Apr 23

April 23.10: A lot to look forward to tonight.

It’s early in the season, but tonight’s game against the Atlanta Braves could be telling on several fronts, with the most important being John Maine.

Maine, he of the 10.38 ERA, will be making his fourth start of the year. After being hammered in his first two, Maine demonstrated improvement in his last start at St. Louis.

Maine is moving away from his dependency on off-speed pitches and more toward a reliance on his fastball as he did in 2007 and 2008. There’s also been the mechanical adjustments of a higher leg kick, different positioning of his right foot, and throwing more over the top.

In short, it’s back to Pitching 101.

“I have to get back to where I was,” Maine said. “After seven weeks of doing something I haven’t been doing, I just have to break that habit.’’

Hopefully, the adjustments will result in a spike of his velocity.

In five innings at St. Louis Maine threw 115 pitches to continue a disturbing tendency that has to stop. What kind of progress has Maine made in the past five days? If there’s little or none, how long will the Mets stay with him or will they try to get him well in the bullpen or minor leagues.

A five-inning Maine offers no help to the bullpen which was tested the past two series and didn’t always pass.

This was a concern going into the season, and after a fast start it is a concern again, especially with Ryota Iragashi going on the disabled list and Hisanori Takahashi unable to find the plate with a GPS.

We’ll may also see tonight what Jerry Manuel does with his line-up that until last night has been a vacuum in the 3-4-5 spots. David Wright and Jeff Francoeur showed snap-out-of-it signs with RBI hits, but Jason Bay is still a horror show at the plate.

Even so, the Mets have won three of their last four games, and four of six. So, does Manuel want to tinker with what has worked the last week? If the Mets were .500 instead of two games under this wouldn’t be an issue.

On one hand Manuel talks of consistency, but on the other he’s the man who can’t resist playing with the charcoal at a barbeque. A day doesn’t go by when Manuel doesn’t talk of making some move, and he still has the itch to move Jose Reyes to third.

The alternative would be the more palatable move of Bay to No. 2, something that worked in the past for Wright.

Another option would be tinkering with Ike Davis, which would be a mistake. Four games into his career he has six hits. Let’s keep him where he’s been successful instead of adding pressure. Davis said he’s on board with any move, but it’s only human nature for a player to try to do too much when he’s put into the clean-up spot.

The prudent thing would be the slight adjustment of flipping Bay and Francoeur in the 4-5 slots, and if they do mess with Davis not to go any higher than fifth.

Apr 17

April 17.10: Random thoughts: On Perez, Bay and Reyes; line-up.

The question was raised last night that whether Oliver Perez’s diminished velocity has helped in becoming a pitcher rather than a thrower. While last night’s 6 1/3 innings was a start, it’s too small a sampling to make a definitive conclusion. However, it was a very good sign and something that bears watching.

Perez didn’t blow away any hitters, but was effective in spotting the ball on the corners and getting ahead in the count. Perez pitched last night; he didn’t overpower. And, if last night is a sign of things to come, then maybe ….

But, I regress. I vowed not to get on the Ollie Bandwagon until there’s some consistency. String together four, five games like this and I’ll jump. Until then, I’ll view with cautious optimism.

That being said, did Jerry Manuel do the Mets a disservice when he pulled Perez when he did? You’d have to say yes based on what the bullpen did, but I got the feeling Perez was spent so I can’t blame this on Manuel. Afterall, the bullpen, for the most part has been stellar.

****

Jason Bay is having a rough time, but his track record said he’ll hit eventually. Even so, with Jeff Francoeur on a tear, maybe Manuel ought to consider moving him to the clean-up slot and dropping Bay. Try to take advantage of Francoeur while he’s hot. The flip side, and the gamble, of course, is moving him up might change his approach.

One thing I don’t agree with, it slotting Mike Jacobs between Bay and Francoeur. The idea is to split up the right handers late in the game. But, what about the previous two or three at-bats? Seems counter productive to adopt a strategy for the late innings and discount two-thirds of the game. I could see it if Jacobs was hitting, but he’s not. It’s time to drop him in the order.

Speaking of dropping hitters in the order, Manuel might have had a change of heart when it comes to moving Jose Reyes into the three hole. He says now he doesn’t want to interfere with his recovery from a thyroid disorder.

****

Here’s this afternoon’s line-up:

Jose Reyes SS
Luis Castillo, 2B
David Wright, 3B
Jason Bay, LF
Jeff Fancoeur, RF
Fernando Tatis, 1B
Rod Barajas, C
Angel Pagan,CF
Johan Santana, LP

Apr 14

April 14.10: About Last Night; Maine in trouble.

I don’t know if last night was John Maine’s worst game as a Met, but it sure could have been. It definitely was as complete a loss as the Mets have endured in recent seasons.

* Maine gave up eight runs on seven hits and three walks in three innings. His ERA is 13.50 and his spot in the rotation is now under question.

* Met hitters were 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position, effectively eliminating any chance at making a game of it last night.

* Met pitchers walked nine and their hitters struck out 11 times.

Jerry Manuel talked about a 20-game window to determine what is a fast start. At 2-5, and a miserable 2-5, maybe they are already there. Maine, hammered in both starts, is not only off to a bad start, but he’s in trouble.

“When you have that much traffic in that few innings you have to be concerned,’’ Manuel said. “He got the two outs and couldn’t put them away. You have to have some concern.’’

Maine broke 90 mph. a few times but was consistently in the high 80s. Manuel doesn’t think there’s a health problem.

“This is a performance business,’’ Manuel said. “We don’t think there are any health issues.’’

Perhaps Maine isn’t hurting, but he’s also not strong enough to be throwing that way. In the past he’s been able to get by with poor location with his velocity, getting a foul tip instead of a double in the gap.

Manuel said that’s part of the problem and he’ll have “dialogue’’ with his coaches about Maine’s spot in the rotation.

Last night was a continuation of a trend of falling behind early. Save Johan Santana’s first start, the Mets have consistently fallen behind in their games, putting pressure on their listless offense. And, right now the Mets aren’t hitting well to compensate for their pitching.

“We wanted to pitch well,’’ Manuel said. “That’s the key to everything.’’

Right now, the Mets are thinking what’s wrong with Maine and what to do about it. If it is simply a matter of building up his arm, then sending him out has to be considered. A MRI to be sure about the structure of his elbow must also be evaluated.

Currently, Maine is not getting it done. But, unlike the coin flips known as Oliver Perez and Mike Pelfrey, he’s not showing any upside.

Ah, what the hell. I’m not going to wait for 20 games. This is a bad start.

NOTE: Vote in the new poll concerning what should be done about John Maine.


Apr 13

April 13.10: Chat Room, Game #7 at Rockies: Maine needs a big night.

With the 2-4 Mets six games into the 20-game plateau manager Jerry Manuel defined as fair to evaluate the start of the season, the team begins its first road trip to Colorado and St. Louis, perhaps two of the more unfriendly venues for visitors.

After losing two each to the Marlins and Nationals – teams they should handle at home at least – the mood of the Mets isn’t panic as much as it is urgency.

There have been three bad starts by the rotation, a trend that would wear down the bullpen eventually, and no hitting with runners in scoring position.

“It’s six games,’’ said outfielder Jeff Francoeur. “With that being said, we’d better get it going quick, because we’ve got some teams coming up that are really, really good.’’

Manuel ripped his team for being unprepared – for which he assumed responsibility – and others wondered about the intensity level.

If the Mets are going to get it started, they’ll have to do it tonight behind John Maine, he of the 7.20 ERA and slow fastball.

Maine has lost some of the velocity, and worse, some of the movement off his fastball, a byproduct of shoulder problems. He says he’s fine, but he still needs to build up strength.

“We’ll continue to hope for that,’’ Manuel said of Maine building up his shoulder strength. “He’s healthy and I don’t see why, being free from setbacks and those types of things, we won’t see that at some point.’’

Maine is 2-1 with a 2.66 ERA in three starts versus the Rockies, so there’s some reason for optimism.

NOTE: I am taking classes on Tuesday and Thursday nights for the next few months, and won’t be around for the start of the game. With the game at 8:40 p.m., I’m expecting to be back by nine, so I might miss the first inning or two.

Apr 12

April 12.10: What to make of the first week?

To be sure six games is too small a sampling to get a definitive feel about the Mets. However, it isn’t too small to quash some first impressions.

Among them:

1) The preseason concerns on John Maine. As has been the case with Maine, he throws far too many pitches and labors with his command. He gets his second start tomorrow in Colorado, a place where it is not easy to pitch. Maine is No. 2 in the rotation currently and insists his shoulder is fine. OK, but his velocity is down and control is off. Not good and there have been little signs of turning it around.

2) Oliver Perez is Oliver Perez, which is to say he’s an enigma. Through his first five innings Saturday he threw 12-24-12-24-12 pitches. He walked four or which two of the runners scored. Perez will live and die with his command. When he worked quickly his control was good, but get a runner or two on base and he takes forever and his ball can go anywhere. Perez is not the pitcher you bet on.

3) The offense is as spotty as it was last year. Hitting with runners in scoring position seems to be a foreign concept. It’s not too many games in which they’ll hit four homers.

4) Mike Jacobs is Mike Jacobs. He’s always been a streaky hitter and so far he’s gotten off to a slow start. Maybe the homer Sunday will get him on track. Colorado is often a good place for a hitter, or an offense, to get hot.

5) Until David Wright hits the inside pitch he’s going to be pounded inside and handcuffed. When Wright is on he drives the ball the opposite way, but he’s not getting many pitches on the outside half of the plate. He needs to pull a few to keep the hitters honest.

6) The bullpen will be a key. So far it has been outstanding, and perhaps the biggest reason why these games have been competitive. Fernando Nieve and Pedro Feliciano are in competition for the eighth inning role. If the bullpen can maintain the Mets will be all right. However, it can’t keep throwing three innings a game. That will add up before you know it.

7) I’m not worried about Jason Bay. No homers so far, but he’s making contact and I love his hustle. He’ll be fine.