PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — This early in spring, live batting practice is an exercise inherently stacked against hitters. David Wright calls facing a game-ready pitcher “impossible” at a time when he and his peers are simply trying to rediscover their timing at the plate.
So it was entirely unsurprising to Wright when Matt Harvey unleashed a tumbling curveball Monday and the third baseman not only swung through it, but dropped his shoulder, put his head down and half-whiffed, half-walked out of the batter’s box.
Wright was not alone; for the first time this spring, hitters stepping into the cage regularly tried — largely unsuccessfully — to swing at pitches. Against Harvey, that resulted in several whiffs and a fair amount of weak contact. Harvey in particular focused on the curveball that was his primary out pitch in college, before giving way to the slider early in his professional career. Coming off surgery, Harvey said, the curveball came easier to him, so he began throwing it more. And pitching coach Dan Warthen only encouraged it, noting that the curve places far less torque on his elbow than the slider.
“I’m a big believer in curveballs,” manager Terry Collins said. “Sliders, obviously you can throw those a lot harder than you can a curveball. But the plane change on a curveball is a very, very good pitch. It takes less torque to throw a curveball. I always thought Matt had a very, very good one. I think it’s a good pitch for him. It’s a little something off his hard stuff that he can throw for strikes.”
“It’s a great combination to be able to throw a four-seam [fastball] up in the zone and come back with a curveball,” Warthen said. “The delivery, everything is repeating itself beautifully right now.”
Harvey, for his part, said he has no idea why the curveball came so naturally post-surgery, speculating that either his mechanics grew cleaner or “it just magically appeared.”
“I always threw sliders,” said Harvey, who threw approximately four of them for every three curves in 2013. “It’s nice having that develop.”
Still, though Harvey did his best to gauge the reactions of Wright, Curtis Granderson and others during Monday’s session, a far more significant test will come Friday at Tradition Field. There, Harvey will face the Tigers in his first live game action since undergoing Tommy John surgery in Oct. 2013.
On the mound for Detroit will be left-hander David Price, who recently joined a growing chorus texting Harvey to offer support. The two met with Harvey was a student at the University of North Carolina and Price was pitching in nearby Durham. They kept in touch over the years, leading Price to contact Harvey with words of encouragement — and perhaps a touch of trash talking.
At the time, it was a light moment between two of baseball’s stars. Friday, it will be Harvey’s job to brush aside Price and all other distractions, focusing instead on his continued development as March melts toward April.
“We still have a whole month to go,” Harvey said. “I don’t want to go out there and overwork or get too excited about one or two innings. I’ve been through Spring Training before. I realize there’s still a lot of work to be done and still a lot of steps that need to be taken in order to be game-ready.”
New Mets hitting coach Kevin Long spoke at length this morning, offering his take on several Mets hitters. Read the story on Mets.com, but also check out these bonus takes:
On Curtis Granderson: “When I’ve seen Curtis — and I’ve seen him at a very high level — he’s able to get on base. He’s able to drive the ball. And certainly the top of the order, those guys are going to get more at-bats throughout the year. Let’s say he hits sixth. He’d probably lose 70, 80 at-bats to the guy who hits leadoff. So do you want your best hitters and the guys who get on base the most? Certainly you do. There’s some other options, so that’s not etched in stone, but we’ll say how this plays out. Terry’s ultimately is going to have the final say-so on that. But Curtis has done it before. He’s capable of doing it. So we’ll just see how it plays out.
“Obviously we’ve worked on a few things, and we’re going back to the blueprint of when he was with the Yankees. There are a couple minor things that we’re working on. One is getting his hands into a consistent position, and just getting him to feel the consistency he had, the shortness to the ball, obviously the compact swing that he had, the explosiveness — it’s all in there. It’s just a matter of going back, kind of going through the video, getting together, trying some things in the cages and seeing if we can gain on it. And I think we have. I think he feels good about his work that he’s done in the offseason, and now coming into Spring Training — it’s not that we’re gaining momentum anymore, it’s more about staying where he’s at now.
On Juan Lagares: “Juan’s talented. I’ve noticed that and I’m excited about this player. He’s got a nice demeanor about him. He’s confident. Obviously he’s going to have to hone in on the strike zone and kind of take these chases and these swings out of the zone, and be able to lay off some pitches, and determine what’s a pitch that he can do damage to. And if he can’t, certainly laying off is going to do what? It’s going to increase his on-base percentage. I think with Juan, it’s more about, ‘Can we maximize his ability to get on base?’ So he’s got some work to do.
