May 31

Mets Wrap: Looking At Wright’s Future And The Bullpen Meltdown

A bad back ended Don Mattingly’s career, one that could have landed him in the Hall of Fame had he not been injured and forced to retire at age 34. A bad back ended Larry Bird’s career. The Mets are facing the same prospect with David Wright.

WRIGHT: What's he thinking now? (AP)

WRIGHT: What’s he thinking now? (AP)

Wright spent four months on the disabled list with spinal stenosis last season. He’s currently facing the prospect of the disabled list with a herniated disc in his neck. The Mets delayed the disabled list when they made room for James Loney by sending Eric Campbell to Triple-A Las Vegas.

When the Mets gave Wright a long-term contract in December of 2012, they pared down the amounts for the last two seasons in anticipation of his skills diminishing. Wright will get $20 million a season through 2018; $15 million in 2019 and $12 million in 2020.

With his recent injury history, manager Terry Collins told reporters he’s sensing those skills fading now.

“This guy has been a special player,” Collins said. “Certainly being the captain and the face of this organization, a manager’s worst nightmare is to see a star start to fade. I think David’s got a lot of baseball left in him because of the way he prepares and the way he gets himself ready. But it’s hard to watch what he’s going through.

“He’s still special. He’s still a great player. We just hope this neck thing goes away in a few days and he’s back in our lineup.”

Wright didn’t play in Tuesday’s 6-4 loss to Chicago to miss his fourth straight game, and the injection he received will take at least two more games before taking effect. That makes the disabled list a real possibility.

It won’t happen this season, but the Mets and Wright should be thinking about the next four years because it is fairly obvious he’s not going to make the end of his career at third.

There are several options:

FORCED RETIREMENT: They could buy him out, which is what they did with Jason Bay and Michael Cuddyer. Neither side wants this, but Wright’s pride probably will make him consider this option over time.

Wright, at 33, has seven homers, but only 14 RBI, He has a respectable .350 on-base percentage. What is not are his strikeouts, with 55 in 137 at-bats. Wright is batting .226 with 31 hits. If you flipped the strikeouts with hits, his average would be .401. That emphasizes the importance of the strikeouts.

There are a lot of reasons for the strikeouts, with his back one of them. I know Wright doesn’t like how he’s playing, but I also know he has too much pride and integrity to just take the money. He has to know something has to change.

POSITION CHANGE: Where would he go? First base and left field are the only possibilities.

I floated the idea of left field last summer because it would have the least amount of stress on his back. His throwing shouldn’t be a problem because he wouldn’t have to throw sidearm.

There’s less pounding on his back in the outfield because he won’t have the deep bending before every pitch. I know you’re thinking about Michael Conforto, but it wouldn’t hurt to try him at right field. As far as Curtis Granderson, he has one more year after 2016.

Yes, there’s crouching at first base, but it isn’t as intense as playing third base because a lot of time he’ll be holding runners which does not require as deep a crouch.

As a corner infielder, Wright should quickly pick up the nuances of the new position. As for Lucas Duda, the Mets don’t have to offer him arbitration and he can leave as a free agent.

METS GAME WRAP

May 31, 2016, @ Citi Field

Game: #51          Score:  White Sox 6, Mets 4

Record: 29-22     Streak: L 1

Standings: Second, NL East, two games behind the Nationals.  Playoffs: Tied with Pittsburgh for No. 1 WC.

Runs: 194    Average:  3.8   Times 3 or less: 24

SUMMARY:  Steven Matz finally broke down by giving up three runs in the sixth inning, and the bullpen imploded by giving up three runs. The consensus was Matz was rushing his pitches. Matz worked 5.2 innings, but he was getting hit so I have no problem with pulling him at that time. I don’t think Collins had a quick hook.

Noah Syndergaard, who threw only 34 pitches Saturday before being ejected, worked the seventh and threw 17 pitches. If they were going to use Syndergaard in relief, why not let him work one more inning? It would be like his throw day between starts. Had Syndergaard worked the eighth, there wouldn’t have been the Hansel Robles meltdown.

Robles gave up three runs on one hit – Tyler Saradino’s two-run homer – and two walks.

Giving Syndergaard another inning would’ve been the way to go, especially since he said Jeurys Familia wasn’t available.

KEY MOMENT: Saradino’s two-run homer. … Matz was coasting before he gave up a two-run homer to Todd Frazier.

THUMBS UP: SNY had a good night with its feature on catching. Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling calling the game from the stands was a nice angle. By the way, a little ketchup on a hot dog isn’t such a bad thing. … Matz for five innings was pretty good. … The Mets manufactured a couple of runs on two sacrifice flies. … Neil Walker’s two-run homer was his 13th of the season. … Granderson had two hits. … Jim Henderson and Syndergaard in relief.

THUMBS DOWN:  If Collins wasn’t going to use Syndergaard for more than an inning, then why not give Henderson a full inning? He only threw two pitches to get out of the sixth. Maybe using Syndergaard screwed up Collins’ bullpen rotation. If that is the case, then Syndergaard shouldn’t have been used. … Watching Saladino steal second and third uncontested in the sixth and score on a single is giving away a run. Overall, the White Sox stole four bases with ease. … Mets hitters struck out nine times, went 2-for-7 with RISP and stranded nine runners. … The idiot who called Collins “coach.’’

EXTRA INNINGS:  James Loney started at first base and committed an error. He went 0-for-4. … Before Tuesday night, Matz had given up two runs or less in seven straight starts. … The Mets have homered in 11 straight games. … The Mets’ bullpen has given up 20 earned runs in its last 21 innings. … Overall it has given up 15 homers.

QUOTEBOOK: “He said he was rushing a bit and all the balls were over the middle of the plate.’’ – Collins on what catcher Kevin Plawecki said of Matz’s problem.

BY THE NUMBERS:  4: Number of walks and homers Robles has given up in his last 13 hitters.

NEXT FOR METS:  Jacob deGrom will start Wednesday afternoon.

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May 25

Mets Opt To Keep Harvey In Rotation

As beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, the same can be said of a Matt Harvey start.

Harvey has been awful most of this season, so I would have sent him to the minor leagues for a couple of starts. However, Mets manager Terry Collins – after conferring with GM Sandy Alderson and pitching coach Dan Warthen – said enough was seen to let Harvey make his next start, Monday, against the Chicago White Sox at Citi Field.

HARVEY: Gets another chance.  (AP)

HARVEY: Gets another chance. (AP)

It isn’t the first time I disagree with a Collins decision and won’t be the last.

Harvey opened the game with three scoreless innings, but as has been the case with him this year, he lost it in the middle innings giving up five runs on three homers in the Mets’ 7-4 loss to the Nationals.

It could have been worse, but a diving play by Neil Walker in the second thwarted a potential big inning.

“You saw the game,” catcher Kevin Plawecki told reporters wanting to know what is wrong with Harvey.

“`Even though his command wasn’t good, we saw great movement on his fastball,” began Collins’ explanation of why Harvey is getting another chance. “His velocity was up. There was tightness in his slider. These are all things we haven’t seen in his last couple of starts.

“We have to quit looking at the negatives and start looking at some positives. We’re going to try to build on it and see what he’s like next Monday. … This guy is too big a piece to write-off.”

Although I would have done it differently, I do applaud Collins’ loyalty toward his player, even when it backfired on him before.

Collins wouldn’t speculate as to what might happen with Harvey if he bombs again; most likely more drama. Collins certainly won’t say this is his last chance before Vegas because that put added stress on him.

Collins ruled out the disabled list because there apparently is nothing wrong with him, although players have been stashed there before. Reportedly, the minor leagues and bullpen weren’t options, but pushing him back was discussed.

Former Mets pitcher turned SNY analyst Ron Darling disagreed, saying he didn’t see much to build on, saying his slider looked good only 30% on the time and it is no big deal for a pitcher to amp it up occasionally.

Darling also criticized Harvey for not speaking after the game, saying “he lost some street cred’’ in the clubhouse, because it forced his teammates – in particular, Plawecki – to clean up his mess.

“His teammates are thinking, `we’re not here to clean up your mess, you clean up your own mess.’

“Part of being a professional athlete is you have to answer the questions,’’ Darling said.

Collins didn’t comment on Harvey’s unprofessional silent act, but Nationals manager Dusty Baker noticed.

“`It’s his prerogative to do what he wants to do,” said Baker, probably recalling his time when Barry Bonds was on his team. “`If he [doesn’t want to talk], he doesn’t have to talk. But he’s making it harder on himself. New York will eat you up.”

The nibbling has begun.

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May 24

Time For Matt Harvey To Man Up

It has come to this for the Mets’ Matt Harvey: Like a minor league call-up, his manager said he’s pitching to raise his confidence. The key isn’t to beat the Nationals – which would put the Mets back in first place – but to look good. Get some style points.

What is this, figure skating?

“I’m hoping, more than anything that he goes and gives us quality innings just to raise his confidence,” manager Terry Collins told reporters. “Because once that confidence starts to come up, he’s going to be fine.”

HARVEY: Head up or head down tonight? (AP)

HARVEY: Head up or head down tonight? (AP)

“More than anything,” huh? “Just to raise his confidence,” huh? I’d rather have Harvey get chased in the second inning and the Mets rally to win than have this pitcher puzzle leave with a good feeling about himself and they lose. What’s next, giving him a participation trophy?

“Once that confidence starts to come up,” is another way of saying he doesn’t have any right now. And, offering him the out of not pitching is another way of Collins saying he doesn’t have much confidence in his “ace.” That might be true, but you don’t broadcast it. That’s a fine pat-on-the-back. What must the Nationals be thinking? After Harvey was booed off the mound last week, even Bryce Harper said he felt empathy for him.

Sweet.

As with most things surrounding Harvey, the Mets turned it into a drama.

Collins initially said he wasn’t sure if Harvey would start. Then, they floated the idea of moving him up to Monday, which would have bumped Bartolo Colon. In hindsight, that would have been a huge mistake.

Harvey threw a simulated game Saturday, was given the choice of skipping tonight if he wanted, then was given the start.

If you’re Collins, after Harvey was torched for nine runs in 2.2 innings, unless he’s hurt you say, “we have no intention of taking him out of the rotation.”

Collins said he was encouraged Harvey didn’t back down and wanted to pitch, but what else was he going to say? What other choice does Harvey have?

There’s a list of at least a dozen deep as to what is wrong with Harvey. Reasons or excuses? Take your pick.

Screw the issue of looking good, confidence and style points. If he’s the star both he and the Mets believe he is, then just pitch.

And if gets ripped again, Collins should send him out again. But, if there are any doubts, any thoughts of needing to do something, then send him to the minor leagues to get his head on straight.

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May 22

Mets’ First Base Options Without Duda

UPDATED TO INCLUDE CONFORTO CORRECTION

Didn’t the Mets learn anything dealing with David Wright‘s back issue? Apparently not, as there still hasn’t been a decision how to deal with Lucas Duda‘s back problems that might be a disk. Despite sweeping the Brewers, the Mets’ offense continues to sputter and I’m guessing they’ll make a DL move before the Washington series.

It is a huge mistake if they don’t.

DUDA: What will they do if they don't have him? (AP)

DUDA: What will they do if they don’t have him? (AP)

Duda did not play the last two games and has been abysmal in May, going 7-for-41 with only one RBI and 11 strikeouts in his last 13 games. With three games against the Nationals, they’ll need every bit of offense they can get.

“It’s pretty concerning,” manager Terry Collins told reporters Sunday. “He tried to go out the last two games and play and it was still bothering him.”

Back problems which Wright can attest to linger and Duda won’t get much better, if at all, before Monday’s game. That’s why I’m thinking they’ll DL him. Assuming that’s the case and this drags on, what are the Mets’ possible first-base options?

STATUS QUO: In the short term they can continue to use Eric Campbell until Wilmer Flores comes off the DL at the end of the week. Campbell has played well in spots replacing Duda and before that, Wright. However, as was the case last year when Wright went down, Campbell’s flaws get exposed over time. The same could apply to Flores, whose playing time is greatly reduced this year and how he’ll take to first base is unknown.

Considering their history this is the path of least resistance and the course I imagine the Mets first taking.

Another bench option could be Alejandro De Aza, but there’s the issue of his experience at the position.

CONFORTO: It is totally outside the box thinking to tinker with Michael Conforto. It’s a risk to take a player unproven at a position and move him during the season. First base is not as easy as people think as Conforto will have to learn to hold runners, field bunts and become proficient with cutoffs and relays. Plus grounders will come at him a lot faster than they do in the outfield.

Mickey Mantle and Carl Yastrzemski moved at the end of their careers, but with the advantage of knowing they’d switch and had a spring training to learn the position. A plus is it could improve the outfield defense by moving Yoenis Cespedes to left – where he won a Gold Glove – and playing Juan Lagares in center, where he also won a Gold Glove.

WRIGHT: Just because he plays one corner infield position doesn’t mean he can play the other. It should be easier for Wright because it is an infield position and he’s used to fielding hard grounders. Even so, he’d still have to learn the same nuances as Conforto.

However, if this turns into a long-term thing with Duda it would be worth exploring because Wright’s back has hindered his defense, in particular when it comes to throwing. There might come a time, and it could occur sooner than later, this move might merit serious consideration.

If Duda’s injury sidelines him the way Wright’s benched him for four months, it would be prudent for the Mets to test Wright at first as to get a handle on their options. And, as is usually the case, economics will factor into the equation.

Duda will make $6.7 million this year and is arbitration eligible after next season and be a free-agent after 2018. The Mets don’t have the financial commitment to Duda that they do with Wright to whom they owe $67 million – not including this year – through 2020.

Wright’s health will always be a question and since his retirement isn’t an imminent issue the more they know about his ability to play – or not play – first base is important.

SMITH: The Mets are counting on Dominic Smith as their long-term answer with the assumption Wright doesn’t emerge as an option. Smith, the Mets’ 2013 first-round pick, is currently at Double-A, where he’s hitting less than .280.

Yes, I know they pushed the envelope with Conforto, who brought up from Double-A, but two months later in the season. Could Smith make the jump? It’s possible, but it’s no slam dunk.

I wouldn’t be adverse to bringing up Smith for a look-see. I’m not worried about his confidence being impacted if he struggles, because if he’s as good as the Mets hope he’ll become, then he should be strong enough mentally to overcome a rough stretch.

THE TRADE MARKET: There are numerous options in the free-agent market this winter who might be available in a trade at the deadline should their teams want to make a deal for a prospect.

An intriguing possibility is to coax Adam LaRoche out of retirement – it would be a package deal with his son – but could necessitate sending something to the White Sox. That’s way outside the box, but it wouldn’t hurt to explore.

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May 21

No Reason To Skip Harvey

Unless Matt Harvey is going on the disabled list, there’s no reason for the Mets to skip his next start, whether it be to move him up to Monday or keep his scheduled Tuesday start.

HARVEY: Stinks right now (AP)

HARVEY: Stinks right now (AP)

So, on the day after Harvey was shelled by Washington – and Terry Collins initially danced around the issue of whether he’d make his next start – the heads-or-tails Mets’ manager said there would be no changes.

It’s good they dropped this silly idea of skipping him.

Collins actually said Harvey might be moved up. That decision should be made this afternoon.

“We dissected every angle there was,” Collins told reporters. “In the end, knowing this guy like we do, he wants to pitch. He wants to fight through it. He doesn’t want to run and hide. He wants to be out there. We’re going to do that. …`We really think he’s got to get back on the horse as fast as he can.”

There’s nothing to be dissected. Unless you don’t want him in the rotation any longer, then he pitches. It’s not all that hard.

This is what annoys me most about Collins. Less than 24 hours earlier, he said there would be no guarantee when Harvey would get back on the mound. That’s what he should have said from the beginning. If you have the faith in Harvey you claim, then you don’t screw around with guessing games and send him out there.

Unless Harvey is hurt – and don’t forget he hid his original injury, so it wouldn’t be a shock if that’s again the case – he needs to stay on schedule. Deviating shows a lack of confidence in him, and if that’s true, then send him to the minors to work out his problems.

Harvey shouldn’t be immune to the treatment other players get. His 28-24 lifetime record says he hasn’t been all that special.

The only way Harvey pulls out of this funk is to keep pitching. If he doesn’t pull out of it, then maybe Harvey isn’t all that good in the first place.

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