Right now the outfield combination is a guess that works for the Mets

New York – Friday night at Citi Field in the New York Mets outfield, Mike Baxter got the start in right field, Lucas Duda was in left, Jordany Valdespin in center. It has been common not to expect the same everyday outfield combination in the lineup put together by manager Terry Collins.

It could cause some issues, but not in the Mets clubhouse. Everyone seems to be content with their playing time. What matters most, Collins is trying to find the right combination that can produce some runs in the lineup. And, if Valdespin keeps coming off big, as he did Wednesday night with a walk-off game winning grand slam home run, he could be in the outfield every day.

However, Collins will not commit to who plays where. As he makes out the lineup a lot has to do also with righty against lefty, and who may have the upper hand. Except Mets fans are becoming acclimated to seeing Valdespin come up big, who can also fill some holes in the infield.

“I took the one guy who has a .400 on base in Mike Baxter and said if we can get him on, we got a guy at number 2 who can handle the bat, and hit behind runners, and hit in the holes and bunt and do the little things,” commented Collins about inserting Baxter in right at the top of the order Friday night.

Baxter was followed in the order by Ruben Tejada, Daniel Murphy, and David Wright, and then came Duda.  The Mets come to the ballpark and it does matter where, when, or if or not they are in the lineup.

The outfield has learned to work as a unit and in the end it comes down to winning ballgames.

Yes, Sandy Alderson, the general manager suggested to Collins to insert Wright fifth in the order.  The Mets captain, before getting injured, drove home 10-runs in the World Baseball Classic. The outfield, though, that is the discretion of the Mets manager.

“He led off for us last year, he knows what he is doing,” said Collins about inserting Baxter in that role Friday night as the Mets dropped the first of a three-game series to the Philadelphia Phillies.

Baxter struck out once and went hitless in four at bats. In the third inning, he also lost a ball in right field that was ruled a double of the bat of Lance Nix.

“It was the twilight out there, hard to read,” commented Baxter about the mixed ball. He said it had nothing to do with the limited playing time out in right, or coming off the bench as a role player.

As for going hitless at the plate, Baxter and the Mets can blame Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick who shut out the Mets for the first time this season limiting them to three hits. Kendrick did not allow a runner to second base after the first inning.

Simply put, Collins is aware that he has to get his guys playing time and find a proper role for them. Baxter, as with rookie Juan Lagares, will get the time. The 24-year old Lagares of the Dominican Republic was called up from Triple-A Las Vegas Tuesday and recorded his first Major League base hit coming off the bench.

The attitude of Lagares, it fits in with the rest of that crowded outfield. “I am going to try and be here and do whatever they need me to do here, come here to work hard everyday  ” he said after getting his first start in center Wednesday night against the Dodgers.

But in a matter of time, Collins and the Mets should have that outfield set. In the meantime, when the Mets outfield arrives at Citi Field early Saturday morning for another game with the Phillies, as has been the case, they will look on the board and see if their name is in the starting lineup.

“We will come out tomorrow and give it another try,” said Baxter.

e-mail Rich Mancuso: Ring786@aol.com

 

Posted under Daniel Murphy, David Wright, Dro, Lefty, Mets Clubhouse, Mets Fans, Mets New York, Mike Baxter, New York Mets, Outfield, Playing Time, Right Combination, Ruben, Runners, Sandy Alderson, Tejada, Top Story, Wednesday Night

Mets Sweep Gives Team Hope

New York – A prevailing mood in the New York Mets clubhouse is that they can win and have an impact in the National League East. And after completing a three-game sweep Sunday afternoon at Citi Field over the division rival Atlanta Braves, 7-5, there is every reason to put things in another perspective.

Winning ballgames, and more than the experts predicted has put a different perspective on what is expected to be another dismal season in Flushing. This was the first time in a 50 –year history of the club when a Mets team started the season with a three- game sweep over a division rival.

At 3-0, and with the cross- town Yankees off to a 0-3 start, this is something the organization is hoping will regenerate some interest. More so, if the wins can continue in the next three games at home with the Washington Nationals, getting a good start out of the gate is what will convince fans that this may not be dismal as was expected.

“This means everything,” said Manager Terry Collins when asked about the three games against Atlanta that saw his team pitch effectively, use the long ball, and also get the timely hit. “We’ve done a lot of talk in spring training about getting ready to compete. I told those guys in the first meeting ‘you’re professional baseball players and there are expectations in this town and in this clubhouse.’”

Numerous times last season, his first, Collins reiterated about expectation but the message did not carry into wins. A second half finish saw New York finish fourth in the division with 77 wins, and then losing Jose Reyes to free agency, now with the Miami Marlins, made the outlook look more dismal for 2012.

However, Reyes, for the moment has quickly not been a topic at Citi Field. His replacement, 22-year old shortstop Ruben Tejada, had a career day Sunday with a career high four hits with two doubles, driving in two runs.

“We have to keep working hard every day,” commented Tejada. “We play hard and together as a team,” he said.

And that was a prevailing attitude of this Mets team after the season opening series sweep Sunday afternoon. They believe in themselves as a team and despite what the prognosticators say, they have no intention of making this a dismal season.

And if the Mets get good starting pitching, as they did Sunday from Jonathon Niese, Saturday from R.A. Dickey, and in the opener Thursday, five strong innings from Johan Santana, well this could become a special season. But will the pitching stay consistent? Can Mike Pelfrey and Dillon Gee, who start the first two games with the Nationals Monday and Tuesday, be just as good?

“You can’t ask for better than that,” said Collins about the starts that have put the Mets at 3-0 for the first time since 2007 when they won their first four. “We saw that in spring training even though our starters did not go deep. We like our rotation,” he said also referring to Gee and Pelfrey.

Niese, in particular, who signed a long term contract Saturday, struggled often last year.  At times there were doubts he could be a quality starting pitcher. The return of Santana has inspired the pitching staff, and according to guys in the clubhouse the entire roster.

“They want to compete and do what he does,” said Collins. “He creates a great atmosphere. It spreads.

Niese flirted with a no-hitter into the seventh inning before Freddie Freeman singled to right field with no outs.  He would allow four runs, two earned, seven strikeouts and two walks. He lasted two more batters after the hit by Freeman. Atlanta scored four runs in the seventh. Lucas Duda lost a ball in the sun, and Jason Howard had a two-run double.

“It would have been hard to take me out,” said Niese who had a 93 mile fastball and control that was rare last season. The Mets after 7,911 games still remain one of four teams in baseball that have never had a no-hitter pitched. “We have a staff that likes to compete with each other and that is a good thing,” said Niese.

And this start has also been attributed to a revamped bullpen. Frank Francisco closed his third consecutive game becoming the first player in franchise history to save his first three games. Prior to a Brian McCann home run in the eighth inning it was the first Mets run surrendered by the pen. In three games the pen has allowed  one earned run in 10.0 innings.

“We have to pitch,” said Collins. “We have a lot of work ahead of us. We have a long way to go.  All we want to do is stay competitive.”

They have come out of the gate with this good start. That is what every Mets fan needed to see, and this team believes it will continue. David Wright is hitting with authority and showing signs of his old self. Daniel Murphy picked up a couple of hits and two RBI, including a two-run double in the three-run Mets sixth.

Now they need Ike Davis to get it going as well as Jason Bay, two silent bats in the first three games. But they feel like everyone else in the Mets clubhouse. It will come.

“I’m just a little off right now, I’m not worried,” said Davis. His feeling is the hits will come and go five for his next ten, and there will be no reason for concern. “It’s only three games,” he says about going hitless in his first eleven times at the plate.

Last season that would have been a concern. But for now, with the three- game sweep coming out of the gate, there is not one player in that Mets clubhouse who will think otherwise. Winning and a different perspective of what they are capable of doing is here to stay,

Jose Thole the rookie catcher said in that clubhouse Sunday, “We have a team that can win and we will continue to do it.”  And for the first three games the Mets have certainly proved they can be competitive.

E-mail Rich Mancuso: Ring786@aol.com

Posted under Atlanta Braves, Career Day, Cross Town, Different Perspective, Dismal Season, Division Rival, Game Sweep, Hope New York, Jose Reyes, Mets Clubhouse, Mets Team, National League East, New York Mets, Professional Baseball Players, Rich Mancuso, Shortstop, Spring Training, Team Hope, Three Games, Top Story, Washington Nationals

This post was written by Rich Mancuso on April 9, 2012

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Delcos: Five Questions for The Mets

When pitchers and catchers reported Feb. 18, I posted five key questions the Mets faced heading into the season. Let’s revisit those questions at the All-Star break.

1) Question: What is this team’s attitude?

Assessment: By all accounts, it has been superb. There is a different chemistry in the Mets clubhouse than I have previously seen. The Mets have shown a remarkable resiliency to bounce back from adversity and Sunday’s win is just another example. There have been no issues about a lack of hustle, and no finger pointing. Both Jeff Francoeur and Angel Pagan said the right things about the prospect of reduced playing time as Carlos Beltran is about to be activated from the disabled list. The only sour note was, surprise, Oliver Perez’s refusal to accept a minor league assignment, instead, waiting for the disabled list to leave the roster to work on his issues.

2) Question: How healthy is this team?

Assessment: Injuries sabotaged the 2009 season, and injuries have cost Beltran and Daniel Murphy in the first half, and Jose Reyes for nearly a month. Beltran is due back to start the second half, but there’s no timetable for the return of Murphy, who reinjured his knee while on a rehab assignment. Murphy was playing second base at the time in preparation for a position change. After treating Reyes with kid gloves in the wake of his thyroid issue, the Mets rushed him back from an oblique injury, which he aggravated Saturday. There’s no telling how long he’ll be out. Luis Castillo is on the disabled list and his is another injury where the Mets tried to have him play through. Fortunately, his replacement, Ruben Tejada, has been more than filled the void. Reliever Kelvim Escobar, penciled in as a set-up man, is out for the year with a shoulder injury. The Mets are still trying to find an eighth-inning solution. Oliver Perez and John Maine are currently on the disabled list.

3) Question: What is the status of the three pitching questions, Mike Pelfrey, Oliver Perez and John Maine?

Assessment: Pelfrey made a point of saying he understood this trio represented a significant key to the Mets’ success this season. Perez and Maine are on the disabled list, but the team upgraded with R.A. Dickey and Hisanori Takahashi. Pelfrey was superb for much of the first half but has been going through a dead arm period and has been largely ineffective over his last five starts. Perez balked at a minor league assignment, but an injury was found that conveniently landed him on the disabled list. He has been sound, and somewhat effective, in his rehab assignment. Look for the Mets to activate him shortly after the break and send Takahashi back to the bullpen. There’s no timetable for Maine’s return.

4) Question: Who is fifth starter?

Assessment: Fernando Nieve, Jon Niese, Nelson Figueroa and Hisanori Takahashi were in the mix in the spring, but Niese won the job and has been very good since coming off the disabled list. Niese has been so good that management tabbed him untouchable when Seattle asked for him in trade discussions surrounding Cliff Lee. Figueroa is now in Philadelphia, while Nieve is in the bullpen. Takahashi replaced Perez in the rotation and pitched well at first, but clearly showed he’s more valuable in the bullpen. The Mets are searching for a fifth starter in the trade market, as there are lingering questions about Perez and Maine.

5) Question: What is the make-up of the bullpen?

Assessment: Jenrry Mejia went north in the pen in an undefined role, but eventually went to the minor leagues to work on being a starter, when he was injured. Losing Escobar went a large part in opening the door for Mejia, who threw hard, but never grasped the eighth-inning role. Bobby Parnell, who appeared to wash you last year, now appears to be the arm having the inside track in the eighth inning to start the second half. Ryota Igarashi was the guy at one time, but pulled a hamstring and hasn’t been the same since. He’s now in the minor leagues. Nieve and Pedro Feliciano were over worked early, and still have heavy workloads. The distribution of work should be improved when Takahashi goes back to the bullpen.

John Delcos has covered Major League Baseball for over 20 years, including more than ten in New York on the Yankees and Mets beats. You can read Delcos on his blog, http://www.newyorkmetsreport.com, where he hosts a chat room for each Mets game.

Posted under Attitude Assessment, Carlos Beltran, Daniel Murphy, Eighth Inning, Jeff Francoeur, John Delcos, Jose Reyes, Kelvim Escobar, Kid Gloves, Luis Castillo, Mets Clubhouse, Minor League, New York Mets, Oliver Perez, Pitchers And Catchers, Playing Time, Position Change, Rehab Assignment, Remarkable Resiliency, Shoulder Injury, Team Assessment, Tejada, Top Story

This post was written by John Delcos on July 13, 2010

Mancuso: Mets End A Bright First Half

Four days from now for the New York Mets to think about what is ahead for the remaining 75 games. At the All-Star break they are 48-40 and four games back of the second place Atlanta Braves in the NL East.  They will take it, so will their fans.

An accomplishment because last season at the break the team was 42-45, in fourth place trailing first place Philadelphia by 6-1/2 in the standings. The Mets know they are contending, and know extra help is here with Carlos Beltran coming off the disabled list and making his season debut in San Francisco Thursday evening,

Though Beltran, out since surgery on his right knee, does present some type of dilemma for manager Jerry Manuel. Well sort of, four outfielders and three spots. Someone will have to sit among Jason Bay, Angel Pagan and Jeff Francoeur.

The plan, according to Manuel is to bat Beltran fourth, a spot currently held by the rookie Ike Davis who will be dropped to the sixth spot. And you can’t sit Pagan down, the Mets most consistent hitter who got another three hits Sunday as New York took the final game over Atlanta salvaging their three-game series.

So what will be the situation when the Mets reconvene Thursday for an 11-game three- city trip that also takes them to Arizona and Los Angeles, a trip the Mets say is crucial as the second half begins. The Mets proved to be a good team at home, 30-16 but their fortunes away from Citi Field not as good at 18-24.

“We didn’t want to go onto the break the way we played the past few days,” commented Manuel after another pitching gem by his ace Johan Santana, which ended the first half on a positive note. New York looked lethargic at the plate the past two games against the division leading Braves, and their other pitcher with first half success, Mike Pelfrey, on Saturday once again could not get past the fifth inning.

But Beltran passed through the Mets clubhouse prior to the finale Sunday, afternoon and Santana gave the team an added lift, more so optimism for a good second half. Nothing but a spot for October baseball is what the Mets want. And they believe with Beltran healthy, and the usual second half success of Santana will get them there.

Francoeur was told by Manuel that he would most likely be regulated as a bench player. Occasionally he will get the start in right, that is, if Pagan hits a tailspin and all indications are that’s not going to happen. Pagan is healthy and shows continually, he is a key offensive cog at the beginning of the lineup.

“It’s not my decision,: commented Pagan about the lineup decisions Manuel has to make, He finished the first half with a string of four consecutive multi-hit games and batted .484 with three doubles, a triple, and two home runs since July 4th in a seven game span.

Pagan added he would like to stay in the lineup. Manuel only indicated that Beltran will get the start and Francoeur will probably sit for the moment, but there is every reason to believe that there will be a platoon of Francoeur and Pagan. Jason Bay, who sat down Sunday, on his bobble head give-away day has been an offensive disappointment but his multi-million dollar contract leaves him in the lineup.

It is no problem for Francouer, He will go with the plan, and the return of Beltran will not disrupt a Mets clubhouse that has good chemistry and has looked forward to his bat back in the lineup.  You heard the comments from the players and realize how important it is to win.

“We’re not satisfied to be three or four games out of first place,” said David Wright who entered Sunday tied for the National League lead in runs batted in with 65 and starts at third base for the NL all stars.  “Our goal is to win the division. There is need for improvement.”

Santana has improved and has thrown shutout baseball the last two starts. The fastball is back and it is helping his other pitches. Now the Mets need to get Pelfrey back into form and with R.A. Dickey and Jonathan Niese having good first halves, perhaps GM Omar Minaya will try and get another starter,  to, compliment them before the trading deadline.

There is the possible return of pitchers Oliver Perez and John Maine from the disabled list, one or the other could be going to the pen. It has been the pitching that has put the Mets in this position of contention and they would like it to stay that way.

With or without Francouer in the lineup, they know what lies ahead in the coming weeks and months. Jose Reyes also is a part of the plan and needs to stay healthy as that catalyst in the lineup.

“Obviously it’s a good problem we have, it’s a good thing to see,” said Francoeur about Beltran. A good problem for this clubhouse if indeed, Beltran stays healthy and shows signs of once again being the run producer that the Mets have lacked since April.

Francoeur said he will do his part when he is in the lineup to make sure “this team wins.”  So do the rest of these New York Mets who feel they are on the footsteps of their first postseason since 2006.

Beltran won’t hurt their chances and neither would a platoon of Pagan and Francoeur. Now if Bay can finally find his home run swing the way Santana rediscovered his fastball.

E-mail Rich Mancuso: Ring786@aol.com

Posted under Atlanta Braves, Carlos Beltran, City Trip, Fifth Inning, Final Game, Fortunes, Four Games, Game Series, Jason Bay, Jeff Francoeur, Johan Santana, Mancuso, Mets Clubhouse, Mike Pelfrey, New York Mets, Nl East, Outfielders, Reconvene, Rich Mancuso, Season Debut, Top Story, Two Games

This post was written by Rich Mancuso on July 12, 2010

Keep Pagan In The Mets Ring

New York – Go figure the game of baseball. On the night New York Mets outfielder Angel Pagan ties a career game high in hits, four, there is talk that soon he could be one of the Mets outfielders out of the equation when Carlos Beltran returns to the lineup.

Prior to their game Tuesday against Detroit at Citi Field, Mets GM Omar Minaya addressed the media and said Beltran will begin his minor league rehabilitation assignment Thursday with the St. Lucie Mets of the Florida State League.

So here we are in the Mets clubhouse a half hour or so after the Mets pound the Tigers 14-6.  “You guys waiting for me,” said Pagan with a smile that has been seen more this season from him and his teammates. The waiting time for Pagan is over.  He has matured as a player and he will be the first one to admit that.

And despite Pagan’s continued references to just being a player holding his spot in the lineup until Beltran returns, the Mets should consider options for him with the expected return of Beltran to the lineup prior to, or after the all-star break.

There is every reason to believe that the Mets can use four outfielders. And hard to conceive manager Jerry Manuel not playing Beltran often, assuming he is healthy enough to play often.  Jason Bay, with the huge contract can’t sit on the bench despite his inconsistency to drive in runs.  Jeff Francouer has proved to have that ability to sit well at the bottom of the order and the arm ability to command right field.

Pagan could be the odd man out, not deserving of the talk about being a guy the Mets could use in a trade to obtain another front line starting pitcher. Nor should Pagan be part of an equation of a possible fourth outfielder used by Manuel.

Simply put, Pagan is now an everyday player. He has proved to be deserving of holding his spot in the Mets lineup, showing no signs of becoming the player that made constant mistakes at the plate, on the base paths and in the outfield last season.

Manuel has yet to address the issue of a possible outfield dilemma and surely there is reason to understand why the manager avoids the issue. The chemistry in the clubhouse is in place. More so, Pagan is one of the reasons for the improvement of these 2010 Mets.

“Angel is getting big hit after big hit, he’s been big for us,” commented Manuel late Tuesday evening.  No questions at the moment as to how the situation will be handled with the eventual return of Beltran who has to play with his huge contract in place until the end of 2011.

Pagan can’t be the odd man out here.  “What’s in my mind is to help the team offensively or defensively,” said Pagan when asked about his four-hit night. He will be the first to admit that covering Beltran’s spot has been a big responsibility.

He does not check to see if Beltran has left a text message.  Pagan is going about his business and helping the Mets win ballgames. And if indeed he is left out of the equation, as an everyday player, there has been no talk about being unhappy.

“Right now I am very confident because of the opportunity from last year,” he says, “just concentrating on staying healthy and helping this team.”  He extended his hitting streak to 10 games in the opening series against the Tigers and was a home run shy from becoming the Mets tenth player to hit for the cycle with his 4-for-6 night and four runs batted in.

There were times during the misery of a season lost in 2009 when the name of Angel Pagan became a target of bad news. He was making the Mets worse and not better.  He certainly has closed the door on many of the skeptics and is a valuable commodity in Manuel’s every day lineup. The injury prone Pagan is healthy, seeing the ball well at the plate, batting .304 with 35 RBI, five triples, 14 doubles and five home runs second in the order behind Jose Reyes.

Manuel and Minaya have decisions to make.  Four outfielders soon, three spots, and someone will be the odd man out as an everyday player. Certainly it should not be Angel Pagan who would sit and rust on the bench, though one way or the other it is inevitable that Pagan will play often

e-mail Rich Mancuso: Ring786@aol.com

Posted under Base Paths, Career Game, Carlos Beltran, Everyday Player, Florida State League, Fourth Outfielder, Inconsistency, Jason Bay, Jeff Francouer, Mets Clubhouse, Mets Gm, Mets Outfielder, New York Mets, Odd Man, Omar Minaya, Outfielders, Rehabilitation Assignment, Rich Mancuso, St Lucie Mets, Starting Pitcher, Top Story, Waiting Time

This post was written by Rich Mancuso on June 23, 2010