With the Mets starting Jacob deGrom tonight, the hope was deGrom could go deep enough into the game to minimize the damage the bullpen could do.
Well, deGrom did his part pitching eight brilliant innings striking out eight Rays.
The only mark against him was a Willie Adames fifth inning homer. It hurts when it’s a guy like Adames hits a homer. It hurts all the more when the Mets can’t give deGrom run support.
The only run deGrom got in support was in the third.
After deGrom made the first out of the inning, Brandon Nimmo reached on a throwing error by the aforementioned Adames. After a Jose Bautista walk, Nimmo would come around to score on an Asdrubal Cabrera RBI single.
The Mets had a chance to take the lead in the sixth, but Glenn Sherlock would have another one of his awful sends.
Todd Frazier hit a one out double to center, and for some reason, Sherlock sent Wilmer Flores, who was trying to score from first. As it usually happens when Sherlock sends Flores, Flores was out at the plate.
This all looked like it was going to haunt the Mets as the Rays loaded the bases against Jeurys Familia with one out.
Mallex Smith grounded to first. On the good side, Flores aggressively charged the ball. On the bad side, he lollipopped the throw home. The leaping Devin Mesoraco didn’t come down on the plate for the first out. Instead, he lunged to tag out Hunter Wood, who had entered the inning earlier as a pinch runner, by a hair.
#Rays challenge call that Hunter Wood is out at home plate in the 9th; call confirmed, runner is out.
— MLB Replay (@MLBReplays) July 7, 2018
Familia struck out Adames to escape the jam and keep the game at 1-1.
In the ninth, Frazier walked, and after he couldn’t get a bunt down, Mesoraco singled to put runners at first and second with no outs.
Next, the maligned Amed Rosario laid down a great bunt to move up the runners. Of course, the decision to give away an out almost backfired immediately when Dominic Smith grounded out to the pitcher Chaz Roe, which kept Frazier at third.
At that point, the Rays had the option to face either Nimmo or Bautista to get out of the inning. They chose wrong:
— SportsNet New York (@SNYtv) July 7, 2018
After 336 homers over a 15 year career, this would be the first walk off homer of his career.
About the only thing disappointing on the night is Jake didn’t get the win. That, and we weren’t treated to one of Bautista’s epic bat flips.
Game Notes: Suspended reliever Jenrry Mejia will have a chance to resume his suspension end and renew his baseball career in 2019.
In the Mets first game against the Nationals, the Mets let the Nationals and all of baseball know that at their best, this Mets team is as good as any in all of baseball. Now, that’s easy when you have Jacob deGrom on the mound, Michael Conforto returning to the lineup, and Yoenis Cespedes hitting homers. The next question and perhaps the real question is what happens when these factors weren’t present.
Brian Goodwin would draw a two out walk, and he’d quickly steal second base on the duo of Matz and Travis d’Arnaud. On a 3-2 with a chance to get out of the inning, Pedro Severino singled up the middle, and the speedy Goodwin dared challenge Lagares’ arm:
— New York Mets (@Mets) April 7, 2018
That’s the Gold Glove Lagares who re-emerged last year. Whether or not his new swing and approach are for rule almost seems inconsequential when he plays center this way.
Another note here is in this game, you got to see all that d’Arnaud is as a catcher. When his pitchers aren’t even bothering to hold on base runners, much like Matz didn’t in this game, he’s not going to have a real shot to throw out anyone trying to steal a base. The Nationals know that better than anyone, and they stole five bases in five attempts off of him.
However, he offsets that deficiency in other ways. As we see in the Lagares play, he’s exceptional in fielding a throw, blocking the plate, and getting the tag down. Really, he’s the best catcher in baseball on the front. He’s also a very good pitch framer. That came into play on a day when Mets pitchers would record 10 strikeouts while walking just three.
That pitch framing led not to not just a third inning strikeout of Anthony Rendon, it also led to his ejection on what was a horrible overreaction by Home Plate Umpire Marty Foster:
Anthony Rendon got ejected for this? pic.twitter.com/2moGgjPOWK
— Kenny Ducey (@KennyDucey) April 7, 2018
That ejection was the Mets gain because Rendon is a great player who kills the Mets.
Even with Matz pitching well, the Mets still could not get ahead of Gio Gonzalez. That’s not unusual because he came into this game 14-5 with a 2.93 ERA against the Mets in his career. That left the Mets with little margin for error. That margin of error went away on two plays centered around Todd Frazier.
The first play was in the fourth inning. Jay Bruce hit a two out double to right. The much maligned Glenn Sherlock could have sent Frazier to have him challenge Bryce Harper‘s arm. It would make sense with two outs and Matz due up next. Instead, Sherlock stopped Frazier, and Matz struck out.
This decision was magnified in the fifth when Frazier threw a ball away on a Michael Taylor grounder. After a Goodwin sacrifice bunt, Severino plated him with an RBI single giving the Nationals a 1-0 lead.
What made the game interesting and the start of this season interesting was how the Mets immediately responded. In the sixth, Frazier atoned for his error by hitting an opposite field one out double that nearly went out. He’d then score on a d’Arnaud RBI single (the other aspect of his being a complete catcher) tying the game at 1-1. The Mets would have a chance to get the lead, but Jose Reyes could not deliver in a pinch hitting situation.
On came Hansel Robles.
To start the 2018 season, he has been a bit of a revelation. He went from send down to Triple-A to start the year to getting a big sixth inning opportunity against Harper. Mets fans expected him to melt down and point to the sky. Well, in his defense, it was a a really good pitch:
Great freeze frame on SNY of this Bryce Harper home run. Took a fastball that may have been off the outside edge and slammed it 107.7 mph + 405 ft the other way. pic.twitter.com/X577w2SJ3T
— Andrew Simon (@AndrewSimonMLB) April 7, 2018
All this proved was Harper is a great player. What Robles proved from there was he could settle in, limit the damage, and give the Mets a chance. The Mets took that chance with some exceptional base running in the seventh.
Amed Rosario led off the inning with a single up the middle, and he’d fly around the bases on the ensuing Asdrubal Cabrera RBI double getting just ahead of the Severino tag. Not to be outdone, Cabrera would go from second to third on a Cespedes grounder to short. Knowing Ryan Zimmerman can’t throw, the Cabrera, who can’t really run, read the situation perfectly and took the extra base.
After the pinch hitting Conforto was intentionally walked, Cabrera scored on a Frazier RBI groundout. The Mets finally had the lead at 3-2, and it was time to see if this so far improved Mes bullpen could hold the lead.
Rhame proved up to the task by getting former Met Matt Reynolds to groundout. What was surprising was where Rhame succeeded, Jerry Blevins didn’t as he issued a one out walk to Harper. This set the stage for Jeurys Familia.
In what was his biggest moment since he faced Conor Gillaspie in the 2016 Wild Card Game, Familia was in a position to get a big save. With him needing to get five outs, he was going to be tested. That should say tested in theory. The Nationals were no match for him, and as a result, the Mets came away with a 3-2 victory.
It’s April and the season is barely a week old. However, this is a different Mets team. They’re getting the most out of every ounce of their ability. They’re playing smart baseball. They’re fighting. They’re special. They’re showing that to the Nationals, and they may soon show it to the rest of baseball.
Game Notes: Mets pitching has recorded 10 or more strikeouts in six of the seven games they have played. The one time they did not record 10 strikeouts was in their sole loss of the season.
Since cracking the Opening Day roster in 2014, Travis d’Arnaud has averaged 90 games per season behind the plate with last year being his high at 112 games. This is because d’Arnaud has not withstood to the day-to-day rigors of catching. Each and every year, he deals with a different injury to another part of his body, and as a result, the Mets have been left scrambling to figure out their Major League catching depth.
With the re-emergence of Kevin Plawecki as the Mets catcher of the future and the minor league signing of Jose Lobaton, the Mets are in a much better position from a catching standpoint than they have been in years past. While the Mets have better depth, the end game should be to keep d’Arnaud healthy for a full season.
And for that matter, with Plawecki finally showing the type of bat the Mets believed he had, the team needs to find a spot for him in the lineup.
To that end, a platoon between the catchers makes sense. Fortunately, both catchers seem inclined to go forward with the plan, and they both thrived under the situation last September with d’Arnaud hitting .297/.343/.656 in 20 games and Plawecki hitting .278/.400/.426 in 19 games.
So based upon their production in an admittedly small sample size, we know it could potentially work. What we don’t know is how it should work next season, especially when you consider both are right-handed hitters.
Perhaps, the Mets should approach this from a different perspective. Instead of focusing on what pitcher is on the mound for the opposing team, the Mets should focus on what pitcher is on the mound for their own team. That is, much like what we saw in 2016 with Noah Syndergaard and Rene Rivera, assign a catcher to a Mets starter based upon whom the pitcher works best.
When you look at the numbers, what is quite startling is just how much better the Mets starters numbers are with Plawecki behind the plate. There is a very important caveat to that. Plawecki did the bulk of the catching of these pitchers back in 2015 when they were all healthy and dealing. It was d’Arnaud who had to deal with each one of them having real injury issues which corresponded with diminished stuff and stats.
Basically, this will come down to comfort, and for starters, we know that likely means Plawecki will be catching Syndergaard because as we saw in 2016, he and d’Arnaud have had difficulty getting on the same page. As an aside, it was somewhat telling Syndergaard was caught by Plawecki and Tomas Nido in his two “starts” at the end of the season.
Coincidence or not, there may be something to Plawecki not catching Jacob deGrom at all last season. Given their track record together, which includes deGrom winning the 2014 Rookie of the Year Award and his amazing 2015 postseason, or their both having lower case ds in their last name, there is a rapport between deGrom and d’Arnaud which should continue.
Likely, you want to get each of the catchers 2-3 days in a row when they do play in order to afford them to maximizing rest and getting in rhythm. To that end, d’Arnaud should catch deGrom with the fourth and fifth starter, whoever they may be. This would set up this type of rotation:
- Jacob deGrom (d’Arnaud)
- Noah Syndergaard (Plawecki)
- Jason Vargas (Plawecki)
- Matt Harvey (d’Arnaud)
- Steven Matz (d’Arnaud)
Really, after deGrom and Syndergaard, you can order the pitchers anyway you want, and you can certainly resort them depending on which catcher and pitcher feel most comfortable as a tandem. In the end, what really matters is Mickey Callaway, Dave Eiland, and Glenn Sherlock communicate with the starters and catching tandem to find the best fit for each pitcher. If done properly, we may see the catchers last a full season, and more importantly, we could see the pitching staff as a whole revert to their 2015 level.
When Mickey Callawaybecame the new manager of the Mets, every player got a bit of a clean slate. Sure, the front office as well as holdovers like Ricky Bones and Glenn Sherlock could probably Callaway with pertinent information, but at the end of the day, Callaway was going to meet each player, see their work and preparation, and then he could make his own determination about a player.
This was really important for a young player like Dominic Smith.
There is no doubt Smith is talented, but he has shown some maturity issues. Despite the team stressing his physique to him, he put on 20 pounds or so during the season. That was after he had reported to Spring Training last year in terrific shape.
When he did get the call-up last year, as reported by Abbey Mastracco of nj.com, he had been late to the park on more than one occasion. This led to veteran players “reprimanding” him for his behavior.
This was all part of a difficult first experience in the Majors which saw Smith hit .198/.262/.395 in 49 games. In total, he had a -1.2 WAR.
If there was anyone who needed a fresh start, it was Smith. Initially, he made the most of it by losing more than 30 pounds before the start of Spring Training. He reported to Spring Training early. He was doing all the right things.
He was having the type of Spring where he earned a chance to show the Mets he deserved at least a long look this Spring. He was starting to give the Mets to at least consider having him be the Opening Day first basemen. Whether as a reward for his dedication or not, he was going to get a chance right away with his being named as the first baseman in the Mets first Spring Training game.
Smith would be late to the ballpark before the first game.
THE FIRST GAME!
Fair or not, this was a player who had to prove to the Mets he was dedicated and mature enough to be a Major Leaguer, and the first chance he gets, he fails to show up on time.
He left Callaway no choice but to bench him. That left Smith watching on as five time All Star and a former teammate of CallawayAdrian Gonzalezget a couple of at-bats as the DH. He also looked on as Peter Alonso take his place in the lineup.
Smith watched the player taking his spot on the Opening Day roster, and he watched the prospect who has begun breathing down his neck as the Mets first baseman of the future.
Smith knew he had an uphill climb to surpass Gonzalez. He had to know Alonso has been making a name for himself. It shouldn’t be lost on Smith that while the organization has concerns about his power, Alonso has it in spades.
Despite knowing all of this, Smith failed to show up on time to the first game of Spring Training. With that, he’s shown he’s not yet mature enough to be entrusted with the first base job. Not yet.
And that right there is why he’s already lost the first base competition.
The one thing that is interesting about Spring Training is you never know which prospect is going to make a name for themselves. Personally, the one that always comes to mind is Dillon Gee having good Spring Training causing then Mets manager Jerry Manuel to take notice. With that, Gee had an important champion in the Mets organization, and when the opportunity finally presented itself, Gee would get a call-up to the majors despite struggling in Triple-A with an injured shoulder. From there, Gee has put together a nice MLB career.
This Spring Training, there are a number of Mets pitchers who will now have the opportunity to impress new manager Mickey Callaway. Aside from the big names like Dominic Smith, here are five names to keep an eye on during this Spring Training:
RHP Tyler Bashlor
Bashlor was added to the 40 man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft because he has great stuff highlighted by an upper 90’s fastball. He combines that pitch with a sharp curve which has led to the flamethrower putting up big strikeout numbers in the minors. His stuff was a big reason why he quickly went from closing in St. Lucie to closing for a Binghamton Rumble Ponies team who was fighting for a postseason berth.
If there’s any issue with Bashlor, it’s the walks. In his career, he’s walked 5.0 batters per nine, and he walked 5.4 batters per nine in 34 appearances for St. Lucie. Those are unsustainable numbers.
Still, he has immense talent which could one day lead to him closing for the Mets one day. Before we get to that point, he has an opportunity to work with Callaway, Dave Eiland, and Triple-A pitching coach Mickey Abbott to help him eliminate the walks. If he does, he’s going to contribute at the Major League level next year.
LHP P.J. Conlon
For the second straight Spring, Conlon finds himself as a non-roster invitee with a an outside chance to make the Opening Day bullpen as a left-handed reliever. Certainly, Conlon has earned the chance as he knows how to get batters out, especially left-handed batters.
Last year, he limited left-handed batters to a .252/.273/.358 batting line, and in 2016, he was even stingier limiting them to a .216/.267/.288 batting line. Conlon does this because he located well, and he has a great change-up.
However, with his topping out in the 80s, it appears the Mets have their doubts about Conlon’s viability as a Major League starter. In Spring, Conlon is both going to get the chance to prove his stuff will work in the Majors similar to what we have seen with Jamie Moyer and Bartolo Colon. More than that, he’s going to get a chance to show he belongs in the Majors right now to fill a now vacant second left-handed reliever spot in the bullpen.
RHP Corey Oswalt
Oswalt is coming off an outstanding year in Binghamton, and as a result, he was named the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year. Oswalt did this because he was able to locate all four pitches, and he has shown the ability to throw his fastball in the mid 90s. While all of the Double-A took notice of Oswalt, the Mets did as well adding the starter to the 40 man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft.
It is no secret the Mets have health issues with their starters. Over the past two seasons, almost every Mets starter currently on the 40 man roster has had injuries requiring DL stints lasting more than half a season, requiring surgery, or both. As of the moment, the Mets have not added another starter to the roster, which has created an opportunity to show he should be at the front of the line when the Mets inevitably need another starter.
Right now, the Mets have a trio of injury prone second baseman in Asdrubal Cabrera, Jose Reyes, and Wilmer Flores. If one or any of the three go down with injury, there will be an opportunity for Guillorme, who is arguably the best defensive middle infielder in the Mets organization.
At the moment, we know he’s a great fielder. The question mark on him is whether he can hit enough to play in the Majors. To that end, early indications are Guillorme has increased his launch angle. If true, and the transformation is a successful one, Guillorme’s career will transform to not if he can be the Mets second baseman of the future, but when he will be the Mets second baseman. Given the aforementioned injury histories, he may get his chance next year.
With Tomas Nido‘s BABIP normalizing, he had a disappointing year at the plate for Binghamton last year. While the Mets are understandably high on him due to his defensive skills, Nido’s struggles do present an opportunity for another catcher to distinguish himself.
Essentially, Mazeika is everything Nido isn’t. In his career, Mazeika has shown himself to be a good hitter, who is quite adept at getting on base. What is interesting with him is he has shown glimpses of power; however, it should be noted those flashes have mostly come when he is filling in at first base for extended stretches.
What remains at issue is his defensive abilities. It is an area where the 6’3″ catcher continues to make strides, but ultimately, the question is whether he is progressing quickly enough. With him being a non-roster invite to Spring Training, he is going to get the benefit of getting in work with Major League coaches like Glenn Sherlock, which could help him make the adjustments necessary to take the next step in his career.
Ultimately, if the Mets coaching staff sees what they like with him, he may soon find himself in the Major League mix at catcher. Having watched Travis d’Arnaud‘s injuries the past few years as well as Kevin Plawecki having mostly struggled in the Majors, his chance may come sooner than expected.
Overall, the Mets have a number of Minor Leaguers who are going to get a chance to go out there and show the Mets why they should be an important part of the future. In the end, it is up to them to emulate Dillon Gee and make the most of this opportunity. If they do, we may see them in Queens sooner than anticipated.
Editor’s Note: This was first published on MMN
There were two overriding reasons why the Mets brought in Glenn Sherlock in the offseason. First and foremost, he was brought in because Tim Teufel has never been a great third base coach, and as we saw him send Wilmer Flores to the plate last season, he wasn’t getting any better. The second reason is the Mets wanted to have a new catching guru to replace Bob Geren to work with Travis d’Arnaud.
Now, if the Mets really want Sherlock to work with d’Arnaud, why is he the third base coach instead of serving as the bench coach like Geren?
Now, a bench coach has real responsibilities in the modern game. It is no longer the position Don Zimmer once described as, “People say, What is the job of a bench coach? I say, Very simple–I sit next to [Joe Torre] on the bench. When he plays hit-and-run that works, I say, ‘Nice goin’, Skipper,’ and if it doesn’t work, I go down to the other end of the bench, get a drink, and get out of his way. We only got one manager. I don’t want no credit for doin’ anything. I sit next to Joe like a bump on a log–that’s the way I leave it.” (Scott Raab, Esquire).
Rather, the bench coach has become more than that. He shares many responsibilities pre-game, post-game, and during the game. As Indians GM Chris Antonetti said about Bench Coach Brad Mills, “He’s ’s [Terry Francona‘s] right-hand man, and he really helps executed a lot of the planning, the logistics of when we’re going to work out, practices, all the communication within a game to get players ready.” (Evan Drellich, Boston Herald).
The bench coach has a number of responsibilities that keeps him as engaged in the game as the manager. He needs to be that because he needs to be a check on the manager to make sure the manager takes everything into account whenever he is making a move or not making a move. Part of that responsibility is looking at the catcher and seeing what he’s doing. Is he calling a good game? Is he setting up properly or staying in his crouch long enough? Is he paying enough attention to the running game? The list goes on and on.
That is something that Geren was able to do during his tenure as the bench coach. If there was an issue with how any one of his catchers were playing, he had the opportunity to speak with them and point out what adjustments needed to be made. When the Mets brought Sherlock aboard, it is presumably one of the things they wanted him to do with d’Arnaud.
Except, he can’t.
With Sherlock being the third base coach, he really can’t have that discussion with d’Arnaud. When d’Arnaud is sitting in the dugout while the Mets are on offense, Sherlock is at third base. When d’Arnaud is running out to his position, Sherlock is coming off the field. There are really limited times for the two to discuss the in-game adjustments d’Arnaud needs to make.
Now, these issues could be addressed post-game and in-between games. However, if there is something that really needs to be addressed, you’re not permitting Sherlock to do it. It may not seem like a huge issue, but something as simple as d’Arnaud not getting set up in the right position, can cost the pitcher the corner. With the wrong pitch sequencing, d’Arnaud may not be putting his pitchers in the best position to succeed. If there is something d’Arnaud is doing wrong when trying to get the ball out on a stolen base attempt, you can’t fix the issue leaving the opposition to take advantage of it all game long.
Now, other coaches can address it, but they can’t do it in the way Sherlock can. Sherlock is the catching coach who was brought it to communicate with his catchers, d’Arnaud specifically. While it may not seem like the biggest issue there is, not having Sherlock on the bench is the Mets giving an inch. With baseball being a game of inches, it does not seem like the best allocation of resources.
The obvious retort is Sherlock may not belong on the bench because of his limited managing experience. That ignores his having been a bench coach with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and Dick Scott being named as the bench coach heading into the 2016 season. Scott last managed a team in 1997 when he was the manager of the Single-A South Bend Silver Hawks. Certainly, significant managerial experience isn’t something the Mets are prioritizing their bench coaches.
At this point, it is tough to judge what they are prioritizing because it isn’t experience. More to the point, they’re not prioritizing getting the most from their roster. If they were Sherlock would have been named the bench coach.