May 10

Wally Backman Out Of Line On Wheeler Comments

Like everybody else, I am anxious to see Zack Wheeler with the Mets. Even if he’s half of what he’s been cranked up to be, he has to be some improvement, if not a gate draw, from what the Mets have now.

BACKMAN: Out of line.

BACKMAN: Out of line.

Yesterday, Las Vegas manager Wally Backman told a local radio station: “Personally, I think if he has a couple of more starts like his last start he’ll be headed to the big leagues, and rightfully so.’’

Huh? I don’t recall GM Sandy Alderson saying something like that.

I’m not saying Backman is right or wrong in his analysis or projection of Wheeler, just wrong in saying anything of that nature in the first place.

Backman manages Triple-A Las Vegas. He does not speak for the Mets’ organization, and his comments put undue pressure on everybody, from Backman, to Wheeler, to Terry Collins, to Alderson.

Once somebody from the organization, even Alderson, suggests a timetable, a clock starts ticking. So, what happens if Wheeler isn’t up in two starts? What then? Another timetable? You can’t keep teasing the fan base that way.

Backman is out of line in making such statements. But, could it be he spoke because the Mets don’t have a policy in place on how to publicly handle Wheeler?

There were no such conflicting messages with Washington about promoting Stephen Strasburg. Why aren’t similar precautions and guidelines in place for Wheeler?

There was more structure to Matt Harvey’s promotion this year in that everybody knew he would go north with the team coming out of spring training. There seemed more structure to Harvey’s promotion last year, primarily because Alderson did most of the talking.

The only structure with Wheeler is we knew he wouldn’t be up at the beginning of the year because of the contractual links to his arbitration and free-agency eligibility seasons. The best-guess estimate for that is the end of the month or early June, but either way that exceeds a couple of more starts.

At least the Mets made a determination, although there was the caveat of “if we really needed someone,’’ that could be waived. Wheeler wasn’t pitching well enough early in his season to warrant a promotion, but he has been good his last two starts. Perhaps, two or three more and he’ll be ready, but that’s Alderson’s call and not Backman’s.

It’s confusing when not all the parties are on the same page. It is Alderson’s responsibility to define that page, and Backman’s to follow the guidelines.

There should be no loose cannons here, just one voice. That’s the case with winning organizations.

Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

May 09

Mets Shouldn’t Even Think Of Extending Ike Davis

During the offseason and in spring training I wrote in the interest of financial certainty, that the Mets should consider signing Ike Davis to a long-term contract as to bypass his arbitration years.

After 32 homers last season because of a strong second half, I thought Davis might be a keeper and they should do for him what they did for Jon Niese and David Wright. Lock up your investments early to keep them out of arbitration and the free-agent market is sound business. Lots of teams sign their can’t-miss youth at prices they can control in the future. In 2006, the Mets did it with Jose Reyes and Wright.

DAVIS: Another stroll to the dugout. (AP)

DAVIS: Another stroll to the dugout. (AP)

Only problem is Davis isn’t a can’t miss, but a swing-and-a-miss.

When he first arrived, Davis showed great power potential, but also was able to be selective and go to the opposite field. He showed an ability to act like a hitter. He did it the other night when he drew a walk in the tenth inning and scored the winning run in the Matt Harvey game.

“In that situation the pitcher knows the batter will be trying to hit it out of the park,’’ manager Terry Collins said. “He’ll be trying to get the batter to chase after a bad pitch, but Ike resisted.’’

It was a good piece of hitting, but one we’ve not often seen from Davis, who tries to go for the homer, even on pitches low and away.

Davis’ slow start should definitely cause the Mets to resist the temptation of signing him to a multi-year extension. Davis is hitting a paltry .170 with a .270 on-base percentage. He already has 35 strikeouts with just 17 hits and 13 walks. He has four homers and eight RBI.

None of those numbers warrant giving Davis an extension, or even thinking of it.

We know Davis has the potential to hit 32 homers because he’s already done it. However, whatever run production Davis is capable of providing isn’t worth his 186 projected strikeouts. Davis said earlier this spring that “I’m a home run hitter and strikeouts are going to happen,’’ which illustrates a refusal to work on the finer points of hitting.

That sizes up Davis in one short, compact stroke, something we don’t see from him at the plate.

Mechanically he’s a mess, with a dramatic hitch and propensity for lunging at pitches. His mental approach is much worse. You just have to watch a few at-bats to know he has no plan or patience at the plate. Davis is supposed to be a young lion, a future face of the franchise, but they are already starting to pinch-hit for him.

For this, any talk of a long-term deal is not only premature, but absurd.

Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

 

May 08

Will Matt Harvey Ever Get That Great Moment?

Alex Rios’ two-out infield single was the only thing that stood between Matt Harvey and a perfect game.

Managers don’t usually say these things, but Terry Collins thought in the fifth inning Harvey was heading toward history. Even Harvey knew he was on Tuesday night.

HARVEY: Sniffs perfection. (AP)

HARVEY: Sniffs perfection. (AP)

“Everything was obviously working,’’ Harvey told reporters last night. “When I can throw my slider for a strike and also bounce it when I need to, that’s when it starts getting fun. That was definitely the best I felt all year.’’

He was that on and didn’t get it. The way baseball works, and Harvey understands this, is he could get it on a night he feels awful.

While we are engrossed in the no-hitter pursuit, they are rare because of the nuances in the game. Jim Qualls broke up Tom Seaver’s perfect-game bid in 1969 with a clean single, but as Rios showed they all aren’t line drives.

Rios beat out a dribbler in the shortstop hole. Other no-hitters have been broken up by broken-bat bloops or balls lost in the sun, or bunts. And, who doesn’t remember how Armando Galarraga lost his perfect game on Jim Joyce’s blown call?

Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone threw no-hitters with other teams, when their electric stuff lost some voltage.

No-hitters are flukes, thrown by forgettable names, and not thrown by the greatest arms the sport has ever witnessed. That Nolan Ryan threw seven and Sandy Koufax threw four, and Johnny Vander Meer had them in consecutive starts is incomprehensible. They had skill and stuff, but perhaps it was a matter of the Baseball Gods smiling on them those days.

Harvey has already lost two no-hitters after seven innings this year, so we know the stuff is there, but it isn’t always about stuff. Hey, if a guy swings a bat anything can happen.

What I liked about Harvey was his stuff, his demeanor and his concentration. Do you know how hard it is to breathe and focus when you nose is stuffed with cotton? Harvey started the game with a bloody nose that continued in the early innings.

His focus only sharpened.

What I also liked about him was his acceptance in losing the perfect game. He didn’t regret the slider he threw Rios, and praised Ruben Tejada’s effort.

“In that hole it’s tough,’’ Harvey said. “Obviously anything going away and then making that long throw, I knew it was going to have to be absolutely perfect. He made an awesome attempt.’’

Harvey remains at 4-0 after three straight no-decisions. His 58-12 strikeouts-to-walks ratio illustrates dominance on both the stuff and command levels. What can you say about a 1.28 ERA?

One more number about Harvey is intriguing, and that is his “24 Hour Rule,’’ in which he gives himself a day to relish in a good start or lament something negative, such as losing a perfect game.

Then, it is back to work. On Thursday he will start focusing on Sunday’s start against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Yes, Harvey has no-hit potential. No, I can’t say he will ever throw one, but I don’t care. Harvey might not ever get that great moment, but he’s on the way to a great career, and I don’t want to miss a start.

Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

 

 

 

May 05

Niese’s Struggles Continue; Mets Have Lost His Last Four Starts

There will be days like today, where the meltdown is complete in all phases, beginning with Jon Niese’s inability to get hitters out, an offense offering little resistance to Tim Hudson, and a porous defense.

NIESE: Didn't have it. (AP)

NIESE: Didn’t have it. (AP)

It’s not alarming the Mets couldn’t do anything to Hudson, but what should be a source of concern is Niese, who was hit hard in his fourth straight start – all lost by the Mets, today 9-4 at Turner Field.

Manager Terry Collins said Niese was too strong and overthrew his pitches, leading to his lack of control. Collins gave his pitcher an out, but Niese didn’t take it, saying he can’t afford to have games like this.

ON THE MOUND: Niese gave up seven runs on seven hits and six walks in four innings, and has been rocked for 14 runs in his last four starts, totaling 19 innings. One of those games was April 23, when he took a hard comebacker off his right ankle and lasted 2.1 innings. With Saturday’s rainout and tomorrow’s off day, the four innings worked by the bullpen shouldn’t be too taxing.

AT THE PLATE: David Wright had two hits, including another homer. That’s three in three days. … Mets had a chance in the eighth inning, but Marlon Byrd struck out swinging on a pitch that would have been ball four to end the inning.

IN THE FIELD: The official scorer was kind to the Mets, giving hits on balls misplayed by Lucas Duda and Wright. … John Buck failed to block two pitches in the dirt.

