Apr 06

When Can We Expect To See Rafael Montero Make Mets Debut?

MiLB: JUL 12 - St. Lucie Mets at Tampa Yankees DBL Header (Game 2)

Tommy K. asks…

When do you think we’ll see Rafael Montero in Citi Field?

Joe D. replies…

Good question. The organization is very high on Montero and not too many 22-year old pitching prospects from A-Ball get invited to spring training and stick around as long as he did.

Montero needs a little work mechanically and was already working on a few things at the minor league side of camp before he was assigned to Binghamton and debuted with a dominating performance. His fastball sat at the 92-93 mph range last season, but he picked up some velocity and is now predominantly at 93-94 and can hit 95. Most likely because he’s bulked up a bit over the winter.

I would expect Montero to get bumped to Vegas once the Mets decide to promote Zack Wheeler to the majors. However, Wheeler had a rough first start on Thursday. He continues to struggle with command and his pitch count (86 pitches, 51 strikes, 3 1/3 innings) was alarming to say the least. He clearly isn’t ready just yet and needs to improve in a few areas before the Mets even consider the thought of bringing him up.

That said, Montero can still make his way to Triple-A with more performances like this past one (5.2 innings, 2 H, 0 BB, 8 K) regardless of Wheeler’s fate. I don’t think it’s out of the question to see Montero promoted to Vegas by mid-May, and he’ll certainly get a call-up in September this season if not sooner.

The domino effect to Montero getting bumped would mean a promotion to Double-A for Jake deGrom or possibly even Noah Syndergaard if he’s outperforming deGrom. One of them will be in Bingo by Memorial Day at the latest.

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Apr 05

Zack Wheeler Roughed Up In Vegas Debut

For those thinking Zack Wheeler will be the answer to the gaping hole in the Mets’ rotation, think again. He’s at Triple-A Las Vegas for a reason, and that being he’s not ready. Injuries to Johan Santana and Shaun Marcum will be handled without compromising Wheeler’s development.

WHEELER: Rocked last night.

WHEELER: Rocked last night.

Jeremy Hefner tonight against Miami and Aaron Laffey Sunday is what it is going to be. If they get through those starts intact, then they’ll get another.

“I don’t know what they have planned for me,’’ Wheeler told me in spring training when asked if there was a timetable for his promotion. “All I know is I have to keep working and improving.’’

Wheeler identified his growth obstacles as control and command of his secondary pitches, notably his change-up. He’s not able to consistently throw it for strikes, especially when behind in the count and hitters are sitting on a fastball.

“It’s a feel pitch,’’ Wheeler said. “It’s the toughest pitch for me to command. It takes a lot of work.’’

Wheeler, who missed time this spring with a strained oblique muscle, has reported no discomfort since he was cleared to pitch, but nonetheless hasn’t been sharp He said there’s nothing wrong physically, but remains in a mechanical funk.

In his debut last night for Las Vegas, Wheeler didn’t get a decision, but there was no hiding the difficulty in his start, as he labored through 86 pitches in 3.1 innings, giving up a run on three hits, but with three walks and a wild pitch. For the 86 pitches Wheeler threw, he should have worked into the sixth or seventh innings at least. A no-decision with 86 pitches is a wasted start.

General manager Sandy Alderson repeatedly said this spring the Mets won’t rush Wheeler. Part of sending him down for the first six weeks of the season is to give the Mets another year of control to keep him off the free-agent market for another year and delay arbitration.

“He’s not ready,’’ Alderson said. “We’re not going to bring somebody up where he would be in position to fail.’’

Wheeler had spectacular moments this spring when he overpowered hitters and impressed with his composure, but it was early so not much can be drawn from that other than optimism.

Last night is no indication of what kind of year, let alone career, is in store for Wheeler. But, the lack of command underscored he isn’t ready to dominate major league hitters. For all the talk Wheeler might have better stuff than Matt Harvey, that’s not the issue. That’s only speculation that doesn’t help either pitcher.

So, those dreaming of a Harvey, Wheeler and Jon Niese trio, keep dreaming. It’s not coming any time soon.