“There’s drills you can do. There’s a lot of vision stuff. And I’ll use Robinson Cano as an example because he’s the guy who sticks out, but we really paid attention to what he was swinging at, talking about his ‘A’ swing, talking about doing damage to the ball, talking to him about, ‘Today, you swung at seven pitches out of the zone. Let’s see if we can get that number down to four a day.’ And then all of the sudden, the four turns into two.’ Instead of trying to get there all at once, you gradually get there. So we’ll do strike zone stuff where we’ll say, ‘Okay, let’s just swing at pitches middle-away. Anything in, take it, instead of trying to cover the whole strike zone and expand it.’ You can do that early and you can do that in plus counts, and a lot of times that we’ll help as well.
“He’s got a good swing and he’s always had the ability to get hits. He finds a way. I think he hit .285, which the Major League average is .250, so he’s 35 points up there. What we’re looking at is, ‘What is his on-base?’ It’s probably .315, .320. If we can get that number up to .350, .360, you’ve gain on it quite a bit.”
On David Wright: “He’s a tough one for me to kind of give you an honest evaluation of. I wasn’t here. I didn’t live it. I didn’t see it. I couldn’t see his face. I didn’t know what kind of workload he was able to do or not able to do. So in David’s case, certainly I can tell you that if I’ve got a shoulder issue and I need to get extension, at some point it’s going to pinch. And it’s going to hurt. So if you saw him cutting off his swing and not getting through baseballs or not driving the ball, you can put two and two together and say they probably had something to do with it.”
On Travis d’Arnaud: “It’s funny because when I looked at Travis and I looked at him early on, it was almost like the competitiveness was out of him. The athlete, he was thinking too much. He wasn’t trusting his ability, and probably what had gotten him to the big leagues. Maybe he didn’t know if he could compete at this level. I think when he went back to Triple-A, he said, “You know what, I’m going to go back to the way I hit.’ And one of those things was getting on the plate. Getting on the plate certainly helped him a great deal. I could see his confidence level rise, I could see his swing start to come together, and really I’ve done very little with Travis — almost nothing, other than keep his confidence level up and his spirits up, and let him know that what you did last year when you came back was enough, and it was terrific.”
On Lucas Duda: “He’s well aware that he needs to work. And all lefty-on-lefty stuff is, or righty-on-righty stuff, it’s angles. So we’ll get different angles and we’ll get the ball coming from this angle a lot more than this angle. Obviously he’s had some success [against right-handed pitchers]. He’s had some success [against lefties] in the Minor Leagues. So it’s here. He can do it. When he’s able to swing, we’ll get back to doing some lefty-on-lefty stuff, and see if we can’t get him a little bit more consistent there. Obviously we’re talking about a 30-home run guy. There’s not many of those in the Major Leagues. So the more that we can get Lucas in the lineup, the better off we’ll be.
“Using the whole field certainly will get that average where it needs to be. But Lucas, if I’m not mistaken, I think he has power to all fields. Certainly we’ve seen more to the pull side, and most hitters are going to have more power to the pull side, but this something that Lucas has done in the past. He’s been able to drive the ball to all fields. So I’m sure some of our attention will go to that, and we’ll see if maybe we can get that average to elevate just a little bit.”
On Bartolo Colon: “Bartolo’s got some work to do [laughing]. He’s not too vested in putting that much time into getting his swing where it needs to be. He said he had two hits last year, and I said, ‘How about four hits this year?’ And he said, ‘How about three?’ That’s where we’re at with Bartolo.”
Date: Feb. 21
Days until Opening Day: 44
Temperature in Port St. Lucie, Fla.: 68 degrees
Temperature in Flushing, N.Y.: 28 degrees
Picture of the Day: Matt Harvey participates in pitchers’ fielding practice as Jacob deGrom and Josh Edgin look on.
Quote of the Day: “My life has changed a lot in a year.” –RHP Jacob deGrom, who went from Triple-A depth last spring to reigning National League Rookie of the Year.
Date: Feb. 20
Days until Opening Day: 45
Picture of the Day: Jon Niese throws a bullpen session as pitching coach Dan Warthen looks on.
