Sep 17

Mets Wrap: Zack Wheeler Shows He Has More To Learn

Zack Wheeler didn’t take the loss for the New York Mets Tuesday night although he certainly deserved so. This was one of the few times a Mets’ starter came away with a no-decision and it turned out to be a positive for him.

Wheeler was his own worst enemy in five rocky innings as he walked six, including to the leadoff hitter in the fifth that eventually came around to score in large part because he failed to cover first base.

WHEELER: Roughed up by Giants.

WHEELER: Roughed up by Giants.

It is not how Wheeler desired to finish his first season, and certainly not what the smattering of fans at Citi Field wanted to see in an 8-5 loss to the San Francisco Giants.

Because Wheeler is on an innings limit, he might get one more start, next Monday in Cincinnati. It is up in the air whether Wheeler will pitch in the final weekend series against Milwaukee at Citi Field.

Command was a problem for Wheeler in the minor leagues and at times this season on the major league level. This time, he had trouble locating his fastball, and with that it was all an uphill battle.

If there is something to take from Wheeler’s development it has been his ability to minimize damage and put away hitters when in trouble. That’s hard to do when you walk five in one inning, as Wheeler did in the second.

He gave up three runs that inning, but it could have been worse. Even so, Wheeler was in position to get a victory when he took the mound in the fifth. He left the inning with 107 pitches, and pitch counts have been an issue.

Control did him in, but he’ll always remember to hustle to first base.

If the Mets want to stick to Wheeler’s innings limit, that’s fine, but how about skipping him in Cincinnati and let him get a final start at Citi Field? Maybe he’ll redeem himself, and it will be one more chance for the fans to see him.

Wheeler represents the Mets’ future along with Matt Harvey, and perhaps he’ll make the same progressive jump the latter did this season.

With the competitive part of the season long since over for the Mets, their main concern is keeping Wheeler and some players who are injured from doing further damage. In that regard, the Mets are in no hurry to push David Wright.

Prior to the game, Terry Collins said Wright would not be activated for the Giants series because of overall soreness sustained in his rehab from a Grade 2 right hamstring strain.

Wright wants to play, but the prudent thing is to go with caution. Do the Mets really want their last image of Wright this season hobbling off the field after re-injuring his hamstring?

Your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to respond. Follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Sep 14

Murphy Is The One You Keep, Not Trade

daniel murphy scores

Terry Collins praised second baseman Daniel Murphy for staying in the lineup down the stretch while battling nagging issues, according to ESPN. Last night’s win over the Marlins was Murphy’s 145th game of the season, and he could play in 161 of the team’s 162 games this year.

“Make no mistake, Dan’s beat up,” Collins said. “He plays so hard, he’s always beat up. He slides hard, he dives for balls. That takes its toll on the season. He comes to the ballpark, he wants in the lineup. He never asks for a day off. That sends a huge message to all those young players. He’s been our man of steel for sure.”

Collins also called Murphy the “backbone of the team” ever since David Wright has been on the disabled list. Murphy is hitting .313 in his last 28 games entering Friday’s contest, and is batting .281 with 10 homers and a career-best 68 RBIs on the season. He also has a career-high 18 stolen bases.

daniel murphy

“He’s the one guy that teams know is a professional hitter,” said Collins. “To everybody in every club he’s the dangerous guy in our lineup. And we needed that. We need to be able to lean on that type of guy.”

Murphy was eligible for salary arbitration for the first time last winter. He requested $3.4 million and was offered $2.55 million by the Mets. They settled on $2.925 for the 2013 season. He now enters his second round of arbitration with a good chance to earn $4 million.

Last month, MetsBlog reported that Murphy may not be worth his price tag:

Murphy is eligible for arbitration each of the next two seasons, and I expect he’ll earn around $4 million in 2014. It’s plausible to think Alderson views Murphy as not worth his price tag, at that point.

Over his five year career, the 28-year-old has batted .289/.332/.441 and has averaged 39 doubles, ten home runs, 73 runs and 69 RBIs per season, putting him in the top ten of second basemen during that span with a 107 OPS+.

I strongly disagree with MetsBlog and view Murphy as one of the most valued players on the Mets and by that I mean the relationship between his performance and what he gets paid. Even at $4 million he gives the Mets more than double that in value.

His value for this season is over $11 million dollars based on his 2.5 fWAR which is second only to David Wright. When you consider that he’s playing at a somewhat premium position, the value is even more as compared to a corner outfielder or first baseman.

Collins is right when he says that Murphy is the only legitimate professional hitter in his lineup right now. Can you imagine this lineup without him?

As far as I’m concerned, Wright and Murphy are the players that Sandy Alderson needs to build around this offseason. Everyone else in that lineup is just a mystery at this point and not a given.

Mets Country

Sep 14

Lucas Duda Getting His Chance To Shine

When New York Mets manager Terry Collins railed at his listless team for not taking advantage of the opportunity to make an impression toward 2014, he had Lucas Duda in mind.

“This is his chance to play every day at first base. That’s where he likes to play,’’ Collins said last night. “We’re hoping he relaxes at the plate. He doesn’t have to worry about playing defense because he knows he can play first.’’

DUDA: Marlin mashing. (Getty)

DUDA: Marlin mashing. (Getty)

This is the third year the Mets hoped Duda would emerge as their lefty-hitting slugger, and the third time he has disappointed.

However, in Friday night’s 4-3 victory over Miami, Duda responded with a three-run homer in his chance to play with the injured Ike Davis sidelined. Duda has outperformed Davis statistically this season, hitting .236 with 13 homers, 30 RBI and a much-improved .351 on-base percentage.

Even so, Davis has the 32-homer 2012 season on his resume.

The Mets began the season with the offensive approach of patience, of working the count, waiting for and then driving your pitch. The rap on Duda was he became too selective and subsequently too passive at the plate.

But, playing in New York is about right-now production and Duda’s critics were far less patient with him than he was at the plate. While the final two weeks is about making an impression over Davis, everybody knows there will be a sense of urgency come spring training.

The experiment at the start of the year of Duda in left field – after playing right field the previous season – is over. It effectively ended when Duda went on the disabled list with a strained intercostal muscle. Duda lacks speed and range to complement his poor defensive skills, and there was no way he’d get back in the lineup after the acquisition of Eric Young.

At one time this summer there was the feeling the Mets would not tender a contract to Davis and Duda would get first base by default. However, Duda’s power output wasn’t what the Mets hoped, and when Davis showed signs of patience after his return from Triple-A, management’s thinking changed to keeping Davis and have the two battle it out in spring training.

Part of their thinking is that whoever wins, it will be an inexpensive option, and with first base covered they could fill other holes.

The Mets won’t carry two lefty first basemen, and with right-handed hitting Josh Satin available in a platoon, the loser would either go to the minors or be traded.

The homer last night is what the Mets want, but after the game Duda wouldn’t bite on reporters’ questions speculating the future.

“I’m just more concerned with winning and playing well,’’ Duda said. “Whatever they do is up to them. I’m just going to play hard, have fun, and hopefully continue to win.’’

Those comments are about playing the good soldier and saying the right thing, but what the Mets really need from his is to be aggressive and mash.

Your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to respond. Follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Sep 13

Mets Wrap: LaTroy Hawkins Still Has The Right Stuff

When the New York Mets begin their annual winter task of building their bullpen, they’d be wise to consider three names instrumental in beating Miami tonight at Citi Field.

Yes, Lucas Duda gets props for a three-run homer, Jon Niese pitched into the seventh, and Andrew Brown took advantage of a rare start by hitting a mammoth home run, but the Mets might not have won without Vic Black, Pedro Feliciano and LaTroy Hawkins.

HAWKINS: Still has it. (AP)

HAWKINS: Still has it. (AP)

By definition, winning 4-3 is not a slam-dunk, but a study of perseverance and endurance. Those three carried the Mets to the end.

Hawkins has been solid all year in a set-up role, and despite his reservations, assumed the closer role when Bobby Parnell went down and excelled, picking up his ninth save with a 1-2-3 ninth highlighted by a classic punch-out of Giancarlo Stanton, who already hit two homers.

In a masterful display, Hawkins got ahead 0-and-2 with two inside fastballs. Stanton wouldn’t bite on two down-and-away sliders to even the count 2-and-2. But, fearless as usual, Hawkins blew away Stanton inside with a 94 mph. fastball.

At 40, most teams might consider Hawkins an afterthought in constructing a bullpen, but he still has the fastball plus the guile that can’t be measured by a radar gun.

