Mar 27

Mets Shouldn’t Push Wright For Opening Day Start

With most strained and pulled muscles, a sound approach is whatever timetable is given just add a week.

Given that, I don’t see why the Mets seem to be rushing David Wright, who sustained a strained left intercostal muscle while at the WBC. I also don’t see why Wright is rushing himself.

WRIGHT: Needs to slow down.

WRIGHT: Needs to slow down.

Didn’t anybody learn anything from the Johan Santana fiasco? What is to be gained by him playing in a handful of games? Could it be nobody wants to point a finger at the WBC? Could it be that both parties want to put their handling of the injury on the back burner?

Wright made it to the field yesterday, getting five at-bats in a pair of minor league games, but not playing defense. For that, he’s taking ground balls from third base coach Tim Teufel.

In both cases, he didn’t face anything coming to close to the actual speed of a major league game.

Wright says he feels better, which is positive news. He said he’s optimistic about Opening Day, which is what you would expect him to say.

“I’ve been optimistic about Opening Day since I came back to St. Lucie, and talked to the doctors and the trainers about the diagnosis,’’ Wright told reporters yesterday. “It’s another step closer, so I’m still very optimistic.’’

We could end it there, which would be the puff story way to go, but that wouldn’t be accurate.

What is accurate is Wright is as tough as they come, once playing a full month with a stress fracture in his lower back. He’s had muscle pulls and a beaning-related concussion. This player, the best the Mets ever produced outside of Tom Seaver, is strong and fearless.

However, there are times when he’s lacking in judgment. There is a difference between pain and injury. All players have some type of pain, but an injury can be career damaging.

Wright should have been more cautious with the back; he needs to be more cautious with his current injury.

In the grand scheme of things, what is the difference if Wright plays April 1 or April 7? Seriously, do you expect it to be the difference between making the playoffs and going home for the winter as they have every season since 2007?

What pushing the envelope with Wright could mean is the difference between missing the first half dozen games of the season and potentially a month if he’s reinjured.

Wright could play and not be reinjured, but it could impact him at the plate or in the field. It could lead him to bad habits and consequently another injury. If the Mets and Wright constantly find themselves looking at first the calendar, and then the clock, he’s simply not ready.

How much time Wright needs, I don’t know. But, what I believe from all the information the Mets and Wright are putting out about his injury in relationship to Opening Day is he’s not ready.

I would like to see him play, because he’s arguably the best reason to watch the Mets, but I am willing to wait a week. The season will still be here when he gets back.

However, it might not be if he has to sit for another month or longer.

Mar 25

Did Santana Commit Career Suicide?

Santana10

HOW MUCH IS SANTANA CAUSE OF HIS OWN PROBLEMS?

When Johan Santana said he doesn’t know when he will pitch again, it isn’t inconceivable it could be never.

Santana’s left shoulder is not getting better and it isn’t unfair to wonder if the prideful or stubborn lefthander – take your pick – may have committed career suicide on March 3, a quiet Sunday that turned into one of the Mets’ loudest days of spring training.

The day after GM Sandy Alderson said he thought the Mets’ $31-million commitment was at least ten days from getting on the mound and not in good shape, Santana took it upon himself to prove him and the questioning media wrong.

Now, there’s no longer doubt of him staying in Florida or being on the Opening Day roster.

“I’ve just got to stay here and work out and get ready,’’ Santana told reporters over the weekend. “… I’m making progress. It’s just I don’t know when I’m going to be pitching again. That’s the thing: We cannot think ahead. The way we’re approaching everything is every day make sure we have a good day.’’

Too bad he wasn’t thinking that way when he expressed displeasure in not playing in the World Baseball Classic, and later anger at Alderson. Who knows what went through Santana’s mind when he took the mound with an “I’ll show you’’ chip on his shoulder.

How can there be progress when he can’t think ahead? How can there be progress when his shoulder isn’t close?

Since that day, Santana threw a light session, but was scratched from a start and has been reduced to 90-foot long tossing. Do you realize how far away that distance is from a regular season game?

He must gradually build up to 180 feet, and after cleared at that distance will he be allowed on the mound. Then, it’s throwing batting practice and building his pitch count up to 100. Manager Terry Collins said Santana needs to go through a spring training, which is six weeks. But, that clock doesn’t start until he gets on the mound, and nobody can say when that will be.

That’s progress?

And, that’s assuming there are no setbacks, of which there have been several during this struggle since shoulder surgery in September of 2010 to repair a torn anterior capsule.

Of course, it is hard to pinpoint an exact time when a pitcher’s million-dollar arm turns to ten cents. There was the injury in 2010, but Santana had issues with his shoulder in Minnesota before the trade to the Mets.

The wear and tear on a major league pitcher’s arm begins with the first pitch. Santana made 34 starts in 2008, his first year with the Mets, but had surgery in the off-season and hasn’t come close to pitching a full season since.

After two winters of rehab, Santana made it back last year with initial success, including a controversial no-hitter, the only one in franchise history.

Did Collins make a mistake leaving Santana in for 134 pitches, thinking he was giving the pitcher a shot at a career moment and Mets’ fans their lone bright spot in what would be a dark summer?

Of course, Santana didn’t want to come out, and no pitcher admits to being tired, but this was different. Had the no-hitter not been on the table Santana never would have continued pitching. His summer quickly unraveled and included a career-worst six-game losing streak.

After two winters of rehab, Santana, with the Mets’ knowledge, did not have a normal offseason. Then again, nothing has been routine about his winters since 2007 as there has been an injury issue each year.

“I’ve been in this game for a while,’’ Santana said. “I went through that [surgery] a couple of years ago and I’m still here. So I’m going to battle and try to come back and help as much as I can. When that is going to happen, I don’t really know.’’

Several questions are raised through Santana’s uncertainty. How much did the no-hitter hurt him? How carefully was Santana monitored in the offseason? Did going slower backfire? It is easy to suggest the no-hitter hurt, but how much did Santana contribute to his own demise this spring?

“I’m just building up my strength and throwing more volume,’’ Santana said. “… With injuries you never know. I got to spring training feeling good. And then, once I started getting to pitch and stuff and I got on the mound, I didn’t feel I was making progress.’’

If he didn’t believe he was making progress, then why consider the WBC?  More to the point, if he wasn’t making progress why did he get on the mound March 3, when his manager wasn’t expecting him to throw for nearly two weeks?

What forced him, pride or anger? Perhaps, he simply ran out of patience waiting to find out if he’ll ever make it back.

Santana might finally have his answer.

Mar 17

Wright Expresses No Regrets; Doesn’t Mean He’s Right In WBC Flap

David Wright is correct, his rib injury could have happened anytime. It could have happened carrying groceries from the car.

That isn’t the issue.

WRIGHT: Call it E-5

WRIGHT: Call it E-5

The issues are Wright was injured while at the World Baseball Classic – whatever he was doing at the time, it was away from the Mets – and did not report his injury in a timely fashion.

Also an issue is Wright has a strained left intercostal muscle and faces the strong possibility of being on the disabled list to start the season. What should be an issue if you’re the Mets is Wright gave no sign of regret about the WBC, and the perception of minimizing the injury.

“You can get hurt in spring training,’’ Wright told reporters prior to today’s 2-1 loss to Atlanta. “You can get hurt before spring training. Playing baseball, there’s some risk that comes along with that. … It has nothing to do with the tournament itself. It has everything to do with some bad luck.’’

Sure, it is bad luck, but that’s not Mets fans want to hear. They want to know if their All-Star third baseman, who was just signed to a $138 million package, will be able to play Opening Day. The WBC is a hard enough sell as it is in the United States, and Wright was injured participating in the international tournament. Mets fans don’t care about promoting baseball around the globe.

There is also the perception Wright placed his personal desire to represent his country – as admirable as that is – over his obligation to the Mets.

“Of course I owe it to the Mets to be honest with them, and I was,’’ Wright insists. “Ultimately when I started going in and getting treatment for it, the Mets saw that and they called me. I was honest with how I was feeling.

“Once it got to the point where I started not being able to sleep, or when it was painful to lounge around, that’s when obviously I started going to get treatment and talking to [trainer] Ray [Ramirez] and [general manager] Sandy [Alderson] and those guys.’’

Wright said those conversations took place Wednesday, which contradicts Alderson’s assertion the Mets didn’t become aware until shortly before game time Thursday. That doesn’t help the Mets’ image. The Mets have been known for their sloppy handling of injuries, ranging from Ryan Church’s concussion to Carlos Beltran’s knee to Johan Santana’s shoulder this spring.

That won’t go away, especially if Wright isn’t ready for the season, as appears the case. Wright can’t commit to Opening Day, saying he needs to be cautious and not risk further injury and be out even longer. So, where was the caution when Wright felt pain for a week before reporting it to WBC trainers?

“Once it got to the point where I thought it might obviously prohibit me from coming back and producing with the Mets, that’s when it was time to make that decision,’’ Wright said. “I feel like I have a pretty good sense of what’s tolerable and what’s not tolerable.’’

Well, how about when Wright played a month with pain in his lower back which was later diagnosed as a stress fracture? And, last spring he had the same injury and was out a month. Nobody ever questioned Wright not being a gamer, but that isn’t the issue.

Wright’s desire to represent his country and honor his commitment is admirable. However, it is his judgment here that is in question. His first obligation is to the Mets.

Mar 16

Former Met Nelson Figueroa Is The Essence Of Baseball

I always regarded the WBC as Dancing With The Stars with spikes. It’s a manufactured competition, but with its roots in nationalism.

However, last night’s USA-Puerto Rico elimination was compelling, far more interesting than your average Mets-Marlins spring training game. That interest was generated by the passion in the stands. The WBC means more in terms of national pride to the teams and fans in Asia and Latin America than to the United States.

FIGUEROA: Remembrer him?

FIGUEROA: Remembrer him?

Puerto Rico is now in the international sports spotlight. The American players who are always in the spotlight can now return to their major league teams and big contracts.

Nationalism represented some of the motivational fuel for Nelson Figueroa, a journeyman pitcher who has toiled for six teams in parts of nine years – including the Mets – but pitched like a star last night in sending the United States home for the third straight time.

Figueroa was special, doing what he used to do at times with the Mets, which was burn innings. But, last nigh he gave Puerto Rico six shutout innings in his 80-pitch allotment. Working both sides of the plate effectively with everything but an electric fastball, he gave US hitters nothing to hit.

Putting on a show was the rest of his motivational fuel.

Figueroa told reporters. “It was motivation to show them what kind of pitcher I was.’’

Maybe he showed what kind of pitcher he can be to somebody with the power to make a decision on his career as so many other have done.

Figueroa was signed by Arizona to a minor league contract as organizational depth in December. If Figueroa were higher on the pitching food chain, but not good enough to be a given, he might have been better off in spring training.

However, in this case, showing what he could do against major league hitters should count for more points than a couple of innings against the Dodgers minor leaguers.

Sometime this year, the Diamondbacks or somebody else, will have a sudden need for an arm and think back at how Figueroa toyed with the US lineup.

Figueroa is not flashy. He does not have a great fastball or singular dominant pitch. What he has is command of the corners and guile. When both are on he’s tough to beat.

“I don’t throw very hard, but I pitch inside,’’ Figueroa said, giving us his personal scouting report. “It was a great exhibition of what can be done without a plus fastball. It was an opportunity to demonstrate that good pitching beats good hitting.’’

That’s the way it always has been and always will be. From a fundamental perspective, that’s baseball’s essence. From a human perspective, Figueroa is also the essence of the sport.

History has given us far more Figueroas in the game than Matt Harveys or Stephen Strasburgs. Harvey and Strasburg have power potential and will always get a shot. Things must break right for Figueroa to get his.

Figueroa has bounced around the globe in search of a job, last pitching in the major leagues with Houston in 2011. He’s been with the Phillies. Toronto and the Yankees released him without his cup of coffee. He has pitched in the winter leagues, for Mexico, for just about anybody who would give him the ball and a few dollars.

Figueroa pitches because that’s what he does. The sport is in his blood, rushing through his veins and consuming his soul. Until he’s physically unable, or run out of teams, Figueroa will pitch. It is players like him, perhaps even more than players like Justin Verlander, as the reason we watch.

Verlander is elite. Figueroa is more like us, who once dreamed of the big leagues. However, unlike us, he persevered through rough times, rejection and defeat to get the taste we will never.

Mar 15

Who Is To Blame For Wright’s Injury?

There are conflicting reports as to how David Wright’s rib injury was handled, and they don’t make the team or the player look good.

General manager Sandy Alderson told reporters this morning at the Mets’ spring training facility in Port St. Lucie, Fl., that the team will not know the nature or severity of the injury sustained while playing with Team USA in the World Baseball Classic until Wright is examined by club physicians today in New York.

Wright was scratched from Thursday night’s game after taking batting practice. Alderson said he talked to Team USA officials around 6:40 p.m.

Alderson said there’s no timetable for Wright other than to say he’s expected back in Florida on Saturday. Unquestionably, he’s out of the WBC.

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