Apr 30

Jeremy Hefner Tries To Stop Mets’ Slide

Jeremy Hefner: Streak stopper.

Some clairvoyant on television said this morning, “the Mets have lost five straight for the first time this season.’’  He’s probably right, but that’s an awful assumption.

All streaks must end somewhere, and while Matt Harvey didn’t stop the slide last night, the Mets will ask Hefner to do it tonight.

Hefner, who hasn’t been consistently good this season, is coming off a solid start in which he gave up a run in seven innings, April 25, against the Dodgers.

The Mets, losers of five straight and nine of their last 12 games, will need Hefner to contain two horrible statistics: he’s walked at least three in each of his last three starts, and he’s given up seven homers in 21 innings

A big Ouch! on that last number.

“It bugged me a little more than I let on,’’ Hefner said of the homers allowed after the Dodger start. “If I’m successful, I’m getting groundballs. … So that’s something I’ve still got to work on.’’

A case can be made Hefner saved his job last week against the Dodgers, but then again, just whom do the Mets have to replace him? They won’t bring up Zack Wheeler before he’s ready, and he’s not close.

Hefner was thrust into the rotation when Johan Santana went down, but he’s become a mainstay. Hefner matter-of-factly says his objective with each game is to give the Mets a quality start, which is three runs given up in six innings, something he’s done twice in four starts.

The offense has to shoulder some of the blame for the Mets being 0-4 in Hefner’s starts as it has given him eight runs in 20 innings.

Hefner is what he is, and that’s a fifth starter. His outpitched his job description in his last start, but he’s not living up to his stated goal of six innings.

The bullpen worked 9.1 innings last night, and with the short turnaround before Wednesday afternoon’s game, the Mets need six from Hefner tonight. His job would be a little easier if the Mets scored some runs, too.

Just saying.

Apr 27

Sluggish Mets Need Boost From Their Pitching

Dillon Gee didn’t pitch that badly last night, but the Mets’ struggling offense – five straight games of scoring three or fewer runs – brought nightmarish memories of last year’s second-half offensive drought.

The Mets made Kyle Kendrick look untouchable as they lost for the seventh time in their last ten games.

MARCUM: Makes first start today.

MARCUM: Makes first start today.

With their offense stagnant, the Mets will need a boost from their already stretched pitching staff. This afternoon they’ll ask journeyman pick-up Shaun Marcum to come up big in his first start of the season.

“I’m sure I’ll have a little bit of adrenaline, a little more than I had in the extended spring game,’’ Marcum said last night. “At the same time you got to know how to control it and use it to your advantage and know when to back off and when to add on a little bit. I’m looking forward to it and I’m definitely excited to get out there and get in situations in real games.’’

Marcum was signed to a free-agent contract in the offseason, but didn’t endear himself to manager Terry Collins when he reported to spring training in poor condition and attempted to justify matters by saying he only needed to make four exhibition starts. He didn’t even make those as he was sidelined with neck and shoulder pain.

“It’s been a while,’’ Marcum said. “Definitely looking forward to getting out there.’’

Marcum will be on a pitch count of 90, and if his command is off, he can get there by the fifth inning. If he does, the Mets would be in trouble. They could also be in trouble Sunday if Jon Niese isn’t able to make his start.

Niese took a hard-hit comebacker off his right ankle Tuesday, but said he felt fine after a light bullpen session Thursday. Yesterday he just played catch and ran in the outfield.

If Niese can’t go, he’ll be the third pitcher of the Mets’ projected five to miss a start, joining Johan Santana, whose career with the team is over, and Marcum.

Even so, the Mets remain adamant about not bringing up Zack Wheeler, whose wildness continues to be an issue. In his last two starts, Wheeler has walked nine batters over 9.1 innings.

The reports Collins is getting from Triple-A Las Vegas have not been encouraging. First, there was Wheeler’s blister problem, followed by his control. When Wheeler was optioned in spring training, he said he was told to concentrate on is his control.

However, concentrating on his control and getting command of it are two different things.

“What worries me the most is that he’s not pounding the strike zone,’’ Collins said. “We’ve got to have some strikes out of him because his stuff is going to play. If he’s in the strike zone, you’d be surprised at the outs because his stuff is just that good.’’

Then again, when he’s out of the strike zone it doesn’t matter how good his stuff is.

Apr 24

Jon Niese Hoping For The Best After Ankle Injury

It is the morning after and the Mets will hopefully know more about Jon Niese’s injured right ankle. Niese was knocked from Tuesday night’s 7-2 loss to the Dodgers in the third inning after being struck by a hard comebacker off the bat of Mark Ellis.

Niese fell to the ground and had to be helped off the field. X-Rays were negative and he was diagnosed with a bruise.

NIESE: Will he make next start? (Getty)

NIESE: Will he make next start? (Getty)

“It felt kind of like a stinger, like it hit a nerve,’’ Niese told reporters. “It obviously was painful. But then it kind of locked up down there. I couldn’t move my toes. It was kind of scary at first. But then, coming in here, letting it settle down, it’s just a bruise.

“What are the odds that ball hits my ankle? It’s one of those things where I’m glad it’s not as bad as what it could have been. I’ll just move on, shake it off and get ready for my next start.’’

Niese did not say where he earned his medical degree, but knows he won’t be sure until he tests it on his throw day Thursday.

The right ankle is Niese’s landing foot and if he feels any sharp bursts on pain then, he will likely be scratched from his scheduled start Sunday against Philadelphia.

“Certainly the fear was as soon as he couldn’t move his foot … [it] was a bad sign for us,’’ manager Terry Collins said. “Obviously, he’s fine. He’s walking around. He’s getting better as the night goes along. So he’ll be OK. He shouldn’t miss a start.’’

Not known is the number of times Collins has said after an injury that a pitcher won’t miss a start or throw day, but he did.

Whatever the number, bet the over. Also, bet the worse when it comes to Mets’ pitching injuries.

Thinking along those lines, the Mets will have to scramble to find a starter to replace Niese if he can’t go. Aaron Laffey, who was designated for assignment to make room for Robert Carson, was signed by Toronto.

The Mets are adamant about not going to Zack Wheeler, saying he’s not ready, and his control supports their worries.

Next up from Triple-A Las Vegas will be Collin McHugh, who was 0-4 with a 7.59 ERA in eight appearances. However, his Vegas numbers of 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA in four starts indicate he’s pitching better.

Chris Schwinden at 2-2 is also available and pitched for the Mets last season.

The Mets could also decide to dip down to Double-A Binghamton for Rafael Montero, who is 3-0 with a 1.59 in four starts.

Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

 

Apr 22

Parnell Must Stay As Closer When Francisco Returns

Most everything about the Mets these days is about the future. From Matt Harvey, to extending David Wright, to the trade of R.A. Dickey and protecting Zack Wheeler, we’re talking about 2014 and beyond.

Sure, it would be great to compete now, but 2013 is mostly for establishing the foundation. It is the development of Harvey and Jon Niese; giving Wheeler major league experience – while avoiding free agency for a year – and hope Ike Davis and Lucas Duda improve their offensive efficiency while still producing power.

PARNELL: Don't mess with him now.

PARNELL: Don’t mess with him now.

This trend should extend to the bullpen, where Bobby Parnell, despite limited save opportunities, has performed in the role that should hopefully define his career.

Manager Terry Collins told Parnell at the beginning of spring training he would be the closer if Frank Francisco were not ready. Collins should pull Parnell aside tomorrow at Citi Field – today is an off-day – and tell him he’ll have the job when Francisco returns.

Parnell spit the bit on previous chances, but is grasping the brass ring now. And, tightly. Parnell struck out two Washington Nationals in a perfect ninth Sunday to earn his second save of the season. Parnell is following up last year’s strong second half with a blistering start.

He has a strong traditional statistic in a 1.35 ERA – mostly overrated for relievers – with an even stronger new wave stat of a 0.45 WHIP.  He’s given up three hits and a run in 6.2 innings. He’s been virtually untouchable.

More to the point, he’s pitching the way the way the Mets always hoped.

Collins and GM Sandy Alderson saw that coming at the end of 2012, when with Francisco on the disabled list, Parnell went 3-1 with a 0.96 ERA and paltry .196 opponent’s batting average in 17 appearances.

The Mets might feel obligated to return Francisco to the closer role based on his $6.5-million salary, but they need to resist that temptation. It is not an obligation to return Francisco to the closer role, especially because it is anticipated he will not be re-signed this winter.

If Francisco were in the Mets’ future plans, I might think differently. Parnell, however, is expected to be here next season and beyond. The Mets – namely Jerry Manuel – have jerked around Parnell to the point of messing with his confidence. They must not do it again by changing his role.

Perhaps this is nothing more than a hot stretch for Parnell; perhaps it is the beginning of something special. We need the time to see.

We don’t know to what degree Parnell will develop. What we do know is Francisco will not be here next year and Parnell will. Parnell must stay in the closer role, and remain there in good times and in bad.

That’s the way to build for the future, which is now for Parnell.

Apr 21

Zack Wheeler: Not Ready For Primetime

Baseball 101: Regardless of the level of play, if a pitcher walks too many batters he will be beaten.

It is a baseball fundamental understood by everybody, with the exception of those insisting the Mets bring up Zack Wheeler, who walked six hitters in his last start.

WHEELER: Not ready.

WHEELER: Not ready.

The clamoring is getting louder in the wake of the Mets’ continued problems with the back end of their rotation. Maybe Dillon Gee, he of the 0-3 record and 8.36 ERA, will get it going Sunday against Washington. But, also struggling are Jeremy Hefner and Aaron Laffey, both of whom were hit hard Saturday by the Nationals.

David Wright was correct in saying if the Mets score five runs off Gio Gonzalez they should win, but the combined efforts of Hefner and Laffey made that impossible. Hefner has given up seven homers in 14 innings, with two of them coming Saturday. Laffey gave up three runs in 2/3 of an inning out of the bullpen.

The Mets are hoping for Shaun Marcum’s return, or could give Triple-A starter Collin McHugh a spot start because it won’t, and shouldn’t, go to Wheeler.

The six walks Wheeler gave up trump any radio host’s rant of, “I want to see what he can do.’’ Well, we know what he can do, and that’s walk hitters and get shelled. Hey, the Mets are getting that now.

Do they really need to see one of their prized prospects get routed up here? The Mets took their time with Matt Harvey and should do the same with Wheeler.

And, let’s hear no more about the Mets being cheap because they want to keep him away from the free-agent market another year. That is not the issue. Wheeler is simply not ready for the major leagues, a fact Collins reiterated Saturday.

“That’s a red flag and I don’t want to see walks from those guys,’’ Collins said. “I told Zack in spring training, you’re going to pitch in a tough place [the Pacific Coast League] and I was in that league for 12 years, I know how hard that league is to pitch in.’’

Collins said he would talk to Las Vegas manager Wally Backman about Wheeler. There are times statistics aren’t defining in evaluating performances in the minor leagues. Walks, however, are telling on any level. Overall, in four starts, Wheeler has walked 12 in 18.1 innings. On top of that, he’s given up 20 hits.

“Ten hits, I can understand,’’ Collins said. “But six walks, he’s better than that.’’

He needs to show it.