Apr 10

Mets Have Rotation Concerns; Wheeler Not Answer

The night Dillon Gee had in Philadelphia happens to all pitchers. It happened to Stephen Strasburg the other day. It will happen to Matt Harvey. It is premature to worry about Gee two starts into the season. It was not a game worthy of capital punishment.

It was a file-and-forget game.

GEE: Spent week in Philly last night. (AP)

GEE: Spent week in Philly last night. (AP)

“There’s not a whole lot to say. A terrible night,’’ Gee told reporters. “But you’ve got to move past it.’’

He’s right, so let’s move on to something worthy of concern.

With Gee’s short outing and Aaron Laffey not getting through five innings Sunday, the Mets’ bullpen has worked 4.2 and five innings in two of the last three games. That’s over the equivalent of an entire game.

The accumulation of innings by the bullpen is already a concern for manager Terry Collins as it indicates a three-fold problem: 1) the Mets have a problem with the back end of their rotation, 2) they lack a quality long man, somebody who can give them three or more innings when a game gets away early, and 3) this will eventually add up to a bullpen meltdown.

That is why Collins took Lucas Duda out of the game in a double-switch in the fourth inning. He explained the need to get two innings out of Greg Burke, and the No. 9 spot in the order was due up second the next inning.

It makes total sense.

Last night was the 51st start of Gee’s career, and he’s gone at least five innings in 47 of them, so let’s not get crazy with him. However, he’s also a No. 3 starter and the Mets need him to get out of the sixth on a consistent basis.

The difference between five and six innings over a full season – considered 34 starts – is 34 innings, or roughly four games. It adds up and if Collins is already thinking of these things, it isn’t an indication of comfort.

That’s why the Mets’ refusal to consider Aaron Harang is puzzling. Since 2005, he’s worked at least 180 innings in all but two years. Three times he’s gone over 200 innings. That’s acceptable for a No. 4 and No. 5 starter. Unless Harang has an injury we don’t know about, if he becomes a free-agent in a week (he was recently designated for assignment) the Mets should be calling him.

The Mets were fortunate to have Harvey to slot in between Gee and Laffey – caused by the off day last week – but that won’t always be the case. If Collins can maneuver it, he should separate Gee and Laffey whenever possible to avoid consecutive short days by the starters.

However, he is limited because there’s also Jeremy Hefner, who is not a proven long haul starter. With the exception of last night and Laffey, the Mets have received strong starts in every game, but that won’t last all season.

Naturally, when the topic is the Mets needing a quality starter the talk turns to Zack Wheeler. Let’s say it one more time about Wheeler: He is not ready.

Wheeler was rocky again last night as he gave up four runs on eight hits and three walks in 5.1 innings and 92 pitches. For Wheeler’s stuff, 92 pitches should translate into eight or nine innings, not one out into the sixth. It doesn’t matter that three of the runs were unearned. The unearned runs indicates Wheeler strained to get out of trouble.

So, unless Wheeler proves he can get himself out of trouble, he won’t be able to get the Mets out of trouble.

ON DECK:  A look at Jeremy Hefner.

Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

 

Apr 09

Mets Game #8 Wrap; Phillies Rock Dillon Gee

This one was over early when the Phillies scored four runs in the second and three more in the third off Dillon Gee. Ryan Howard, Michael Young and John Mayberry all homered within five pitches. The game wasn’t worth watching after that explosion in the Phillies’ 8-3 rout.

ON THE MOUND: In losing his second straight start, Gee authored the worst outing by a Met starter this season. Gee threw 56 pitches, many of them hit hard, in giving up seven run on ten hits.

AT THE PLATE:  John Buck hit a two-run homer in the fourth, but that was pretty much it off Cliff Lee. Both Buck and Daniel Murphy had two hits. … Lee pitched 8.2 innings.

METS MUSINGS: Mets assistant GM John Ricco told ESPN that Buck was always considered a significant piece of the R.A. Dickey because of the Blue Jays intent to shed his $6 million salary. … With Kirk Nieuwenhuis not getting much playing time the Mets might consider recalling reserve infielder Omar Quintanilla. … Although Ike Davis did not play last night, manager Terry Collins never considered starting Lucas Duda at first base. … The Mets’ starters in Minnesota this weekend will be Jonathon Niese (against Vance Worley), Matt Harvey (no starter named yet by the Twins) and Gee (against Kevin Correla). Former Met Mike Pelfrey, started Tuesday and was rocked in Kansas City, won’t face his former team.

ON DECK: The Mets conclude this series in Philadelphia tomorrow with Jeremy Hefner against Kyle Kendrick.

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Apr 09

Is Daniel Murphy Becoming A Power Threat?

