BY JOE RINI
Was April a glimpse of good things to come for the Mets or was it just a tease for the fans?
When the team plane touched down at LaGuardia Airport in the early hours of the last morning in April on Monday, the Mets landed as a first place team with a record of 17-9. Looking to rebound from a disappointing 2017, the Mets needed a fast start in 2018 and Mickey Callaway’s squad delivered by propelling themselves to a franchise best 11-1 start on the wings of a nine-game winning streak.
However, with the back end of the rotation struggling recently, a couple of bullpen lapses smudging the win column, and a middling 4-5 road trip to round out the month, questions linger about the team’s prospects in 2018.
With a starting pitching staff that spent much of 2017 on the disabled list, Callaway and new pitching coach Dave Eiland guided them through the raw April weather free of arm troubles (although Steven Matz’s scheduled start on Tuesday was skipped due to back stiffness). Yet as May beckons, Callaway and Eiland will need to get better performances from 3-4-5 slots in the rotation.
The performance of Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard versus the back end of the staff had me trying to compose a latter-day “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain,” ditty but it isn’t easy to rhyme anything with Syndergaard. Nevertheless, the Mets are counting on bounce back years from Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, and Zack Wheeler but the results have been spotty.
Wheeler has won two of three decisions and showed flashes of his pre-Tommy John surgery self with 9 strikeouts of the Padres in the Mets 14-2 victory on Sunday but he still struggles with pitch efficiency as he only lasted 5 innings against the Padres. Matz has fewer wins (one) than abbreviated starts as he has pitched fewer than five innings in three of his five outings while Harvey pitched himself out of the rotation as the return of free-agent Jason Vargas led Callaway to move Harvey to the bullpen (Vargas was roughed up for nine runs in 3 2/3 innings in the Padres 12-2 battering of the Mets on Saturday).
Harvey, who had allowed 14 runs and 25 hits in his previous 15 innings as a starter, expressed displeasure at the decision and his own poor performance. Pitching gurus Callaway and Eiland are hoping that a trip to the bullpen could help Harvey like it did for starters they worked with in Cleveland in Kansas City, namely Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, and Wade Davis. After informing Harvey of his decision, Callaway said, “I knew it wasn’t going to be the most comfortable conversation. It’s a tough message, but it sounds like he’s going to embrace it, and go out there and get the job done.”
Since moving to the bullpen, Harvey has allowed two runs in four innings in three appearances. He also snubbed the press after his first relief outing, cursed at the press a day later, and was sighted at a late night party in Los Angeles while the Mets were on the west coast. Good or bad, drama seems to follow Matt Harvey, though the 2018 Harvey sometimes seems to resemble a cable TV drama that’s been on the air one season too long, with viewers saying, “I liked it better in seasons one and two when he started the All-Star game and pitched in the postseason.”
The current six game homestand began with a 3-2 loss to the Braves on Tuesday and continues with a three game series this weekend against the Colorado Rockies.