NOTE: I’ll be back later this afternoon with posts on Hefner/Buck working together tonight; the continuation of the 73 series; an analysis of the lineup; and a game wrap. Please drop in throughout the day. Thanks.

Apr 04

Dillon Gee’s Comeback One Of The Good Stories

The cold didn’t bother Matt Harvey last night, but the Mets will pay close attention this afternoon to Dillon Gee if the temperatures drop during his start against the San Diego Padres.

In the quest of rooting for good stories, Gee is up there in his attempt to come back from emergency surgery to repair a blocked artery in his shoulder that caused his right hand to go numb. Simply, you can’t throw if you can’t feel the ball.

GEE: Takes a big step today.

GEE: Takes a big step today.

“I’ve had no setbacks, zero,’’ said Gee during spring training, where the temperatures were thirty degrees higher than the mid-40s expected today in New York, where the Mets go for a sweep of their season-opening three-game series.

Gee will throw his first major league pitch since undergoing surgery at last year’s All-Star break. He had many of his fears quelled because he was able to throw last September.

“I didn’t want to spend the off-season wondering if I could throw again,” Gee said. “It took a lot off my mind.”

The feeling returned to Gee’s hand, but today will be the coolest weather in which he’s had to pitch. In preparation, Gee is on nitroglycerin tablets to expand the blood vessels and maintain circulation. Command will be the issue if the cold makes it difficult for him to grip the ball.

“I think I’ll be fine,’’ Gee said. “It hasn’t been an issue.’’

Gee will attempt to give the Mets their third straight strong starting effort, following Jon Niese in the opener and Harvey’s 10-strikeout performance last night.

His start is part of the progression that began when he was drafted in the 21st round of the 2007 draft. His first work was out of the bullpen, but by the end of his first season with Single-A Brooklyn he was starting and had a 3-1 record with a 2.28 ERA. Gee moved up to Double-A in 2008 and Triple-A in 2009, but that year ended not with a September call-up by the Mets, but with a torn labrum in his shoulder.

Gee returned strong in 2010 and was brought up by the Mets to make his debut, Sept. 7, and was brilliant in taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning. He eventually gave up a run on two hits. Gee stayed in the rotation and finished 2-2 with a 2.18 ERA in five starts. That first impression wasn’t a fluke as he won his first seven decisions in 2011, and finished at 13-6 with a 4.43 ERA and firmly entrenched in the rotation.

Gee doesn’t have the physical make-up of Harvey or Zack Wheeler, but the Mets like his poise and resiliency. He doesn’t get rattled when things go wrong, as they did in 2012 when he was hit hard and often to have a 5.65 ERA in his first seven starts.

The clot in his shoulder didn’t appear to be the cause of his problems as he rebounded with nine-strikeout games against San Diego and Baltimore and improved to 6-7 at the break. He was supposed to open the second half against Atlanta, but it never happened because he complained of numbness in his arm.

Then came the wonder if he’d ever pitch again. Now there’s no pain, no numbness. Just anticipation.

Mar 30

Mets’ Spring Training Booms And Busts

It is the same in every spring training camp with winners and losers. Booms and busts. With camp ending today, the Mets had their share of both.

THE WINNERS

Jon Niese: With Johan Santana a question going in, Niese entered camp No. 1 in the rotation and pitched deserving of that title. Not surprisingly, he was named Opening Day starter. With Santana gone for the year, he’s the de facto ace, at least until Matt Harvey takes over.

NIESE: A good spring.

NIESE: A good spring.

Matt Harvey: He took some lumps, but was far more good than bad. Most importantly, he didn’t show any signs of being overwhelmed. With Shaun Marcum hurting, Harvey is now No. 2.

Zack Wheeler: He strained an oblique muscle, but when he pitched he showed a glimpse of things to come. Wheeler was never going to make the Opening Day roster, but should be in Flushing soon enough.

Jeremy Hefner: Reported as a contender for the Triple-A rotation, but with Santana’s injury is now scheduled to be the No. 4 starter.

Jordany Valdespin: Here’s a guy who wasn’t in the Mets’ plans, but took advantage of injuries to Daniel Murphy and Kirk Nieuwenhuis to earn a spot on the roster. That is, unless something dramatic happens today.

Marlon Byrd: He was a spring training pick-up who not only won a spot on the roster, but in the Opening Day lineup.

Travis d’Arnaud: He was always going to open the season in the minors, but stayed healthy and opened a lot of eyes. He’ll be up before the All-Star break. The pitchers like throwing to him.

Lucas Duda: Surprised, aren’t you? Duda had a miserable start with an extraordinary number of strikeouts, but finished strong to give him confidence going into the season.

LOSERS

Johan Santana: It was a rocky spring for Santana, who responded in anger at criticism from GM Sandy Alderson about not being in shape by throwing off the mound ahead of schedule. He never got on the mound again and it is possible he never will.

Shaun Marcum: He didn’t endear himself to the Mets by showing up to camp in poor shape and could open the season on the disabled list.

Frank Francisco: He has not responded from elbow surgery and will be on the disabled list. Francisco might not get his closer role back if Bobby Parnell doesn’t spit the bit.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis: He was penciled in as the leadoff hitter in center fielder, but missed most of camp with a bruised knee. Amazingly, because of the Mets’ dismal situation in the outfield, he still has a chance despite hitting less than .100.

Dillon Gee: He came to camp a health question, and while he says there are no complications from surgery to repair an artery in his shoulder, he had several rough starts. He had a good one toward the end, but wasn’t consistent, especially with his change-up.

Ruben Tejada: He hit better than expected last season, and didn’t hit at all this spring. In most camps, hitting less than .100 would be a ticket to the minors, but the Mets have little alternatives.

Mar 29

Days Dwindling For Mets; Questions Aren’t

The Mets have two games remaining in spring training, and if they don’t know what they have by now they never will.

They break camp today after playing St. Louis, then bus over to the bay side of the state to play the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday. Next will be Opening Day Monday afternoon against San Diego, while at the same time, in a display of scheduling genius by Major League Baseball, across town the Yankees will play the Red Sox.

COLLINS: No shortage of concerns.

COLLINS: No shortage of concerns.

The Mets have a myriad of remaining questions that won’t be answered in the next 18 innings. That’s not to say there aren’t a few things manager Terry Collins would like to see, most of them health related.

Daniel Murphy and David Wright have missed time with strained intercostal muscles. Murphy played yesterday against Washington in a major league game and Wright hopes to play today and tomorrow in major league games.

Both players say they are ready, but also said the gamble of playing in a major league game instead of a minor league game was worth taking because the speed and pace is closer to that of the regular season. If they are injured and have to go on the disabled list instead of being backdated deeper into spring training, then so be it.

Murphy goes into the season with a handful of at-bats, while Wright had the World Baseball Classic. Even so, neither will face the Padres in a groove.

Assuming Wright and Murphy are sound, the lone position to be determined is center field, with Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Jordany Valdespin the two contenders.

Nieuwenhuis entered spring training penciled in to start in center along side Lucas Duda in left and Mike Baxter in right, and was given first chance at the leadoff spot.

After a miserable start, Nieuwenhuis bruised his left knee and Valdespin emerged as a starting candidate in center – competing with Collin Cowgill – or at second with Murphy hurt.

As of yesterday, Collins said center field was up in the air, but wanted Nieuwenhuis to get at-bats, which presumably means the Mets want him to win the job.

Figuring seven or eight at-bats in the next games, that’s not enough for Nieuwenhuis to get in a groove, but it will have to do. Presumably, if Nieuwenhuis starts over Valdespin he would hit leadoff.

Pitching wise, Johan Santana wasn’t going to be an issue, but now the Mets can place him on the 60-day disabled list that would open up a spot on the 40-man roster. Call it Santana’s last contribution to the Mets, because with a re-tear of his anterior shoulder capsule, his career is likely over.

Jeremy Hefner will take his spot in the rotation, but took a ball off his right elbow Tuesday and Collins wants to give him a couple of innings to see how he feels. Hefner is scheduled the fourth game of the season, Friday against Miami at Citi Field.

The Mets still don’t know when Shaun Marcum can pitch, and could go with Aaron Laffey instead.

Even with Santana’s career-threatening injury, the Mets are adamant about not bringing up Zack Wheeler.