They are hot, so as Crash Davis said you don’t mess with a streak. This is not a time for the Mets to be making wholesale changes, but there are things they could consider.

The Mets don’t have the multitude of power options that say, Ben & Jerry’s has ice cream choices, but Daniel Murphy appears to becoming one.

MURPHY: Hitting like one of the big dogs.

MURPHY: Hitting like one of the big dogs.

Lately, he has been driving the ball for power; something I always thought he was capable of doing. Through seven games he has eight hits, with five going for extra bases – two homers, two doubles and a triple. He encored his five RBI weekend against the Marlins with two doubles last night in Philadelphia.

Apparently, his strained intercostal muscle isn’t an issue, or is it?

Terry Collins suggested in trying to protect his injury Murphy has fallen into the good habit of staying within himself. He’s focusing on the pitch with the intent of driving it up the middle and going to the opposite field.

Consequently, his swing is shorter and compact. He’s not overthinking to the point of trying to pull the ball or guessing pitches.

“It’s made me do is focus on work I was able to put in during the off-season, and even the work that I’ve done in past years,’’ Murphy told reporters in Philadelphia, “I get a little bit older in this game, it doesn’t have to be perfect.’’

Power comes from strength and bat speed. Murphy is strong, and coupling that with sound fundamentals quickens his bat.

Wade Boggs, Tony Gwynn and Ichiro Suzuki aren’t power hitters, but fundamentally strong. I’ve seen Boggs drive ball after ball into the seats during batting practice. He always said he could hit for power if he wanted to.

I believe Murphy can be the same way. He’s the most patient of the Mets’ hitters. For whatever reason why Murphy is driving the ball, it makes one wonder about his optimum place is in the batting order.

His patience and on-base percentage suggests he could be a leadoff hitter. For those saying he’s not fast, you’d be right, but he’s fast enough. Remember, Pete Rose wasn’t fast, but simply one of the best leadoff hitters in history.

He’s currently second for the purpose of working the count to enable the leadoff hitter a chance to run. Only trouble is the Mets have used four leadoff hitters already. Who is running?

“I continue to think [Murphy] is going to be a very, very good offensive force,’’ Collins told reporters in Philadelphia, “to the point where it’s going to be a question whether he has to continue hitting second or you’ve got to put him in the middle of the lineup someplace.’’

Ideally, a team’s best hitter – defined as the combination of power and average – bats third, but that’s David Wright’s spot. However, should Murphy continue to stroke the ball while Ike Davis keeps struggling, why not move him to third and drop Wright and Davis one slot into the order?

This lengthens the order to the point where Lucas Duda could be batting seventh, which doesn’t make the bottom third a black hole.

They are winning so keep a pat hand. This is just a suggestion to tuck away for later.

ON DECK: Tonight’s starter Dillon Gee and game preview.

Please follow me on Twitter. @jdelcos

 

Apr 09

Is Harvey The Best Mets Pitcher Drafted Since Gooden?

matt harveyLast night, at least six times, I heard fans, beat writers and announcers drawing comparisons to Tom Seaver when talking about Matt Harvey. He’s quickly becoming not just a Mets story limited only to the five surrounding boroughs, but a national baseball story as well. A cover on the front of Sports Illustrated or ESPN magazine is not far away.

Harvey, 24, had his second consecutive scintillating start in a row on Monday evening, holding the Phillies to just one run and three hits over seven innings of work. The righthander struck out nine and now has 19 strikeouts in 14 innings.

The seventh overall pick in the 2010 draft is tearing down long-standing records for pitchers who are breaking into the majors and after 12 starts he even had the great Doctor K himself saying, “I am sitting here watching Matt Harvey… this kid is better than advertised … looking forward to watching him every 5th day.”

One thing I found impressive came from former major leaguer turned ESPN analyst Doug Glanville say, “He has four plus pitches – make that plus, plus pitches. And even if he only has three of them working he’s going to pitch a great game. Even if he has just two of the working, he’s going pitch a good game.”

Manager Terry Collins kind of backed that up after the game, “Obviously he wasn’t real sharp, but he was still very good,” Collins said. “The fact that the change-up has helped him. He threw some very good breaking balls today. He just wasn’t as sharp with the command of his fastball…It just tells you what the quality stuff can do and when you make a pitch you have to make, you get people out.”

Can Matt Harvey become the best pitcher the Mets have developed since – well since – Dwight Gooden?

I’m starting to believe that it’s certainly a possibility. He may be the best pitcher a Mets GM has drafted since Frank Cashen took selected Gooden fifth overall in 1981. That was six general managers and 32 years ago.

Is it too early to make such a claim? Maybe. But I’ll stick to my guns and wait ten years to see if I was right.

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