HARVEY PUSHED BACK: With Niese’s start rained out Saturday, Collins had the option of going with Niese, or starting Matt Harvey on normal rest. However, with Harvey throwing 121 pitches in his last start, Collins opted for extra rest, which was the right call. Harvey will start Tuesday against the White Sox. “You try to keep them as prepared as you can,’’ Collins said. “I don’t like it. That’s one of the issues we’ve talked about. We talked about it on the road trip in Colorado. This game is about routines and repetitions. When you get these guys out of these routines and their reps, it’s a problem.’’

BY THE NUMBERS: 6: Walks issued by Niese, tying a career high.

THEY SAID IT: “They were flat today.’’ – SNY analyst Ron Darling describing today’s loss that wasn’t as close as the score indicated.

ON DECK: The Mets are off Monday, and then open a two-game series Tuesday against the Chicago White Sox.

May 04

Not Right How Mets Are Judging Terry Collins

As of now, Terry Collins’ job is safe and deservedly so. Based on getting the most out of what he has been given and basic fairness, there’s nothing justifying Collins’ job being in question.

COLLINS: What's he thinking? (AP)

COLLINS: What’s he thinking? (AP)

However, fairness is irrelevant in sports. A manager’s job security always becomes an issue when he has lame duck contractual status and his team has lost six straight games.

Losing streaks get everybody edgy, with questions directed to management, in this case, GM Sandy Alderson, who was asked the inevitable by The New York Post.

“That’s not something that has entered my mind or any mind within the organization,’’ Alderson said. “Has it entered the minds of others in the media or what have you? Yes.’’

Well, of course it has. It’s been on the back burner since pitchers-and-catchers in February. And, I don’t think for a second it hasn’t crossed Alderson’s mind, either.

Walter Alston used to work on one-year contracts, but he was Walter Alston and his Dodgers teams were perennial winners. They were an organization that believed in consistency. They were the exception to the rule.

By contrast, Collins manages the Mets, a franchise that last went to the World Series in 2000. Thirteen years later, and they are on their fifth manager. That’s not even three years each, and that’s no stability. While this trend doesn’t suggest good things for Collins, it might work in his favor for at least this summer. If the Mets aren’t going anywhere, there’s no reason to make a change and have owner Fred Wilpon pay two managers.

Bobby Valentine managed that World Series team, but frequently clashed with then GM Steve Phillips – one of four since 2000 – and with his personality wore out his welcome. Art Howe was the polar opposite of Valentine, and that didn’t work, either. I thought Willie Randolph had a chance, but he was hamstrung from the beginning when he wasn’t given full reign to hire his coaches and had to deal with clubhouse spy Tony Bernazard, who usurped his authority. Jerry Manuel was overmatched, but that’s what you get when you sack a manager after midnight.

Now there’s Collins, who was brought in by Alderson to clean up the mess. However, Alderson doesn’t have free economic authority to spend, and consequently Collins doesn’t have the pieces. He’s basically a custodian; here to keep things clean.

The pieces he’s been given don’t fit, but here’s the rub, Collins is judged on what he does with those pieces, much like on those cooking shows where the contestants have to make something out of a basket of random ingredients.

“He came into the season without a contract for next year and may not have one for next year through this season,’’ said Alderson, meaning don’t expect an in-season extension. “But as I’ve told him and said before: This isn’t just about wins and losses. It’s about how we approach the game and fully taking into account what he has to work with.

“We talk from time to time and the [job status] subject comes up. I’m not trying to avoid the topic. It’s status quo. You go through a tough week and people like to immediately jump to conclusions and start discussing a doomsday scenario. A good first week isn’t necessarily any more of an indication than a bad fourth week.’’

So, there you have it: Collins is the care taker for 2013.

Alderson wants to know more if his roster can work and play nice with each other rather than if it has any talent. He’s telling us – again – that it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, but how you play the game.

Unfortunately, they keep score and results do matter. Major League Baseball isn’t new wave, liberal physical education where everybody gets a prize for showing up.

Winning does matter on this level. Teams pay big money to get players capable of winning and fans pay big money to watch those players.

If the losing continues, attendance will eventually drop as it has every year since Citi Field opened. But, the players will get their money. And, Collins could be out of a job. Not fair, but that’s how they play the game. It is also something Alderson needs to think about concerning his own job status.

ON DECK:  The Summer of 1973 Series continues.

Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos