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

Sep 12

Mets Wrap: Classless Frank Francisco Needs To Go

The New York Mets brought back Frank Francisco from oblivion this season because their bullpen was depleted, but also in the off chance somebody might be desperate enough to trade for him.

After his despicable display this afternoon at Citi Field, any team wanting him would not only be desperate, but stupid as well.

WERTH: Gets drilled by Francisco. (Getty)

WERTH: Gets drilled by Francisco. (Getty)

With the game in the balance in the eighth inning and behind 3-0 in the count, Francisco drilled Jayson Werth in the back after giving up back-to-back doubles to Denard Span and Ryan Zimmerman. It was obvious; Francisco was in trouble and wanted his pound of flesh.

Of course, Francisco later said it was unintentional and he was “obviously all over the place,’’ but the Nationals weren’t buying. Players know, and Werth took out Ruben Tejada with an aggressive slide that could have broken the shortstop’s ankle.

Werth, obviously, was sending his own message. The retiring Davey Johnson, who likely managed his last game in New York, told reporters after the 7-2 victory, “it’s a good thing we don’t play them again.’’

There’s no misunderstanding what that meant.

Teams remember, and Terry Collins should have done something to diffuse the situation – and perhaps any future clash – by immediately pulling Francisco. In doing so, Collins would have been telling the Nationals, “I understand Francisco is an idiot and I’m getting him out of here.’’

It should have been his last pitch with the Mets. Clearly, nobody would want Francisco now, and if Collins is about sending messages to his rookies about playing the game the right way, this would have been the perfect opportunity.

The Mets were upset with Francisco’s work ethic in his rehab, and this bush league act should not be tolerated, not if the Mets want to be considered a classy organization. It was a thuggish act by Francisco with no place in the game. I don’t care if they owe him money, get him out of here.

The Mets have lost 10 of their last 12 games, and what was once a chance at respectability is now an attempt to avoid 90 defeats. Today was their 81st loss. They are now a season-low 17 games below .500 with 17 remaining to play.

If there was a positive today, it was Aaron Harang’s quality start of giving up three runs in six innings. All three runs came on solo homers, but he walked one and struck out ten. However, those strikeouts will be enough to get Harang another start and perhaps an invitation to spring training.

Meanwhile, who knows who’ll be dumb enough to extend such an invitation to Francisco?

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

Sep 12

Where Is Mets’ Opening Day Lineup?

All teams evolve throughout a season, but the New York Mets’ transformation in 2013 has been staggering, with only second baseman Daniel Murphy and shortstop Ruben Tejada were in last night’s lineup at those positions. Lucas Duda started, but at a different position.

Here’s what has happened to the 2013 lineup in comparison to the team the Mets ran out there in Wednesday night’s 3-0 loss to Washington. Three starters plus the pitcher remain on the team; three were traded; and two are on the disabled list.

Colin Cowgill, CF: Was going to start after beating out Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Matt den Dekker’s injury.  Cowgill was the starter for roughly a week after he was demoted and eventually traded. Den Dekker started last night, but Juan Lagares could eventually win the role next year if he’s more consistent offensively.

Daniel Murphy, 2B: Started, but hit third last night. He’s been all over the top of the order. A slump followed a hot start, but he’s back up to .282. The Mets, however, aren’t enamored by his .316 on-base percentage.

David Wright, 3B: Entered the season after a contract extension and being named captain. He’s lived up to all that but is currently on the disabled list with a hamstring injury. Wright vows he’ll return.

Ike Davis, 1B: Slumped horribly before being sent to Triple-A Las Vegas. Eventually wound up hitting .204 with nine homers. There was considerable speculation the Mets would not tender him a contract, but he’ll get another chance to next season.

Marlon Byrd, RF: Signed for depth, but wound up leading the team in homers and could be its MVP. Eventually traded to Pittsburgh, where he could see the playoffs. Good for him. Lagares was in right last night, and could stay there if den Dekker develops consistency at the plate.

Lucas Duda, 1B: This guy just can’t play the outfield. Has improved his plate presence as evidenced by a .353 on-base percentage, but has not produced for power. Will compete with Davis for the first base job next spring. Eric Young was acquired at mid-season and became the Mets’ tenth, and final, leadoff hitter. But, for all his speed, he must do better than a .318 on-base percentage.

John Buck, C: Carried the Mets offensively in April before tailing. However, he was consistent all year behind the plate and has to get some credit for the development of Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler. His status was doomed with the promotion of Travis d’Arnaud, who has struggled at .152. Traded along with Byrd to Pittsburgh.

Ruben Tejada, SS: Played brutally in the beginning before going on the DL. Omar Quintanilla more than adequately filled the void. Tejada is back, but the Mets openly question his work ethic and commitment. He has a lot to prove, and trading for a veteran in the winter isn’t out of the question.

Jon Niese, LHP: Was the de facto ace and Opening Day starter because of the season-ending shoulder injury of Johan Santana. Niese developed shoulder problems after back-to-back cold weather starts in Minnesota and Colorado. As Niese labored and eventually went on the disabled list. Niese could end up being the Opening Day starter in 2014 with Harvey’s injury.

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