Jun 26

Are Mets’ Forcing Wheeler’s Development?

Here’s what the New York Mets can make of Zack Wheeler: He still has a lot of work to do. Wheeler tripped Tuesday night, but I’m inclined to agree with Ron Darling in that it was the Mets who stuck their foot out.

WHEELER: White Sox know what pitch this is.

WHEELER: White Sox know what pitch this is.

Darling, who has forgotten more pitching than most of us will ever know, said the Mets might have done Wheeler a disservice by having him go away from his fastball, which can be overpowering, and throw more of his slider.

Wheeler hasn’t refined his secondary pitches and pitching coach Dan Warthen told reporters last night the Mets’ prized rookie was tipping his pitches by having a different arm angle for his breaking balls.

Wheeler said he was “bad,’’ after he gave up four runs on four hits and three walks in 5.2 innings. Surprisingly, Wheeler struck out one, but you’d think with a 95-mph. plus-fastball he would have had more. He would have had he mixed in more fastballs among his 109 pitches.

Wheeler is clearly not as far along and polished as Matt Harvey was last year at this time. He is more advanced with his fastball than his breaking balls, and that’s the pitch he should have used more often, if for no other reason it was an interleague game.

Seriously, when will Wheeler see the White Sox again? Just throw the fastball until they prove they can hit it.

Throwing unrefined breaking balls is even more risky when behind in the count, and of the 24 batters he faced, he threw only 11 first-pitch strikes.

Wheeler said he was bad. He might over stated things a bit, because the Mets have shown us a lot worse this year. Speaking of which, today is Shaun Marcum Day.

It wasn’t as if the White Sox knocked him around the park, but they were usually ahead in the count and generally had comfortable at-bats.

Unless Wheeler goes into a dive, the plan is for him to be here, and learn on the fly. That’s not the best way as the Mets have rushed him. By Wheeler’s own admission he wasn’t ready, but he’s not going to say, “no, I’ll stay in Vegas.’’ After all, there are only so many $3.99 all-you-can-eat buffets one you can enjoy.

So, as long as he’s here let him throw his fastball, then mix in a curve and go with the slider as his third pitch.

By all accounts, Wheeler is ahead of Mike Pelfrey when he first came up, and that includes his secondary pitches. Pelfrey became ineffective because he didn’t have command of his secondary pitches and hitters sat on his fastball.

Ideally, the Mets should turn Wheeler loose with his fastball and work in the other pitches gradually. Let him throw the pitch he has the most confidence in and go from there.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them.

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Jun 25

Mets Matters: Wheeler Makes Second Start; Time To Rest Wright

Zack Wheeler has been in our consciousness for over a year, but has one start in our memories. He gets his second tonight for the New York Mets in Chicago against the White Sox.

Wheeler threw six, tense scoreless innings in his debut at Atlanta. However, four hits and five walks means he was in trouble most of the night. He needed those seven strikeouts.

WHEELER: Goes tonight vs. White Sox.

WHEELER: Goes tonight vs. White Sox.

Control was the concern at Triple-A Las Vegas and it is the issue tonight. It was impressive how Wheeler escaped trouble, but it is just as important to avoid it in the first place.

Wheeler outpitched his wildness with velocity, but it isn’t always going to work that way for him. Every game is a test, and tonight the Mets want to see Wheeler work the corners more and avoid the walks.

In making the inevitable comparisons to Matt Harvey, notice Harvey has shown exceptional control. That’s Wheeler’s next step.

METS DID RIGHT BY IKE: Ike Davis was named Player of the Week in the Pacific Coast League for hitting four homers in two games.

The Mets did the right thing in bringing up Zach Lutz instead of Davis when Lucas Duda was placed on the disabled list.

ESPN reports Davis might be brought back Thursday when the Mets are in Colorado. Davis has torn it up at Coors Field, but it would be a mistake to promote him in hope he’d catch lightning in a bottle.

Davis has posted good numbers in Las Vegas, but, remember the Mets telling us to disregard Wheeler’s PCL numbers because the ball flies out there? Well, shouldn’t the same apply in looking at Davis’ stats?

It was to be much more than just a mechanical adjustment with Davis; it was to be an overhaul of his hitting approach. He’s still striking out a lot, indicating there’s a lot more work to do.

TIME TO REST WRIGHT: Terry Collins said David Wright is due for a day off. Knowing Wright, he’ll resist, but if the Mets are to sit him for a game, tonight should be the night.

After a day off Monday, by sitting tonight he’ll have two straight days off. Thursday would have been an off day, but the Mets will lose it because or the make-up game in Denver. After that, the Mets won’t have another day off until July 11, which is in a road trip between San Francisco and Pittsburgh.

After the Pirates series is the All-Star break, but Wright figures to be busy then, too.

Jun 22

Mets Should Not Be Seduced By Davis’ Vegas Numbers

Las Vegas, I learned in grade school geography and reinforced by the movie “Casino,’’ is located in the desert, and when lost in the desert one can fall victim to a mirage. Surely, the New York Mets know this, too, and should not be seduced by the mirage of Ike Davis hitting back-to-back two-homer games.

Davis, once considered part of the Mets’ core, is in Vegas gambling he still has a major league future. He and the Mets are encouraged he’s riding a five-game hitting streak where he is 9-for-16 with four homers and seven RBI. Overall, in 11 games, he is hitting .333 with a .480 on-base percentage.

DAVIS: Not ready. (AP)

DAVIS: Not ready. (AP)

Good, but not good enough, and the Mets would be foolish to fall for the mirage Davis is now a major league hitter. Eleven games means nothing; he needs more than double that amount, perhaps triple it, to prove he’s ready.

Las Vegas manager Wally Backman talks boastfully about correcting Davis’ nasty hitch, and Mets manager Terry Collins said his reports are good in that regard.

It’s still not enough, as Davis’ problems aren’t just mechanical, but mental. His approach is wrong, and I am afraid the four homers will underscore Davis’ problem in bold.

“I am a home run hitter. I like to hit home runs,’’ Davis said this spring. “Strikeouts come with that.’’

It was a faulty answer this spring and it is just as bad now. Davis’ most impressive statistic is seven walks, but in 39 at-bats, Davis has nine strikeouts, so you tell me what he’s learned.

Davis needs to forget about pulling the ball and hitting home runs. He must concentrate on working the count, shortening his swing and using the entire field. Once he’s capable of doing that, then he’ll be putting the ball in play more and consequently his home runs and run production will increase.

That’s the approach Davis must learn, and emphasize to Backman it is something ingrained in him. If he can’t do that, then he’ll come back to the Mets and fall into the same old habits.

The Mets warned not to be discouraged by Zack Wheeler’s numbers because they are skewed by the conditions of the desert. The ball flies in the Pacific Coast League. By the same logic, shouldn’t we also consider Davis’ numbers with skepticism?

The sampling of Davis’ work is too small to make the determination he’s ready to come back. This is no time for the Mets to be fooled again.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Jun 21

Jonathan Niese Must Go On DL

Whatever the outcome of Jonathon Niese’s shoulder exam this morning in New York, the New York Mets must place him on the disabled list. Not should, but must.

That reliever Greg Burke is on his way to Philadelphia this morning indicates they are thinking in those terms. Replacing him in the rotation isn’t an issue with the arrival of Zack Wheeler, so there’s no need to make a decision on Shaun Marcum for at least another two weeks.

NIESE: Ailing again. (AP)

NIESE: Ailing again. (AP)

Nice and neat, isn’t it?

While the Mets’ roster maneuvering will take care of itself, they would prefer the juggling if it meant having a healthy Niese. If this were an isolated incident it might raise a red flag. That this is Niese’s third problem this season is alarming.

Niese left Thursday night’s game during the fourth inning in Atlanta with pain in his left shoulder. Unlike Matt Harvey, who tried to pitch through back discomfort several weeks ago – he gets a pass because he’s in his first full season – Niese realized something was wrong after a few pitches and called to the dugout.

There was no hesitation with Terry Collins in pulling him. There wasn’t even that “let’s throw a few warm-up tosses and see what’s going on’’ nonsense that has burned the Mets before.

Niese was gone.

“It’s never good when you have to leave a game. But on a good note, the doctor did some tests and everything was negative,’’ Niese said of a training room exam Thursday night. “It just felt really weak. I think the tendinitis kind of flared up again. I felt some pain that [Tyler] Pastornicky at-bat.

“I threw a fastball and noticed my velocity was down. There was a lot of discomfort. I tried to pitch through it, but every pitch after that I felt some pain, so I just had to stop.’’

Of course, Niese should not have tried to throw those few extra pitches, but a player will always attempt to work through it because differentiating between normal game pain and injury is difficult. However, Niese had already missed a start because of his shoulder.

Niese said he felt good after missing that one start and gave the obligatory “we’ll see what the doctor says.’’

Not this time. This has gone on long enough.

Niese is young, he’s left-handed, he throws hard – at least he did before this – and under a manageable contract through the 2016 season. Not only that, Niese is good. He’s a foundation piece; part of the Mets’ core.

He must be protected.

ON DECK: Updating Ike Davis.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Jun 20

It Is Time Niese Prove His Worth

In all this talk about the New York Mets and their bright pitching future, Jon Niese has been overlooked. His upside has not been projected as high as that of Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler, but it was lofty enough at one time for the Mets to give him a long-term deal.

The Mets eschewed numerous trade overtures for him, instead opting to keep him as a building block because he’s a hard-throwing left-hander who experienced success and has a controllable contract.

However, he’s overlooked for a reason.

NIESE: Underachiever. (AP)

NIESE: Underachiever. (AP)

The Mets extended Niese’s contract with the expectation he’d lift them in games like tonight in Atlanta, where he’d be the difference between a winning and losing series. There’s not a high degree of confidence in him tonight.

After winning a career-high 13 games last year, Niese has not progressed. Yes, a case can be made to explain his 3-6 record because of a lack of run support, but there’s that sticky matter of a 4.15 ERA.

Niese pitched in consecutive sub-30 degree games in Minnesota and Denver and came away with stiffness in his back. No doubt, that is a contributing factor to his mediocre numbers, but what about his 1.57 WHIP?

In only four of his last ten starts has he gone into the seventh inning or further. The Mets have lost eight of those starts, and Niese has one victory in that span to his ledger.

One could argue Niese’s ERA is attributable in large part to giving up seven and eight runs in consecutive starts, but you could counter that by saying staff anchors must find away to minimize the damage, something Niese has yet to master.

This year Harvey, despite his limited experience, has proven more adept at escaping big innings than Niese. What Wheeler showed three times Tuesday night was something the Mets needed from Niese last weekend against the Cubs.

When the Mets had Johan Santana and Mike Pelfrey, Niese was projected as a No. 3 starter. Through attrition, he entered the season No. 1 and pitched like it in his first two starts.

Since then, he has been outpitched by Harvey consistently, and Dillon Gee and Jeremy Hefner over the past month. Currently, based on merit, Niese’s performance is indicative of a fifth starter at best, which is where he would be if the Mets dropped Shaun Marcum from the rotation.

I would still hold onto Niese for the same reasons: being a hard-throwing left-hander with a reasonable contract. There’s reason to believe there’s an upside to Niese, but he must start to outpitch his paltry support and perform to his expectations. He has to pitch better than his team, as all good pitchers must.

The Mets signed Niese to a long-term deal because they believed they could build around him. It is time Niese lives up to that faith.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos