|Curtis Granderson hit a home run in the third inning against the Houston Astros' Colin McHugh. What made this shot special? Granderson hit it to the opposite field--something he failed to do in 20 homers in 2014.|
Thursday's action saw split squads take on the Houston Astros and St. Louis Cardinals. I will save the full recap as you can analyze the box scores here and here. This was a very encouraging day for the Mets as the major pieces who will be on the 25-man roster played very well and a few fringe players fighting for roster spots played towards the top of their game. Namely...
Rafael Montero, who finally got some work today, threw 3.2 innings of one-run ball on just two hits. He struck out two and walked none for an encouraging outing in which he used all of his pitches. A start like this would give the Mets a good shot at a win every time he pitches, especially if
The big guys in the line-up hit as well as they did today. David Wright had two hits and a run batted in, Granderson, Flores and Cuddyer homered, Kirk Nieuwenhuis had a well-struck hit and two outs that would be hits 95% of the time, but no one struck the ball as well as
Travis d'Arnaud, who hit a monstrous run-scoring double to the opposite field gap. The ball sounded different coming off of his bat than any player in either game from either team. While hit to the deepest part of the ball park, the ball still had a shot at leaving the yard and will in some parks in the right conditions. Don't sleep on d'Arnaud, he is as much a needed anchor to this team as
Jon Niese, who struck out six batters in four innings allowing just one run. He was exciting to watch. His signature cutter had beautiful movement that was puzzling some good hitters on the Cardinals squad and the curve (which he threw sparingly) looked as good as I have ever seen it. A healthy, effective Jon Niese means so much to this rotation--especially with Wheeler out. A lefty presence in the rotation is of utmost importance, even more so than
Lefty relievers, who finally pitched some good baseball today. Dario Alvarez threw 1.1 scoreless innings with no hits and only one walk and what I liked was that he got both lefties and righties out. What I do not like was the walk and multiple three-ball counts including two batters he fell behind 3-0. He ended up retiring both, but Alvarez will have to exhibit more control, especially considering the performance of Sean Gilmartin, who employed a Feliciano-esque slider to retire his only batter via strikeout. That pitch, when thrown like that, makes Gilmartin the lefty to beat out to make the 25- man roster, something
Kirk Nieuwenhuis will have no problem doing, despite debate early in the spring over whether or not he deserves the spot. While his lack of option seasons came into play earlier this year, he has played his way onto the 2015 Mets regardless. Everything he hits is struck well. Today he went 1-3 but both outs were crushed. Kirk is a streaky hitter but he also looks different at the plate. More balanced. Laying off bad pitches. And it is a thing of beauty. He also brings some pretty darn good defense to the table even if it pales in comparison to
Juan Lagares, who made a couple tough plays look very easy today. He also looked lost at the plate. Colin McHugh made Lagares look foolish on a couple breaking pitches in the dirt. While McHugh has turned into quite a nice pitcher, Lagares still has a lot of work to do with pitch recognition. While Lagares has walked more this spring, I would much rather him swing at the good pitches and lay off the bad ones than simply work out more walks. Remember, a guy with a .240 batting average and a .350 OBP is not as good as a player with a .310 batting average and a .350 OBP. But does it honestly matter all that much? Lagares brings something that very few major league teams have--lock-down, elite, vacuum cleaner-style center fielder defense. One of Lagares' wonderful plays came during the outing of
You guessed it, Rafael Montero, who, as we covered earlier this week, is a fly ball pitcher. This particular ball was hit deep into the gap and Lagares broke instantly, got to the spot, slowed up and made the catch. I watched a similar ball go for a double with Matt den Dekker--an elite defender in his own right--manning center in an earlier spring training game. When pitchers like Montero are on the mound, you thank whichever deity you believe in that the Mets have the center fielder they do. The next inning, with Brandon Nimmo manning center (also a good fielder), a well-struck ball beat Nimmo to dead center, scoring the only run allowed against Montero. While the ball was hit well, I think most fans probably thought the same thing I did: Lagares gets to that. But this paragraph is not about Lagares. Rafael Montero had a beautiful outing. Apart from the sole earned run that came on back-to-back doubles (the only two hits allowed by Montero) he did not allow another baserunner. He threw 18 pitches in the first two innings. He finished his 3.2 IP with something just under 50 pitches total. He threw all of his pitches and located brilliantly. I jotted down some of his sequences:
(Against a left-handed hitter)
Pitch 1: Change-up, swinging strike.
Pitch 2: 93 MPH two-seam fastball low.
Pitch 3: 85 MPH change-up, called strike, outside corner, just above the knees.
Pitch 4: 91 MPH two-seamer, right on the black, right at the knees, called strike three.
(Against a left-handed hitter)
Pitch 1: 97 MPH four-seam fastball outside.
Pitch 2: 83 MPH slider outer half fouled off. Good pitch.
Pitch 3: 93 MPH fastball outer half fouled off.
Pitch 4: 82 MPH slider he left over the plate. Not a great pitch. Gets away with one, fouled off.
Pitch 5: Same pitch, same speed, a bit more towards the knees. Fouled again.
Pitch 6: 93 MPH fastball upstairs, taken. I like the pitch, even though it was ball 2.
Pitch 7: 84 MPH change-up rolled over to first for an out. Batter way out in front.
(Against a right-handed hitter)
Pitch 1: Slider down and away.
Pitch 2: Filthy change-up for a called strike.
Pitch 3: Even filthier change for a swinging strike.
Pitch 4: Same as pitch three but taken, not given the call. 78 MPH
Pitch 5: Same pitch Again bounced up the middle, off Montero's glove, deflected to 2B for the putout.
I believe the first batter was Hank Conger, the second Alex Presley and the third L.J. Hoes. Presley and Hoes were Montero's last two batters of the day. I also think Montero was throwing a bit of a cutter today, which would be a new pitch for him. I will have to wait for more coverage on the outing but it was a pitch I have not seen him throw before. It was coming in at 88-89 and had more sinking action than his two-seamer but far more velocity than his change. It was also quite effective. This was an encouraging outing. Even the back-to-back doubles did not bother me all that much as the first went under the glove of Brandon Allen and could have been an out with Duda there and the second, while smoked, probably finds Lagares' glove as well. This is Montero's game: Out of 13 batters, two got hits, another hit the ball hard into an out, two struck out, and the rest were weak ground outs or fly ball outs. Had this been extrapolated over the course of seven or eight innings, that is a great start by anyone's standard.
Perhaps this horse is beaten completely dead but I have to recommend Montero for the fifth starter position again today. Gee threw well, too, but Montero pitched better. I love the above sequences. He changed the eye level of the batter, kept them off-balance, and rarely missed. The last pitch to Conger (the first sequence) is what made me gush over Montero a couple years ago. 91 MPH two-seam fastball that started off middle in and ended up on the black outer half, right at the knees. It looks like Conger was bailing out inside and Montero located this pitch in a completely unhittable part on the outside of the plate.