Not only does he get the job done, but he’s an invaluable and calming influence to the younger relievers and in the clubhouse.

My favorite Hawkins moment came at mid-season when the Mets – including manager Terry Collins – danced around the Jordany Valdespin saga. However, Hawkins, a proud veteran, called it as he saw it and wouldn’t let the immature Valdespin off the hook.

Meanwhile, Feliciano doesn’t throw in the 90s, but is still an effective lefty specialist and last night closed the eighth by getting Christian Yelich on a grounder to second.

If used properly – which is to say sparingly and not wear him out – Feliciano is still a plus.

The Mets don’t know Parnell’s availability next year after undergoing neck surgery. They must assume they won’t have him, at least at the start.

They’ll need a closer and Black, who throws in the mid-90s, could emerge as the choice. In preparing for next season, Collins should use Black in as many pressure situations as possible.

Of course, the bullpen key for 2014 is Parnell. If healthy, the three could slot in behind him and GM Sandy Alderson’s bullpen reclamation would be halfway done.

The key to a strong bullpen is having quality starters capable of working deep into the game as Niese did last night. The fewer innings the bullpen works, the more effective.

Your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to respond. Follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Sep 13

Is Mets’ Terry Collins Sending The Right Message?

New York Mets manager Terry Collins has recently been speaking with a sense of urgency we haven’t heard regularly this season.

With the Mets in the midst of losing 10 of their last 12 games, it can be hard to ascertain whether Collins’ intent is to spark his team with the allure of 2014 jobs or deflect attention of another lost season from himself.

Several times this summer I advocated an extension for Collins, and still believe so. However, recent comments come across as him throwing his young team and hitting coach Dave Hudgens under the bus, something a manager can’t do if he doesn’t want to lose his team.

COLLINS: Sending wrong message.

COLLINS: Sending wrong message.

Collins’ latest buzzword is “adjustments,’’ and that’s a direct reflection on Hudgens’ ability to teach.

“You’ve got to make adjustments,’’ Collins told reporters after the Mets were shut out for the second time in the series. “You can’t keep thinking you’re going to get balls to pull, or try to go up there and pull every pitch. … [You have to] realize what the opposing pitcher is doing to get you out, and try to come up with a plan to make an adjustment at the plate and put the bat on the ball.’’

That’s either saying his hitters are clueless or haven’t been taught properly by Hudgens. There didn’t appear that much angst with Ike Davis earlier this season, although there was some noise about Lucas Duda taking too much and Ruben Tejada hitting the ball too much in the air.

The Mets’ stated offensive approach coming out of spring training was to be patient, work the count and swing at your pitch. There’s been a disconnect in there somewhere.

“I know they’re young. That’s all part of it,’’ Collins said. “We want to see some guys get better. And part of that getting better is being able to gather yourself on the side, and get in the batter’s box, and put a good at-bat on.’’

Collins said there are jobs to be had and it isn’t hard to figure where he’s talking about: first base is between Davis and Duda; shortstop is open; and there’s room in the outfield.

“You’d think some of these guys would grab the opportunity that’s in front of them because of the injury issues on our club to say, `Here’s my chance to show I’m a major league player,’ ’’ Collins said. “And we’re not seeing it. We’re not seeing it at this moment, I can tell you.’’

Collectively, Collins said the Mets are starting to feel sorry for themselves.

“And I will not stand for that. Not in this clubhouse, not in this league,’’ Collins said. “You don’t feel sorry for yourself in this league. Nobody feels sorry for you in the game. Our guys in that room, because a lot of them are young, they better learn that lesson real fast. Because if they’re going to play here, they better learn how to bounce back.’’

That aspect of the game is mental and psychological, and a large part of that development falls on Collins. Part of his job when it comes to rookies and younger players is to put them in position to succeed and give positive reinforcement, but that doesn’t always happen here.

Players have played multiple positions, and some in which they are uncomfortable. These guys are smart enough to know their futures are on the line. They don’t have to be reminded of it. There’s enough pressure in this sport without the manager adding more.

There’s a fine line behind telling players the importance of a situation and crushing their confidence, and Collins has danced on it.

Then again, maybe I’m wrong and the problem is the players just aren’t good enough to begin with. If that’s the case, threatening them to get better isn’t going to work.

Your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to respond. Follow me on Twitter @jdelcos