Story of the Day: Alderson reprises lofty expectations for 2015 Mets
Quote of the Day: “If you don’t make the playoffs, you’re disappointed.” –General manager Sandy Alderson
Date: Feb. 19
Days until Opening Day: 46
Temperature in Port St. Lucie, Fla.: 55 degrees
Temperature in Flushing, N.Y.: 21 degrees
Picture of the Day: Mets president Saul Katz (center) and principal owner Fred Wilpon (right) chat with pitching coach Dan Warthen.
Story of the Day: Mets pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training
Quote of the Day: “I have not been near 92 yet. I’ll let you know how 92 goes.” –Left-handed pitcher Josh Edgin, when asked if he could challenge Pedro Feliciano’s club record 92 appearances in 2010.
Two days after reporting to Spring Training, Matt Harvey has posted a revealing essay on Derek Jeter’s “Players’ Tribunal” site. The essay details his 2013 offseason trip to Laos and subsequent rehab from Tommy John surgery.
Every morning for the first few weeks after surgery, all I could do were arm curls with five-pound weights. It was an eye-opening experience — realizing that one year you can pitch in an All-Star Game in front of your home crowd and then a few months later all you can do is curl five-pounders.
But being away was good for me. It gave me time to do some soul searching. Just like in New York, I walked around a lot to clear my head. Being alone in a country and not speaking the language turned out to be a good temporary escape. For the first time in a long time, I was in a place where nobody recognized me. In New York, occasionally people will say hello to me on the street. (Other times, even hometown fans have a hard time recognizing me, like I had fun showing in this video I did for Jimmy Fallon.) In Laos, I was invisible and that was fine. I remember talking to a street vendor and having a funny “conversation” — we had to use hand gestures — but when I asked to take a photo with her, she refused. To her, I was just an American weirdo with one arm in a sling and the other arm making crazy hand signals. I couldn’t blame her. We waved goodbye and I went on my way.
You can read Harvey’s entire entry here.
I stumbled across this site today and found it quite interesting: a cartographic look at how many miles teams travel in a season.
The Baseball Savant map piqued my interest due to the Mets’ sheer volume of travel last season, playing Interleague series in Anaheim, Oakland and Seattle, in addition to their usual trips out west to Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco. It turns out the Mets traveled 35,781 miles over the course of the summer, not including Spring Training hops to Las Vegas and Montreal.
What I found most interesting, however, was something I long suspected but had never seen in numbers: teams in the AL West are at a clear logistical disadvantage each year, traveling thousands of miles more than others just to play their divisional rivals. And teams in the Central fly less than anyone, with cross-country flights exceedingly rare.
That doesn’t mean you should feel bad even for the Mariners, who flew 51,540 miles last year and are due to lead the league again this summer. All teams travel on charters, meaning they breeze through airport security, the planes wait for them and they never have to make connections. But over a 162-game season, which wears players down enough as is, it’s worth noting how much those extra miles add up.
(The Mets, for what it’s worth, are scheduled to fly 30,289 miles this year, not including a spring jaunt to Texas. That’s 13th in the league.)
Several prominent Mets will have new uniform numbers when camp opens later this month. The list, with old numbers in parentheses:
Catcher Travis d’Arnaud – 7 (15)
Bench coach Bob Geren – 15 (7)
Catcher Kevin Plawecki – 22 (72)
First baseman Brandon Allen – 30 (60)
Pitcher Noah Syndergaard – 34 (55)
Pitcher Buddy Carlyle – 43 (44)
Pitcher Cory Mazzoni – 47 (75)
Pitcher Jack Leathersich – 51 (81)
Infielder Danny Muno – 74 (64)
Follow me on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo.
This, edited down from the Mets:
The Mets announced today they are installing a new Daktronics high definition Citi Field centerfield video board that is 62% larger than the original screen. The new board, set to debut on Opening Day, April 13, will measure 5,670 square feet (Up from 3,500 square feet).
The installation puts the Mets in the top 10 largest displays in professional baseball and makes Citi Field one of the few baseball venues to feature more than one video capable LED display in the seating bowl. The installation brings the total square footage of all displays in the Mets’ super-system to more than 17,000 square feet. The previous total square footage was 13,500, and replacing older technology is providing a total of 7,000 square feet of new video display technology.
“As we look forward to a great season on the field in 2015, these significantly bigger and higher resolution video boards are state-of-the-art in size and LED technology and re-inforce our commitment to provide our fans a superior experience when attending games at Citi Field,” said Mets COO Jeff Wilpon.
Follow me on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo.