Aug 13

Mets’ Bright Spots In Lost Season

There are always a few rubies that can be found in this garbage dump of a Mets season. This year, the shiniest of the gems are Michael Conforto’s emergence of being a star and Jacob deGrom’s recovery from surgery to being an All-Star caliber starter.

The other highlights have been the production of traded Mets Jay Bruce and Addison Reed; the professionalism of Curtis Granderson; and promotions of Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith.

Once a question to even make the Opening Day roster, Conforto began the season in a pinch-hitting role, but his success, coupled with Granderson’s slow start and injuries to Yoenis Cespedes, increased his playing time and subsequently run production to the point where he made his first All-Star team.

CONFORTO: Huge bright spot. (AP)

CONFORTO: Huge bright spot. (AP)

Conforto’s two-run homer gave him his 26th of the season, but more importantly, the Mets a two-run lead in the first inning, one they never relinquished in today’s 6-2 victory over the Phillies.

Conforto hit 12 homers last season, so his home run ceiling was just a hunch. Now, with 26, you would think 35 could be within reach with 47 games remaining.

I’ve long advocated Conforto should hit third in the order, ahead of Cespedes, and hopefully manager Terry Collins will keep him there. I also like that even with the trade of Bruce, Collins is keeping Conforto in center field. If the rest of the season is about laying the foundation for 2018, then hit Conforto third and in center and leave him there – hopefully, for the next dozen years.

Conforto’s last five hits have been homers, and since the All-Star break has 12 homers with 23 RBI.

As for deGrom, he took a line drive off his pitching arm Thursday, but all indications are he’ll make his next start, Tuesday at Yankee Stadium. DeGrom is 13-5 with a 3.21 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. The word “ace,’’ gets thrown around a lot, but it’s clear cut when talking about deGrom, who works fast, and despite an overpowering fastball, more importantly has excellent command of all of his pitches.

With Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler and Matt Harvey on the disabled list, and Steven Matz struggling and winless in over a month, deGrom has been the rotation’s workhorse

The Mets are clearly in a rebuild, salary dump mode, which is why Bruce, Reed, Lucas Duda and Neil Walker are gone, and Asdrubal Cabrera and Granderson could soon follow. Jose Reyes will stay to be Rosario’s caddy.

Bruce hit 29 homers with 75 RBI to lead the Mets, and has already made an impact with the Indians, going 5-for-12 with three RBI. You can describe Bruce, Reed, Walker and Granderson as consummate professionals.

Rosario booted a play in his debut that cost the Mets a game, but Bruce and Walker were seen in the dugout giving him counsel on what he should have done differently.

As for Granderson, he’s still being shopped, and maybe raised his value with three more hits today, including a two-run homer. He won’t be re-signed for 2018 and it is puzzling why there isn’t more interest. Granderson has four homers and nine RBI over his last ten games.

With Granderson, Bruce and the other veterans with expiring contracts assuredly not going to be here next season, the future belongs to Conforto, Rosario and Smith.

They, along with deGrom, give the Mets something to build on for next year.

 

Aug 11

Rosario, Smith Give Mets Glimpse Of Future

The Mets got a glimpse of their future tonight and had to like what they saw.

On a night when Dominic Smith made his major league debut, wearing the crown was Amed Rosario, who ripped three hits, including his first career homer, a game winner.

ROSARIO: Hits game-winner. (AP)

ROSARIO: Hits game-winner. (AP)

Oh, by the way, Michael Conforto hit another home run.

Rosario, who has been a major leaguer for all of 11 days, sounded like a veteran when talking about his breakout game.

“Even though I’ve had a couple of bad days lately,’’ Rosario said through an interpreter, “this helped my confidence.’’

Rosario has been a bundle of energy since his long-awaited promotion from Triple-A Las Vegas. His defense, hustle and speed have been a spark.

You don’t hear this often from a rookie with less than two weeks into his career, but Rosario said he was concerned about his slow start at the plate, in particular, his high strikeout rate. So, he has been working with hitting coach Kevin Long on trying to shorten his swing to cut down on his swing and using all parts of the field.

It worked tonight.

“He’s still very aggressive,’’ manager Terry Collins said, indicating a slow start didn’t intimidate him. “He’s played great. He listens. He’s going to be good.’’

And, he believes the same thing for Smith, who struck out on three pitches in his first at-bat, then singled to center in his second. That’s learning.

“He was nervous. It was quite easy to see,’’ Collins said. “But, he’ll be like Rosario and will calm down.’’

The Mets will still be defined by their young pitching. Jacob deGrom was superb on Thursday, but took a line drive off his pitching arm in the seventh inning and had to leave the game. He’s still expected to pitch Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium.

Matt Harvey is on the disabled list, but is about to start his rehab assignment. Noah Syndergaard is also on the disabled list, as is Zack Wheeler. The Mets hope they will all return in the season’s final six weeks so they know where they stand heading into the offseason.

Then, there is Saturday’s starter, Steven Matz who has been in a downfall funk over the past month. The Mets hope to find some answers about him, also.

All of them, save deGrom, have significant questions, as do Smith and Rosario, but all have very high ceilings if they are healthy.

Then, there is All-Star Conforto, who hit his 25th homer, while batting clean-up, while playing center. Where he plays and hits in the order could change, but he has star written all over him.

So do the others.

Aug 12

Three Mets’ Storylines: Bullpen Gives Them Chance, But Fall Short

It obviously wasn’t what the Mets wanted – their fourth straight loss to drop under .500 – but it was something they needed, which was a game in which they didn’t lie down after a terrible start.

After Thursday’s beat down to Arizona, Mets manager Terry Collins went on a four-minute rant, threatening his players with jobs and vowed, “starting [Friday] we’re going to get after it.”

VERRETT: Ripped. (AP)

VERRETT: Ripped. (AP)

It didn’t start that way as the Padres ripped starter Logan Verrett for five runs in the first inning, and took an 8-2 lead in the third before hanging on to win, 8-6, Friday night at Citi Field.

The Mets almost overcame four homers off Verrett and stayed alive because their bullpen retired 19 straight, which allowed them to climb back with Jay Bruce’s RBI single in the fifth; and RBI hits by Matt Reynolds and Ty Kelly, and Wilmer Flores’ run-scoring grounder in the sixth.

It was the first time they scored that many runs in an inning since four in the fifth inning last Thursday at Yankee Stadium.

They lost, but after the Arizona series, there was a sign of a pulse.

“I was very impressed,” Collins said of his team’s effort. “I saw a lot more energy. I saw some passion. I saw better at-bats. I was very impressed with how they went about it.”

That was the biggest thing to take from the game, with the other storylines being Verrett and Travis d’Arnaud.

VERRETT ROCKED: Verrett was mauled for five runs in the first and eight in 2.2 innings in what was considered an audition to stay in the rotation.

Verrett has had some good moments, but his last two starts haven’t been good and the pre-game speculation was if he pitched poorly he would be out of the rotation.

But, to replaced by whom?

“We’re going to make a change,” Collins said. “If his knee is OK, it will be Jon Niese.”

WE HAVE D’ARNAUD SIGHTING: Collins pinch-hit for d’Arnaud in the ninth inning leading to speculation – including by me – the Mets were cooling on him.

D’Arnaud sat Thursday but was back in the lineup Friday and went 3-for-4, including his fourth homer, and drove in two runs and scored two.

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Aug 04

Three Mets’ Storylines: Colon Is Headliner

There’s not much more one can say about Bartolo Colon that hasn’t been said, so let’s pile on more of the superlatives we’ve been saying in his three years with the Mets.

COLON: Leads rotation. (AP)

COLON: Leads rotation. (AP)

Colon, despite averaging about 10 mph., less on his fastball than Noah Syndergaard, was stupendous in Thursday night’s 4-1 victory at Yankee Stadium. The guy is 43, but the Mets’ most durable starter and leads the rotation he wasn’t even supposed to be a part of at this time with ten victories.

“I didn’t see myself being a starter at this point,” Colon told an interpreter. “I think just from conversations we’ve had, I saw myself in the bullpen at this point of the season. Thank God I’ve had that opportunity.”

Colon threw 90 pitches, of which 84 were fastballs, which is an extraordinary ratio. He gave up one run on six hits with no walks in 6.2 innings.

“I thought maybe had his best stuff of the year,” manager Terry Collins said. “It’s amazing what he’s done.”

What he’s done is keep the Mets in the wild-card race. They trail St. Louis and Miami for the second wild-card spot by one game heading into a three-game series in Detroit.

The two other Mets’ storylines were Jay Bruce’s three-run homer and the steady contributions of Kelly Johnson.

BRUCE IS LOOSE: The newly-acquired Mets’ right fielder broke his 0-for-10 start with the team with a three-run homer in the fifth inning to give the cruising Colon a 4-0 lead.

“I told some guys it felt like my first major league home run running around the bases,” Bruce said. “It was good to make an impact that way. It ended up being a big spot.”

And, with Yoenis Cespedes on the disabled list, there will be a lot more big spots for Bruce.

“I try to think small,” said Bruce about his approach with runners on base. “I don’t try to do too much and put added pressure on myself.”

JOHNSON COMES UP BIG: Johnson gave the Mets a spark last year after coming over from the Braves last year, and he’s been doing it again in his second stint with them.

Johnson homered in the fifth and made a nifty play to start a game-ending double play.

It takes stars like Cespedes and Bruce to carry a team, but the contributions of guys like Johnson can’t be underestimated.

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Aug 03

Three Mets’ Storylines: Cespedes Goes From Golf Course To DL

With how the Mets played Wednesday, it’s as if they fell out of an Ugly Tree and hit every branch on the way down. The thud at the end was the sound of Yoenis Cespedes landing on the disabled list with a strained right quad, a move that should have been made weeks ago.

The Mets were counting on the combination of Cespedes and Jay Bruce jumpstarting their stagnant offense, but they went a combined 1-for-9 with three strikeouts in a 9-5 loss at Yankee Stadium, including 0-for-4 with RISP. The number I don’t have is what Cespedes shot during his 18 holes earlier in the day.

CESPEDES: Goes on DL ... finally. (AP)

CESPEDES: Goes on DL … finally. (AP)

Manager Terry Collins said prior to the game he was OK with Cespedes playing golf the day of a game despite the Mets’ efforts to keep him off his feet and preserve his energy since the All-Star break.

“Was he running on the course or was he walking? Did he ride a cart or was he jogging?” Collins told reporters “I don’t have any problem with it.”

This wasn’t the first time Cespedes’ penchant for golfing had been an issue. Cespedes golfed the day of Game 4 of the NLCS, then left the game with a shoulder injury. Collins didn’t have a problem with it then, either.

Collins and the Mets mishandled Cespedes’ injury from the beginning. The first mistake was playing him out of position in center. The injury occurred in early July when Cespedes misplayed a ball hit over his head and landed awkwardly.

Sure, it could have happened in left, but what happened later is where the Mets blew it. The Mets didn’t put him on the DL at the time and opted to wait until after the All-Star break, but did nothing when it was clear Cespedes was hurting.

The Mets weren’t hitting, but hoped Cespedes would run into a pitch, like he did against St. Louis, but that moment was lost in Jeurys Familia‘s first blown save.

Collins pointed to these five DH games as a chance to use Cespedes’ bat and keep him off the field. So, what did Collins do? He foolishly used him as a pinch-hitter Tuesday and Cespedes aggravated the quad with an awkward swing.

After Tuesday’s game, Cespedes said he felt something, so he did the responsible thing and played golf Wednesday – with the photos on the Internet – and was given a pass by Collins.

Others though different.

“You’re being rested for a reason,” said SNY analyst Nelson Figueroa. “When they are trying to give you time off, you shouldn’t be on a golf course.”

Added Bobby Valentine: “He should be worried about his RBI’s not his handicap. He’s a paid professional in one sport. … He’s in New York, he shouldn’t do it.”

Whether he used a cart or not is irrelevant. When you play 18 holes you’re still spending a lot of time on your feet and your legs get tired. Then to play a baseball game later is draining.

“I think the best option is just rest, about 10 days or so,” Cespedes told reporters through an interpreter. “Because if I continue playing hurt, I’m never going to recover.”

Too bad Mets GM Sandy Alderson, who brought up Brandon Nimmo to replace Cespedes, couldn’t figure that out weeks ago.

Cespedes injury was clearly the story of the night and will continue to be for a long time.

The other storylines were Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira being hit by a Steven Matz pitch to almost ignite a brawl, then getting in the head of reliever Hansel Robles. That came after the news Lucas Duda had a setback in his back rehab and will probably be lost for the rest of the season.

TEIXEIRA vs. METS PITCHERS:  Matz had a rough start, giving up six runs in six innings, including a homer by Teixeira. The damage was done in the first two innings, but Matz regrouped to retire 12 of the final 13 batters he faced.

The one he didn’t was Teixeira, who was plunked on the leg. It was clear Matz wasn’t throwing at Teixeira, because he immediately turned his back to the plate. When a pitcher intentionally hits a batter he doesn’t turn his back because he doesn’t want to give the hitter a free run at him.

Collins said there was no intent.

“We know Steven Matz wasn’t throwing at anybody,” Collins said. “If his command is that good we wouldn’t have been behind 6-3.”

Even so, to Teixeira perception was reality.

“I know Matz is a good kid,” Teixeira said. “`I’ve talked to him a few times. But listen, when you hit a home run and the next pitch is not even close and hits you it just looks bad. So I just told him, I didn’t appreciate it.”

And, Robles didn’t appreciate Teixeira when the Yankees blew open the game in the seventh inning. When Teixeira was on second, Robles became incensed because he thought he was stealing signs. Robles became angrier when Teixeira mocked him, even to the point where he laughed and pretended to give a set of signs.

“I’ve never gotten inside someone’s head by standing there,” Teixeira said. “After three or four pitches, I realize he’s staring at me. I was trying to have some fun with him. If you think I have your signs, then change your signs.”

Collins conceded Teixeira wasn’t doing anything, but Robles was still upset.

“I think he was trying to pick up signs,” Robles said. “That’s not the way you play baseball. … Just play baseball, you don’t need to pick up signs.”

DUDA HAS SETBACK:  Duda, who had been on the DL since May 23 with a stress fracture in his lower back, was still feeling discomfort and was re-examined by Los Angeles-based orthopedic surgeon Robert Watkins, who suggested 30 days rest. After that, figuring another two to three weeks of rehab, then you’re talking the end of the season.

Duda is making $6.75 million this year. There’s a good chance the Mets will non-tender him in December. The clear option is to bring back James Loney next season, but Alderson said it is possible Michael Conforto or Bruce might be tested at first.

Yeah, that will work.

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