we’ll talk about over the next week or so. What we have is what we’re going to have, and we’re not entirely displeased with that.’’

Doesn’t that also mean, they are not entirely pleased?

Also unsettling is outside of Lucas Duda in left field, the Mets don’t have a concrete idea of how they’ll use Marlon Byrd, Collin Cowgill, Mike Baxter and Jordany Valdespin.

That could be because they have no idea of what they are getting. Byrd is at the end of his career; Cowgill and Baxter have never been fulltime starters; and Duda is trying to learn a new position while at the same time attempting to figure out major league pitching.

Valdespin is now projected to open the season at second base because Daniel Murphy will not be ready. Murphy, down with a strained intercostal muscle, will not play in a minor league game today as hoped. Manager Terry Collins said if Murphy did not play this weekend he would open the season on the disabled list. The announcement is a formality now.

Collins has used Cowgill all over the outfield, while Byrd – perhaps having the greatest offensive upside – has played center and right. Baxter has been mostly used in right field.

The Mets’ best defensive outfielder is Matt den Dekker, but there is no indication they are considering him, citing his offense. Den Dekker has hit well recently, but not enough for the Mets’ liking. It should be noted, that neither has anybody else.

Of the group, only Duda and Baxter were on the roster last season, and Duda could very well be the only one in spring training next season if there’s development in the minor leagues or the Mets spend in the off-season as they promised.

Entering spring training, the penciled-in outfield – from left to right – was Duda, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Baxter, with Cowgill rated No. 4. Byrd wasn’t even in camp and Valdespin was a long shot to make the team.

The acquisition of Byrd put him ahead of Baxter in right because of his offensive potential, and Valdespin hit his way onto the Mets’ radar.

There is no track record to indicate Valdespin will continue to hit and when Murphy returns he will find himself back on the bench.

What the Mets have is a handful of role players who have never performed in the role of a fulltime, productive starter.

What the Mets have is a problem.

Mar 21

Mets Have Habit Of Placating Pitchers For The Worst

What is it with the Mets and their starting pitchers? Giving them near total control hasn’t worked. It didn’t for Willie Randolph and Jerry Manuel, and it isn’t for Terry Collins.

The impression is the tail is wagging the dog when it comes to Mets’ starters, and this isn’t new. Pitchers tend to be divas by nature, but it has gone to another level with the Mets.

MARCUM: What's going on here?

MARCUM: What’s going on here?

Clearly, free-agent Shaun Marcum did not report to spring training ready to go by telling Collins and GM Sandy Alderson he only needed four starts to get ready. He was allowed to set his own pace, but obviously didn’t have the track record to deserve it.

Marcum received cortisone injections in each of the last three years, and last spring was down for nearly three weeks. Without question, this is a guy who should not be setting his own program.

Marcum vows 200 innings, a level he’s only reached once since 2005. His lifetime 57-36 record was why Alderson gave him the benefit of doubt, but his 124 innings last year should have accounted for something.

Wasn’t Marcum’s history and workout program discussed? If it was, then why agree to this?

Santana does have the resume to set his own program, but abused it when he threw off the mound without Collins’ knowledge the first week of March.

SANTANA: Won't make Opening Day.

SANTANA: Won’t make Opening Day.

The Mets said they monitored Santana in the off-season, and told him to go easy since he rehabbed the previous two winters. Something was lost in the communication as Santana wasn’t ready when spring training began and will open the season on the disabled list.

Collins said Santana knows his own body, but here’s a guy who hasn’t worked an inning all spring and at the beginning wanted to pitch in the World Baseball Classic. Had he done so, the results could have been career threatening.

Early in camp, after Alderson questioned Santana’s conditioning, the lefthander, angry with the Mets and media, threw off the mound without his manager’s knowledge. Collins wasn’t happy then and now must be fuming because Santana has done little since and has no set timetable. One must wonder how much that stunt set him back.

There are other examples of how the Mets let their starting pitches get away with setting their own routine that ended badly.

In 2009, Mike Pelfrey refused to go on the disabled list and miss a start and insisted on the start being pushed back. To placate him, the Mets brought up a starter from the minors, but to make room released reliever Darren O’Day, who only proved to be a key in the Rangers getting to the World Series twice.

O’Day has worked 247.2 innings in his five-year career with 217 strikeouts, 63 walks, a 2.73 ERA and 1.058 WHIP. The Mets don’t have anybody with that production in their current bullpen.

The Mets also let Pedro Martinez march to his own tune with mixed results for several years. Is Pedro pitching today? What’s going on with Pedro? It was like that every spring.

MARTINEZ: Where's Pedro?

MARTINEZ: Where’s Pedro?

The Mets did everything they could, including alienating a future Hall of Famer, Tom Glavine, to placate Martinez and his whims.

Of course, don’t forget Oliver Perez, whom former GM Omar Minaya signed to a disastrous three-year contract. The height of the absurdity is when Perez refused a minor league assignment – as was his contractual right – to work on his mechanics.

Consequently, the Mets carried him the rest of the season rather than release him and eat his contract, which they eventually did the following spring.

Funny, the Mets once had the stones – but no brains – and traded Tom Seaver, who wasn’t happy with his contract. Now it seems they don’t have either, as the trend is obvious, from Alderson to Minaya, and with each of the managers, to let some starters dictate to them how things would be and it turned out for the worse.

Will it be that way in 2013 with Marcum and Santana?