May 20

Mets Must Develop Consistency In Batting Order

Constructing a major league batting order is a tricky enough task for a manager in the best of times, let alone with the limited and non-productive options in front of Terry Collins.

It was good to see Daniel Murphy back at leadoff Monday against Cincinnati, but somewhat surprised at first to see Rick Ankiel at second. Then again, Murphy won’t be doing a lot of stealing, so there’s not much of a need for him to work the count.

Then again, working the count might not be such a bad idea if it helps Ankiel get a better pitch and cuts down on his strikeouts. You also have to wonder if having a hot David Wright behind him will have pitchers challenge him by throwing more fastballs inside the zone, which theoretically is the theory of hitters protecting each other in the batting order.

Murphy is on a 14-for-28 tear over his last seven games and Ankiel has two homers since the Mets picked him up last week, so there’s life at the top of the order. Wright has also been swinging a hot bat.

Moving Lucas Duda to cleanup and dropping Ike Davis to sixth seems the best option, although I would drop Davis lower – to Triple-A Las Vegas. But, if he stays, let him stick at seventh. Sixth can be a RBI spot in the order, so why keep Davis there when he’s not producing? Until Davis shows he can produce, and he erroneously has said he needs to hit on this level and not in the minor leagues.

What Davis doesn’t get is this isn’t about the majors vs. the minors, but for him addressing his mechanics and approach. Staying in the majors won’t shake him of his bad habits and approach. That will take diligent work in the minors.

Assuming a full season for Ankiel, from him at second, and including Wright, Duda, Marlon Byrd, Davis and John Buck, the Mets have six straight hitters on pace for over 100 strikeouts. Five Mets who normally start are hitting lower than .240. Overall, the Mets have scored three or fewer runs in 10 of their last 13 games and 15 of their last 22.

In spring training Collins said he wanted consistency in the batting order, but realistically hasn’t had many options. One thing he could do is keep Ruben Tejada eighth, which is prudent considering his .219 average.

Collins has waffled before, but if there’s no replacement for Davis – and general manager Sandy Alderson said that is not imminent – here’s hoping he sticks with this indefinitely.There might be minor tweaking depending on specific match-ups and working others into the lineup, but overall hopefully nothing dramatic.

Look at it this way, there’s nothing working with all the juggling. The Mets have used seven different hitters batting leadoff, fifth and eighth; eight number six hitters; and 11 at seventh.

There’s nothing stable there, and that must change.

As usual, your comments are always welcome and I will attempt to answer them. Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

May 20

Appearances Are Piling Up For Reliever Scott Rice

scott riceLefty reliever Scott Rice tossed two scoreless innings to pick up the win against the Cubs on Sunday. It was his major league-leading 25th appearance of the season.

Rice lowered his ERA to 3.05, and is now on pace for 99 appearances. That would surpass Pedro Feliciano‘s franchise mark of 92 games in 2010 and rank second all-time to Mike Marshall‘s 106 appearances for the Dodgers in 1974.

That is one heck of a workload to say the least, and to think that it’s coming from a pitcher who has toiled for 14 years in the minors before finally getting his shot in the majors makes this all the more amazing.

Rice, the 31 year old rookie, is proving to be the second best weapon in the Mets bullpen after closer Bobby Parnell. However, how long can he continue on this torrid pace before it all catches up to him and he begins to breakdown?

“Right now it’s early enough in the year”, manager Terry Collins said. “We’ve tried to get him some days off. But he keeps pitching four out of five, it’s got to be a concern. We’ve got to certainly pick up some of the workload with somebody else.”

Rice has no complaints and is enjoying every minute of his new-found life in the majors, but he also understands the risks.

“If my arm is feeling fine, I’m going to go out there and throw,” Rice said. “I’m going to be smart, and I know my body. I know how to take care of myself and prepare myself to throw every day.”

I’ve been pulling for Rice since back in Spring Training and was so glad for him when he made the team, but I never expected he would play such a significant role this season. Here’s to more great outings for this veteran rook, who definitely knows his place. He earned it the hard way.

May 20

Daniel Murphy Should Remain Leading Off

It doesn’t matter that Daniel Murphy hit the game-winning homer Sunday afternoon, or that he’s the Mets’ hottest hitter, he should be in the leadoff spot again Monday night at Citi Field.

Because of Murphy’s high on-base percentage, batting him leadoff is something I have advocated, and I’m glad Terry Collins was thinking outside the box enough to make the move.

MURPHY: Current leadoff choice. (MLB)

MURPHY: Current leadoff choice. (MLB)

He gets on base, because he can hit,’’ Collins told ESPN.com. “And, when he’s swinging good, he can get some walks. We’ve got to get some people on ahead of David [Wright]. That’s for sure.’’

Notice how Collins didn’t mention getting on base ahead of Ike Davis, but I guess he couldn’t say that with a straight face.

Murphy is the seventh Met to hit leadoff this young season, and of the previous six, is there one you can note with conviction will be here next year?

Ruben Tejada (12 times), Jordany Valdespin (10), Mike Baxter (eight), Collin Cowgill (seven), Justin Turner (two) and Kirk Nieuwenhuis (one) have all appeared without much success at the top or the order. Mets leadoff hitters have hit a major league low .185 with a 29th ranked .255 on-base percentage.

Collins was non-committal on how long he’ll use Murphy leading off, but considering he’s a .300 hitter with a .337 on-base percentage, he doesn’t have better options.

With their leadoff hitters and Davis, the Mets have two slots in the batting order hitting less than .200, and overall they have four positions in their regular lineup hitting below .240.

Collins thought about Murphy hitting first during spring training, but then he had to come up with a center fielder and decide what to do with Tejada. Meanwhile, Murphy, because of his willingness to take a pitch, also seemed suited to hitting second.

