Apr 25

Are Mets Marketing Harvey Too Much, Too Soon?

While approaching Citi Field last night one couldn’t help but notice the monstrous digital image of Matt Harvey on a video board outside the stadium with the screaming caption, “Harvey-licious.’’

When logging onto the Mets’ website there was an advertisement plugging Harvey T-Shirts. And, all of this is for a guy who was starting just his 15th major league game.

HARVEY: Mets marketing a rock star. (AP)

HARVEY: Mets marketing a rock star. (AP)

I am waiting for the Mets to put him on a banner outside the stadium, joining the likes of Keith Hernandez and David Wright; Ed Kranepool and Bud Harrelson; Jerry Koosman and Jon Matlack.

Make no mistake, Harvey is a good Met, but not yet a great one. There is plenty of time for him to reach that distinction.

“I don’t get caught up in the marketing angle,’’ manager Terry Collins said when asked if this is too much, too soon, much the way it was last winter for the Knicks and Lin-sanity.

“I don’t thing he gets caught up in it, either. Let’s ride the wave. This guy is ready.’’

He might have been ready last night, but clearly was not sharp against the Los Angeles Dodgers despite the relaxed definition of a quality start. The no-decision indicates Harvey still has growing to do, but does not diminish what he’s already achieved.

“I didn’t like it,’’ Harvey said of his performance in Wednesday night’s 7-3, 10-inning victory. “Tonight was about winning, and we did that. … I have work to do.’’

That humility is why the Mets believe they have something special. Technically, it was a quality start – three runs given up in six innings – but Harvey knows he has to do better than 90 pitches. He knows that many pitches should get him to, if not through, the eighth inning.

History is full of powerful young arms that captured the imagination of not only their fan base, but also those across the nation. Look at Tom Seaver, Vida Blue, Mark Fydrych, Fernando Valenzuela, Ron Guidry, Dwight Gooden and Stephen Strasburg.

The Mets are banking on Harvey to join this prestigious list. Last night won’t remove him from consideration and won’t stop the rumblings of him possibly starting the All-Star Game at Citi Field in July.

The Mets are riding the Harvey wave, but there is an underlying fear is the attention could be too much this early. The expectations of Harvey increase with each start, of which last night’s was nationally telecast by ESPN.

It has been a long time since the Mets had a pitcher of Harvey’s marketability. Gooden perhaps nearly 30 years ago? Or Seaver? No other homegrown Met arm comes immediately to mind.

Gooden was such a long time ago, so you can’t blame the organization for being excited about having somebody this charismatic to promote. As much as Collins raves about Harvey’s demeanor and composure, a case can be made for going overboard. All this attention is a lot to absorb.

The Mets made sure to handle Harvey with kid gloves before bringing him up, so why push things now?

Let him concentrate on pitching first and not being a rock star.

Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

 

Apr 24

Mets Bail Out Harvey On Valdespin’s Slam

Matt Harvey’s anointment to superstar status must wait another start or two, if not another year or so. Harvey struggled Wednesday night, but was saved from his first loss of the season on David Wright’s two-out RBI single in the ninth. The Mets went on to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers, 7-3, in 10 innings on Jordany Valdespin’s grand slam off Josh Wall. It was the Mets’ sixth walk-off grand slam in franchise history and first since Kevin McReynolds in 1991 (from Elias).

VALDESPIN: Knows it is gone. (AP)

VALDESPIN: Knows it is gone. (AP)

ON THE MOUND: Harvey wasn’t sharp as he gave up three runs on four hits and a walk with seven strikeouts in six innings. It was a quality start by definition, but Harvey would say it was not. … The Dodgers broke through in the first on back-to-back singles by Mark Ellis and Adrian Gonzalez and Matt Kemp’s groundout. … After the Mets tied it in the fifth on Ruben Tejada’s single, the Dodgers regained the lead on Kemp’s two-run homer in the sixth on a play that required instant replay.

AT THE PLATE: The Mets won it in the 10th against Wall on John Buck’s leadoff single, a walk to Ike Davis and Marlon Byrd’s sacrifice. Then, after an intentional walk to Lucas Duda, Valdespin went deep. “He seems to relish these moments,’’ manager Terry Collins said of Valdespin. … Mike Baxter doubled in the ninth off Brandon League, took third on Tejada’s sacrifice and scored on Wright’s single to right-center. … Harvey doubled and scored on Tejada’s single in the fifth, but the threat died when Davis struck out with runners on first and second. … Justin Turner, batting for Harvey in the sixth, hit a sacrifice fly. … The Mets stranded nine runners and went 3-for-14 with runners in scoring position.

