BY JOE RINI
It may have started like a match-up between the Angels and the Fallen Angels but perhaps the Mets 3-0 victory over the Los Angeles Angels that snapped a seven-game losing streak this past Friday, May 19, will help deliver them from the purgatory of the middle of the baseball standings and back into contention.
Anointed as one of the preseason favorites to make the post season, the Mets have spent 2017 battling through injuries, suspension, and disappointing performances. Prior to the game on May 19, I was able to ask general manager Sandy Alderson and manager Terry Collins about players on the horizon and pitchers on the mound at their pregame press conferences in addition to chatting on the field with Mets outfielder Jay Bruce and actor/Mets fan Christian Navarro of Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why.”
Struggles in Flushing have led Mets fans to look at Triple-A Las Vegas for help, so I asked Alderson about the progress by top prospects shortstop Amed Rosario and first baseman Dominic Smith. The Mets GM said he was happy with the progress they were making offensively and defensively, but added, “There are no current plans to bring up either one” before noting wryly, “unless one of them could pitch.” Alderson said the team’s focus would be on stabilizing the pitching staff rather than position players.
On the subject of pitching, I asked Collins about Jacob deGrom’s recent struggles going deep into games. The Mets manager thought deGrom’s early exits were a matter of command and maintaining good mechanics throughout the game. Collins referred to deGrom’s recent start in Milwaukee where he kept the ball down and induced ground ball outs until “he lost a feel for his release point” leading to a loss of command in the strike zone and a high pitch count. “That certainly is a big part of the game, pitching to contact,” Collins said. Later that evening, deGrom pitched like the deGrom of 2015 by hurling seven scoreless innings in the Mets 3-0 victory.
As the Mets took batting practice on Friday, actor Christian Navarro was a guest on the field with his father Lee, a retired Westchester policeman. It was an interesting dynamic to see players like Jay Bruce and Neil Walker as impressed to meet Navarro as the lifelong Mets fan was at meeting the players.
Bruce is a modest yet confident player, who has performed in 2017 like the player he’s been for the last decade rather than the player who struggled after joining the Mets last August. As for his improved performance, he said, “It’s just baseball…it’s a long season…you keep your nose to the grindstone.” For Bruce, the mental aspect of the game is as important as the physical aspect. When I mentioned the pressures of playing in New York, Bruce said he tries not to pay attention to outside distractions since baseball’s a game that requires both a “small focus” while “keeping an eye on the big picture.” When I asked how he prepares to face a particular starting pitcher, the Mets outfielder said he concentrates more on doing what he has done to be successful in the long term rather than constantly changing based on that night’s starting pitcher.
Chatting with Navarro, he’s as thoughtful off-camera as his character “Tony Padilla” was in “13 Reasons Why.” Given the drama’s very serious subject matter, teen suicide, Navarro said mental health professionals were involved on the set during the production of the drama. Since the show’s debut, he’s had people approach him to tell him that the show has enabled their own families to discuss this very sensitive subject.
Although he grew up only 10 minutes from Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, Navarro said he and his father have always been Mets fans. Besides seeing Navarro in season two of this Netflix series, the Bronx native can be seen in two upcoming movies: “Bushwick” and “Can You Ever Forgive Me” with Melissa McCarthy.
With three wins in four games on the current homestand, the Mets travel to Pittsburgh for a weekend series before returning to Citi Field on Memorial Day to start a seven-game homestand.