“I thought about it in spring training, to be honest, whether or not to lead Murph off,’’ Collins said. “We’ll just see how it goes. It might be something we’ve certainly got to consider as we get deeper into the season, because he can hit.

“He gets on base. If he does that, certainly we’ve got to keep our options open with Murph being the leadoff hitter.’’

Murphy hitting first seems the way to go for now, but slotting him there doesn’t alleviate all of Collins’ concerns. Rick Ankiel can be an answer defensively in center field, but the outfield remains subpar.

The Mets now need a No. 2 hitter, but because Tejada insists on hitting fly balls, he’s not an ideal fit there.

Let’s face it, currently Murphy and Wright are the only hitters in the lineup who are reliable.

May 19

Sacking Terry Collins Now Would Be Unfair

Terry Collins will go to home plate tomorrow with the line-up card and likely get booed. Surely, he’ll hear it when he makes a pitching change.

COLLINS: Give him a fair chance.

COLLINS: Give him a fair chance.

It won’t be fair, but we know few things in baseball aren’t fair.

Collins doesn’t have a contract beyond this season, and his lame duck status rises to the surface when the Mets go into a tailspin, as they did last week when they lost a season-high six straight games, and he later blasted the fans over the Jordany Valdespin episode.

I ripped him over Valdespin with no regrets, but Collins does deserve some points for his clarification the next day. He didn’t retract, which is fine, didn’t say he was misquoted, which is commendable, but said there was room for interpretation.

Sometimes, I don’t get where Collins is coming from when he waffles – for example, I don’t think he gave Collin Cowgill a long enough opportunity in center/leadoff at the start of the season – but for the most part realize he’s dealing with a lack of depth and talent.

Assuming there’s no turnaround, this will be Collins’ third straight losing season, enough to get most managers sacked, but there is a unique scenario in Flushing.

Collins was not hired to take the Mets to the playoffs. He was hired as a caretaker and to change the culture. He is being asked to win a poker hand with five cards worth of mismatched talent. When it comes to discarding cards, Collins might keep David Wright and Matt Harvey, but that’s about it.

Sandy Alderson – also hired as a caretaker – and ownership, which is trying to stabilize its financial ship, have not given Collins a genuine opportunity to win.

Collins has not changed the culture, but he’s not had total support from Alderson in that regard. How else can you explain Valdespin’s presence on the roster? Also, Alderson’s comments yesterday about it not being imminent Ike Davis will be optioned shows a lack of changing the culture.

And, not for a second do I buy there’s no other alternative. The issue isn’t who will play first base for a month in a lost season, but why won’t they make the decision to do something to help Davis?

That falls on Alderson, not Collins.

A way you determine whether a manager is reaching his players is if they’ll still hustle for him and if he loses his clubhouse, and there’s not enough evidence of either. The captain, Wright, plays hard and is the proper example.

However, keeping Valdespin’s toxic attitude and Davis’ dysfunctional bat could gradually eat away at this team’s psyche. Collins’ lame duck status can also do the same.

If the Mets are to be financially whole after this season and show a willingness to spend to add talent, then Collins should get the opportunity to manage that team. He should get the chance to manage with some degree of talent in his dugout.

In looking at the Mets’ 25-man roster, I only see a handful of players I can say with certainty will be back next year: Wright, Harvey, Jon Niese and Bobby Parnell. I can see Daniel Murphy back, but also dealt in July. I can see somebody else playing shortstop next year. Everybody else I can see gone.

That indicates no core or organizational depth, and that’s not Collins’ fault. Give Collins time with a full deck and then make a decision. It’s not fair to do so otherwise.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

May 17

May 17 Mets Wrap: Matt Harvey Does It All

Matt Harvey settled down after a rocky two-run first inning to produce one of his most impressive starts of the season in a 3-2 victory at Wrigley Field. The victory was the Mets’ second straight after losing six in a row.

HARVEY: Does it all vs. Cubs. (AP)

HARVEY: Does it all vs. Cubs. (AP)

ON THE MOUND: Flirting with perfection is one thing, but pulling it together when it isn’t going well is more indicative of what he’ll normally face. Harvey gave up three hits in the first inning and only two after, at one point retiring 14 straight.. … In 7.1 innings, Harvey gave up two runs on five hits and no walks with six strikeouts. … Bobby Parnell worked the ninth for his fifth save.

AT THE PLATE: David Wright homered in the first, Daniel Murphy homered to tie the game in the fourth, and Harvey drove in the game-winner with a seventh-inning single. … Wright had three hits. He also stole his ninth base. … Ike Davis snapped a 0-for-25 slide with a single in the sixth.

IN THE FIELD: Davis missed coming up with Ruben Tejada’s one-bouncer that allowed two runs to score in the first. Amazingly, the official scorer gave Alfonso Soriano an infield hit and a throwing error to Ruben Tejada. … Marlon Byrd threw out Darwin Barney at the plate to preserve the lead in the eighth inning.

METS MATTERS: Zack Wheeler returned to Triple-A Las Vegas and resumed throwing today. He received a cortisone injection in the AC joint of his right shoulder Wednesday. … Terry Collins suggested a platoon with Justin Turner at first base and/or dropping him to fifth in the order if his problems continue.

THEY SAID IT:  “The run support has been lacking, but most of our starters can complain about run support the last couple of weeks. … Pitching, run support and defense; we got all three of those.’’ – Wright on Harvey’s performance.

BY THE NUMBERS: 18: First-pitch strikes thrown out of 27 hitters faced by Harvey.

ON DECK: Jeremy Hefner attempts to win for the first time in eight starts Saturday afternoon.

Your comments are appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos