Jul 13

Mets Must Overhaul Pitching Protocols

 

UPDATED

The only one of the Mets starters not currently waving a health red flag is the one whose roots are not in the organization – Bartolo Colon. To be fair, Colon had health issues earlier in his career and a PED history, but he’s clean now and save a ball hit off his thumb has been fine.

Colon, at 43, has been a source of stability on the mound since joining the Mets, but his greatest contribution might be the suggestion to Noah Syndergaard, whose 23-year-old arm suddenly lost its steam, to back off his between-starts throwing.

HARVEY: Symbolizes Mets' pitching problems. (Getty)

HARVEY: Symbolizes Mets’ pitching problems. (Getty)

When Syndergaard told Bob Klapisch, one the most knowledgeable baseball writers I know, his arm felt “like there are parachutes attached to it,”  there was the image of swimming against the current.

Syndergaard is pitching through a bone spur in his elbow. Syndergaard experienced a sudden five-mph., drop off his fastball in his last start against the Nationals, similar to turning an oscillating fan from high to medium. Every pitch was a change-up.

Matt Harvey, who at 27, is out for the season following shoulder surgery; the second time in four years the knife cut him out of the rotation. Jacob deGrom was given a chance to be on the National League All-Star team but told manager Terry Collins he was too tired. The word he used was “beat.”

He’s only 28.

Then there’s Steven Matz. He had Tommy John surgery before he was 25, and like Syndergaard is pitching with a painful bone spur.

Finally, there’s Zack Wheeler, who at 26, also experienced Tommy John surgery. He was supposed to come off the disabled list in late June and send Colon to the bullpen. Then it was July, then after the All-Star break. Now, it is mid-August.

I’m waiting for the announcement he will not pitch this year.

Realistically, nobody expected all these guys to blossom into 20-game winners at once. However, also realistically, nobody expected them all to break down all at once, which is closer to happening than one might think.

Is this a coincidence or something deeper?

I would love to see the Mets get back to the World Series. However, I would rather they not make the playoffs, even have a losing season, if it meant seeing each of these guys healthy. For that to happen, the Mets need a serious and comprehensive plan. And remember, wishing is not a plan.

The first step is to recognize how they’ve handled things in the past. The second step is to recognize it hasn’t worked.

I’ve been on the record and will not back off saying they mishandled Harvey from the outset of his arm problems in 2013. It should be noted Harvey back then, and today contributes to his own problems.

Syndergaard won’t pitch until the Mets are in Chicago next week. They’ll ease him back in the rotation, which is a wise decision. Not so wise is their inexplicable decision not to schedule a new MRI. The Mets are going on a previous set taken several weeks before the Washington meltdown.

Just stupid.

GM Sandy Alderson said of Syndergaard and Matz their bone spurs is a matter of pain tolerance. More than once they’ve said the pitchers – the keys to the Mets’ future – couldn’t risk further injury.

Wrong answer.

There are no guarantees when it comes to injuries. The only guarantee is if you continually do something wrong and it doesn’t work, it won’t get better.

The Mets have the possibility to have a great pitching staff, but that’s all it is now – potential. It will remain potential unless the Mets do a complete overhaul in how they handle their pitchers.

From throwing between starts, to pitch counts, to days off, to dealing with pain and discomfort, to a myriad of other things, there must be a complete change. There should be uniformity in policy and procedure from the rookie league to Citi Field.

I don’t know if these Mets will develop into a staff for the ages or fizzle out like the Oakland staff under Billy Martin. Both could happen.

Something is wrong and priority one for the Mets is to find out what it is and fix it.

I don’t care about what happens this year, it’s probably too late, anyway. I care about what happens in the years to come.

 

Jul 10

Three Mets’ Storylines: Loss Defines First Half

If ever a game was a microcosm of the Mets’ disappointing first half, it was Sunday’s loss to the Nationals.

The Mets were six games behind the Nationals when they were gut-punched after being swept in a three-game series in Washington two weeks ago that left them six games behind.

MATZ: Lone bright spot. (AP)

MATZ: Lone bright spot. (AP)

But, manager  Terry Collins said the homestand leading into the break, four games each against the Cubs and Nationals, and three with Miami, had the potential to turn the momentum and give them a chance to enter the second half with a good feeling.

That looked possible after a stunning four-game sweep of the Cubs and winning two of three against Marlins. But, after losing three of four to the Nationals, including 3-2 today, they are again six back.

“We’re still in the race,” was how Collins described the disappointing end of the first half to reporters. “We were in this situation one year ago. Things looked bleak, but we ended up in the World Series.”

The three key storylines taken today’s game are the Nationals’ continued dominance of the Mets; New York’s continued inability to produce offensively; and, Steven Matz again pitching well after his elbow flare-up.

WASHINGTON’S DOMINANCE: The Mets are a disappointing 4-9 against the Nationals this year, scoring a composite 16 runs in those nine losses. That’s emblematic of a myriad of deficiencies, notably of their all-or-nothing offense.

Assuming the Mets get it together and see another World Series, they will pretty much have to run the table in their remaining six games with Washington.

Washington’s first-half dominance over the Mets is definitely Daniel Murphy-related. He hit a two-run homer Sunday and has seven homers and 21 RBI so far against the Mets. He hit three homers and drove in ten runs over the weekend.

THE OFFENSE: When asked what the Mets had to most improve on in the second half, Collins simply said: “situational hitting.”

Previously, Collins insisted on saying his team was built on power, but history is full of power-laden teams that don’t win. Then again, GM Sandy Alderson – a disciple of the new-wave numbers – constructed this team.

The Mets got two homers from Jose Reyes today – that’s not why they signed him – and are second in the National League (to Washington) with 120 homers. However, far more telling is their .213 average with RISP with 180 strikeouts. They have won only five games when they don’t homer; are 11-34 with they score three runs or less; and, have been shutout eight times.

Complicating matters are they don’t have David Wright for the rest of the season; have been without Lucas Duda since May 21 with no idea of when he’ll be back; and, are without Yoenis Cespedes indefinitely.

MATZ SETTLES DOWN: Since the issue about his bone spur, Matz, who doesn’t have a win since May 25, has given the Mets seven innings in back-to-back starts and before that worked into the sixth against the Cubs.

That’s encouraging news, especially after losing Matt Harvey for the season and Noah Syndergaard’s mysterious “arm fatigue.’’

I believe in babying pitchers’ arms when there is an injury. That’s what the Nationals did with Stephen Strasburg, and something the Mets do not believe.

With Matz, I am waiting for the other shoe to drop because it always does with the Mets.

Jul 08

Harvey Made Right Call On Surgery

Mets’ pitcher Matt Harvey unquestionably made the right decision to undergo surgery for treatment of the thorasic outlet syndrome in his pitching shoulder. It was the best option for his pitching and financial future, and to the Mets for the remainder of this season and beyond.

Dr. Robert Thompson is expected to perform the procedure next week in St. Louis. The surgery, which would entail removing one of his ribs, is designed to relieve pressure on the nerves and blood vessels in the space between the neck and shoulder. The increased pressure caused numbness in his arm and fingers.

HARVEY: Made right choice (Getty)

HARVEY: Made right choice (Getty)

Harvey’s options were surgery or a nerve-blocking injection, the latter being a temporary solution with surgery eventually required.

Harvey’s agent, Scott Boras, whose comments last year on the pitcher’s innings limit created a stir, strongly advocated the surgery to ESPN: “The doctors clearly recommended that he have this done, mainly so that he can be ready for ’17.’

“The rehab on this is six months. Now, if there was a small window of a season, you might be able to take a shot. It’s actually Botox, which relaxes the muscles. That’s not a long-term solution. `The only way this is going to be treated appropriately –  and obviously, we don’t want to do anything to affect next year – is to get this surgically taken care of.”

That’s the understandable driving force behind the decision. This was chosen to set up Harvey for his turn at free agency. Had he chosen the injection and gotten through the season, that would be great. But, if it only lasted a few months and he had the surgery later this year, or in the offseason, or next year, all or most of 2017, could be lost. That would leave Harvey with one year to make an impression on his future suitors when he hits the free agent market after the 2018 season.

And, nobody knows how he’ll pitch coming off surgery. If you’re Harvey – not to mention the Mets or any team that would go after him – you want two years to make an impression. That’s why Harvey’s decision is a no-brainer. But, how does losing Harvey help the Mets the rest of this year?

Knowing the Mets won’t have him in the second half enables GM Sandy Alderson to freely pursue another arm before the July 31 trade deadline, even if it jacks up the asking price. That’s preferable to waiting through at least two Harvey starts before hitting the market late, which would increase the price even more.

This also allows manager Terry Collins to determine his rotation now and eliminates the inevitable questioning and excuse making after each of his starts. And, who would want to see Harvey go down for surgery in a September pennant-race game or the playoffs?

Harvey hasn’t pitched well, going 4-10 with a 4.86 ERA in 17 starts, and this ailment is an obvious explanation. Harvey frequently complained about not having his mechanics, but not having feelings in his arm and fingers could explain a change in mechanics.

However, left unanswered is why Harvey hadn’t complained about a lack of feeling before his disastrous start on Monday. Boras’ answer to that question explains both the good, and bad, about Harvey.

His bulldog approach on the mound, for example, his eight innings in Game 5 of the World Series, is to be applauded. It’s the spirit that defines an ace. That’s the good.

But, here’s the bad, as delivered by Boras.

“He’s felt this way since spring training, but he wanted to gut it out, try to do it, until finally, he’s going, ‘Look, I’m just feeling like I don’t feel the baseball the same.’ Once we heard that, I was like, ‘Maybe we have a TOS situation,’ and got him over to Dr. Thompson.”

Sounds plausible, but it underscores the increasingly, maddening, “I’ll do what I feel like” aspect that has defined Harvey’s short career. It also raises the inevitable question of what could have happened had this been discovered a month or two earlier.

If he had surgery in May or June perhaps he could have come back in late August, or September, or even the playoffs.

We’ll never know.

Jul 06

Three Mets’ Storylines: Harvey Injury Overshadows DeGrom

What many speculated all season finally surfaced in a bad way after Wednesday’s 4-2 victory over Miami with the news Matt Harvey was placed on the 15-day DL with shoulder discomfort. Harvey will be examined by Dr. Robert Thompson in St. Louis on Thursday. He’s the same surgeon who operated on Dillon Gee several years to remove a blood clot, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Harvey has a similar issue, but that’s a good place to start.

HARVEY: DL bound. (AP)

HARVEY: DL bound. (AP)

All season, including after his poor performance Monday against the Marlins, Harvey, GM Sandy Alderson and manager Terry Collins insisted there was nothing physically wrong with him.

Considering that, this issue might have surfaced Monday when he gave up 11 hits.

However, Harvey said he wasn’t comfortable with his mechanics, but never complained about pain.

All indications from the Mets are this came out of nowhere, but then again Harvey hasn’t always been totally upfront about his arm. He’s also been stubborn about having things his way ranging from not being open about his initial injury in 2013; to resisting surgery; to where he would rehab; his innings limits last year; to coming out of games.

Of course, today’s DL move again raises questions of Harvey’s workload of 216 innings last season after missing 2104 with Tommy John surgery. The Mets didn’t have a definitive innings last year, which his agent Scott Boras didn’t let us forget.

Also to be revisited was how the Mets reduced his spring training workload. This is something Collins attributed to Harvey’s slow start. Don’t forget, as that bad start dragged on, the Mets gave Harvey the options of sorting things out either on the DL or in Port St. Lucie.

He declined both.

The Mets didn’t handle Harvey well last year, and today’s news makes you wonder whether they are handling the bone spur problems with Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz wisely.

Harvey’s injury, plus the questions surrounding Syndergaard and Matz – not to mention Zack Wheeler’s setback – reinforces the importance of what Jacob deGrom gave the Mets Wednesday.

DeGrom is 5-4 and has won two straight following ten consecutive winless starts.

The Mets were to ride all their young arms to a return to the World Series, but all of their starters – outside of Bartolo Colon – have had, or currently have significant health concerns. That’s why deGrom’s seven strong innings – two runs on six hits and two walks with seven strikeouts – was the key storyline for the Mets until Harvey rocked their world.

First deGrom, then Harvey, and today’s final storyline was how to divvy up playing time between Jose Reyes and Wilmer Flores, both of whom had two hits.

A couple of days ago I suggested a simple plan how to keep Flores in the lineup despite the addition of Reyes, which is to put him in a rotation system along with Neil Walker, Asdrubal Cabrera and James Loney.

Foolproof actually, but apparently not Collins proof. When asked about splitting time between Reyes – who doubled twice – and Flores – who for the second time this homestand homered twice – during the Nationals series, said: “Look, it’s going to be hard to get both guys in there at the same time. One of them is going to have to sit.”

Why?

When the Mets slumped last year, Collins said if a player didn’t hit he would sit. What’s wrong with that approach now?

Cabrera, Walker and Loney all will need to rest. However, I’m afraid Collins is going to let Flores cool off on the bench.

Jun 30

Mets Get Resilient Effort When They Need It Most

They wouldn’t be the Mets if things were easy. Last year they reached the World Series because of their young arms, a hot month from Yoenis Cespedes, but perhaps most of all, with their resiliency. They overcame injuries and dreadful two-month team hitting slump to find themselves standing at the end.

With those arms, reaching the playoffs this year would be a formality. It sure looked that way with a sizzling April. However, they’ve played sub-.500 baseball the past two months, and after being swept out of Washington, not many gave much for their chances this weekend against the hot Cubs, especially with Steven Matz starting with a painful bone spur in his valuable left elbow.

NIMMO: Scores game-winner. (AP)

NIMMO: Scores game-winner. (AP)

I thought Matz shouldn’t have started, and despite working into the sixth, I’m not yielding on that sentiment. We’ll see how he feels Friday and the days beyond. I really hope I am wrong. The Mets gambled and won when they pushed the envelope with Matz, who overcame a two-run first to throw 104 painful pitches in a thrilling 4-3 victory over the Cubs.

The Mets had to win, because at the same time Matz was ducking a John Lackey fastball to his head, Cespedes was reaching the third deck at Citi Field, and Brandon Nimmo was thrilling us with a timely hit and baserunning, the Nationals were bludgeoning the Reds.

After losing three straight to the Nationals – and five of seven overall – the Mets entered this series realistically needing to win at least three of four games to stay within binocular distance in the NL East. Make that telescopic distance if the Cubs swept the Mets and Nationals did the same to Cincinnati.

Come Friday morning, Panic City is still a couple of exits away.

“I don’t know yet,” manager Terry Collins told reporters as to the magnitude of the victory. “It sure came at the right time. It was a real impressive win.”

It was impressive because outside of Cespedes Home Run Derby type of blast, the Mets did the basic, dirty things they did last year and what they must do in the second half.

It began with Matz, who fell behind 2-0 in the first on a Kris Bryant homer, but gutted his way into the sixth.

“I felt good,” Matz said about his much-talked-about elbow. “I was able to pitch without any issues. I was able to keep us close. I’m happy with how things turned out. I’d say it’s a little relief.”

Down 3-0, the Mets started their comeback – something they did with frequency in 2015 – with Cespedes’ 466-foot drive into the upper deck in the sixth.

“It was a 2-0 pitch,” Cespedes said. “The plan was to swing, and swing hard.”

It woke up Citi Field like a hard slap to the face.

The Mets finally got to Lackey with Travis d’Arnaud‘s one-out single in the seventh that brought in Joel Peralta. Alejandro De Aza, vilified in Washington, pinch-hit for reliever Erik Goeddel and walked. Nimmo, whose exuberance has been a lift, singled home a run after an intense nine-pitch at-bat.

“I was trying to keep things simple,” Nimmo said. “I wanted to be short and get the ball on the barrel.”

The Mets have often been criticized for not being aggressive on the bases, but Nimmo drew a wild throw from Cubs second baseman Javier Baez off Neil Walker‘s chopper and scored when the ball got by the third baseman Bryant.

Of course, there couldn’t be a 1-2-3 ninth. That would be too easy.

The Cubs put runners at second and third with no outs against Jeurys Familia. An intentional walk loaded the bases, but Bryant and Willson Contreras couldn’t resist Familia’s sinker and struck out. With a little discipline, the Cubs would’ve had two bases-loaded walks. Baez then popped out to end the game and for one night at least, we got a reminder of the resiliency this team can still muster.