METS MATTERS: Collins is concerned with lefty reliever Josh Edgin, who has a 10.80 ERA in 10 appearances and could be optioned to Triple-A Las Vegas when Shaun Marcum is activated from the disabled list Saturday. … Jon Niese, who took a hard comebacker off his right ankle Tuesday, still hopes to start Sunday against Philadelphia even if he skips his bullpen Thursday. Niese said he might do a light session Friday. … Valdespin’s slam was the Mets’ third of the season (Collin Cowgill and Buck had the others). … The Mets improved to 1-1 in extra-innings.

BY THE NUMBERS: 17. At the end of spring training Collins expressed a desire to keep a set lineup. Last night he wrote his 17th different batting order in 19 games. So much for continuity.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “The way Baxter took second, at that moment I knew we’d win the game,’’ Harvey said of Baxter hustling for a double in the ninth and scoring the tying run.

ALL-STAR GAME: Major League Baseball announced the start of All-Star voting early Wednesday. By game time there were already scoreboard promos to vote for Buck and other Mets. … FanFest will be July 12-16 at the Jacob Javits Center.

ON DECK: Dodgers lefthander Hyun-Jin Ryu (2-1, 4.01) vs. Jeremy Hefner (0-2, 7.07) tomorrow afternoon in the series finale. The Phillies come in Friday to start a weekend series.

Apr 24

Jon Niese Hoping For The Best After Ankle Injury

It is the morning after and the Mets will hopefully know more about Jon Niese’s injured right ankle. Niese was knocked from Tuesday night’s 7-2 loss to the Dodgers in the third inning after being struck by a hard comebacker off the bat of Mark Ellis.

Niese fell to the ground and had to be helped off the field. X-Rays were negative and he was diagnosed with a bruise.

NIESE: Will he make next start? (Getty)

NIESE: Will he make next start? (Getty)

“It felt kind of like a stinger, like it hit a nerve,’’ Niese told reporters. “It obviously was painful. But then it kind of locked up down there. I couldn’t move my toes. It was kind of scary at first. But then, coming in here, letting it settle down, it’s just a bruise.

“What are the odds that ball hits my ankle? It’s one of those things where I’m glad it’s not as bad as what it could have been. I’ll just move on, shake it off and get ready for my next start.’’

Niese did not say where he earned his medical degree, but knows he won’t be sure until he tests it on his throw day Thursday.

The right ankle is Niese’s landing foot and if he feels any sharp bursts on pain then, he will likely be scratched from his scheduled start Sunday against Philadelphia.

“Certainly the fear was as soon as he couldn’t move his foot … [it] was a bad sign for us,’’ manager Terry Collins said. “Obviously, he’s fine. He’s walking around. He’s getting better as the night goes along. So he’ll be OK. He shouldn’t miss a start.’’

Not known is the number of times Collins has said after an injury that a pitcher won’t miss a start or throw day, but he did.

Whatever the number, bet the over. Also, bet the worse when it comes to Mets’ pitching injuries.

Thinking along those lines, the Mets will have to scramble to find a starter to replace Niese if he can’t go. Aaron Laffey, who was designated for assignment to make room for Robert Carson, was signed by Toronto.

The Mets are adamant about not going to Zack Wheeler, saying he’s not ready, and his control supports their worries.

Next up from Triple-A Las Vegas will be Collin McHugh, who was 0-4 with a 7.59 ERA in eight appearances. However, his Vegas numbers of 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA in four starts indicate he’s pitching better.

Chris Schwinden at 2-2 is also available and pitched for the Mets last season.

The Mets could also decide to dip down to Double-A Binghamton for Rafael Montero, who is 3-0 with a 1.59 in four starts.

Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

 

Apr 22

Collins Won’t Bat Duda Cleanup

lucas duda

After last night’s invigorating 2-0 shutout victory over the Nationals. Terry Collins said  he would not move Lucas Duda from the No. 6 slot to the cleanup spot in the batting order.

Despite Ike Davis’ Feats of Strength (I thought Festivus was in December) on Friday night when he and Duda each slugged a pair of home runs, the first baseman has gone 0-for-8 with four more strikeouts since, and continues to kill the team batting cleanup and posting a .167/.214/.323 slash in 60 at-bats. To put that into perspective, Marlon Byrd, Collin Cowgill and Jon Niese all have better slugging percentages. Get the picture? He’s even worse against lefthanded pitching which begs the question, when will the Mets realize he’s just a platoon player at best?

Back to Duda, remember all through spring and even just last week I spoke about what a huge role confidence is playing in the left fielder’s metamorphosis?

Here is what I wrote on Saturday:

Duda has been a revelation so far even though it’s still early. Knowing that Duda is so sensitive and shies away from any interview requests, I believe that he’s too tough on himself. He lacks the confidence that a big guy like himself should have. Once he starts to taste a little of that confidence, it takes a hold of him and his play improves dramatically.

We got to see him and spoke to Wally Backman about him last season after he was demoted. Duda was isolated from his teammates and would sit and sulk before and after games. He took the demotion hard and for a guy who had little confidence in himself to begin with, the fact that the team lost confidence him too sent him reeling.

However something happened this winter. When he hurt himself lifting furniture, it led to him reporting to St. Lucie a month early to work exclusively with Dave Hudgens. 30 days of exclusive one-on-one training and confidence boosting. When camp officially broke, Duda was transformed and bursting with confidence again. Duda was doing interviews, laughing, and having fun. He has reinvented himself and I credit the Mets hitting coach for what we are seeing so far.

Here is what Terry Collins had to say about Duda after the game:

“This game is all about confidence,” Collins said. “Lucas Duda is feeling pretty good. I don’t want to change that. One thing I don’t want to do right now is put him in a situation where he thinks he’s got to do more than he’s doing at this particular moment.

Collins gets it. Yes, Duda is leading the league with a .475 on-base percentage. And yes, his .659 slugging percentage is second only to John Buck. And yes, his 1.135 OPS leads the Mets. If it were anyone else, but Duda I’d say put him in the cleanup spot. But it is Duda, and we should leave well enough alone – at least for the time being. Let him keep building up that confidence, and let’s check back at the end of May.

Apr 20

Matt Harvey’s Star Keeps Burning

Tom Seaver. Mike Mussina. Roger Clemens. Dwight Gooden.

Matt Harvey has been compared, whether it be stuff, demeanor or franchise history, in some way has been compared to them all.

Yes, it is not fair. Yes, it places unreasonable pressure. But, that’s the nature of covering and following sports. Managers, general managers and players all do it, too.

HARVEY: Keeps burning. (AP)

HARVEY: Keeps burning. (AP)

Harvey is getting a lot of that these days, and after beating Stephen Strasburg last night, he’ll be getting more.

Gooden, who tweeted Harvey is “the real deal,’’ was spotted last night on the Citi Field video board giving a thumbs-up sign. It was in part acknowledging the ovation; it was in part recognition of who he was watching.

“Yeah, absolutely,’’ Harvey said when asked if he was aware of Gooden’s presence and tweet. “It made it special. I grew up watching that guy. I wanted to be like that guy.’’

Whether Harvey has a career like Gooden, Mussina or Mike Pelfrey, we can’t say now. What we can say is all the arrows are pointed in the right direction.

“A lot of guys can throw 98,’’ manager Terry Collins said. “I like his competitive make-up. … Fear of failure is not in Matt Harvey’s make-up.’’

Harvey doesn’t just want to be a good pitcher; he wants to be the best. Collins said Harvey was in tune with the expectations of going against Strasburg, and the Mets’ present and future ace admitted to being amped early.

When it was over, Harvey was all humility – one of his more likable qualities – when asked about the “Har-vey’s better, Har-vey’s better,’’ chant that consumed Citi Field.

Harvey, in his first full season, is composed enough to know he’ll face Strasburg many more times in the future, and the Mets play the Nationals 18 times a season. This isn’t the NBA; there’s no trash talking. Harvey knew better than to stir the pot.

“It’s nice to hear, but I’ve got a long way to go,’’ Harvey said. “I appreciate the fans and the support and all that. But we’re here to win. We’re the New York Mets. It’s not just one guy out there. Every time I take the ball I’m trying to win for the team.’’

That all sound good, but Harvey knows words are cheap and he has to do it on the mound. That’s why Harvey was more satisfied with getting out of a bases-load, no-outs jam in the seventh rather than the two-hit shutout he had after the sixth.

“I knew I would have to pitch there,’’ Harvey said. “I knew I would have to throw strikes.’’

The Mets took a 4-0 lead into the inning, but the panic meter was running high when the Nationals had a run in and loaded the bases. Harvey knew what was required of him.

“That was a big challenge – bases loaded with no outs,’’ Harvey said. “That’s a tough lineup. At any point it felt like it could unravel and things could have gone the other way.’’

It didn’t because Harvey wouldn’t let it.

“That’s the mark of an ace right there,’’ Collins said. “That’s why we can’t say enough things about him. Games like this can lead to a great season.’’

Harvey has a strong work ethic, but that runs deeper than conditioning and working on his breaking pitches in the bullpen. Not only does Harvey work his body, but also his mind and that’s part of the package.

Harvey pitched seven innings last night in improving to 4-0. His goal is over 200, so there’s a long road ahead.

“I’m going to take the 24-hour rule and definitely be happy about this start and this win,’’ Harvey said. “And after it’s over, tomorrow, it’s time to work hard and get prepared for the next start.’’

They said Seaver once said the same in comparing Harvey to him. Perhaps one day they’ll say that about another hot property when they compare him to Harvey.