The Mets had learned through police officials that the sons of officer Rafael Ramos -- Justin and Jayden -- are Mets fans. So the ballclub arranged for David Wright to call the boys in December. They spoke for 15 minutes. An invitation to attend spring training also came.
Wright's father, Rhon, is the retired assistant chief of the Norfolk, Virginia, Police Department.
Officer Ramos and partner Wenjian Liu were ambushed while sitting in their patrol car.
FIRST PITCH: Let the games begin!
OK, it’s only an intrasquad game on Tuesday, but it’s something.
On the eve of the Grapefruit League schedule, the Mets will face themselves at noon at Tradition Field. David Wright, Michael Cuddyer and Curtis Granderson all will play, according to Terry Collins.
The pitchers for the Team Blue: Jonathon Niese, Rafael Montero, Sean Gilmartin, Carlos Torres and Vic Black.
The pitchers for the Team Orange: Zack Wheeler, Jenrry Mejia, Buddy Carlyle and Jeurys Familia.
Tuesday’s news reports:
• Matt Harvey reportedly is not in the plans to start the Mets’ home opener. Harvey is “likely” to make his regular-season debut April 9 against the Washington Nationals in Game 3 of the season in D.C., then start the second home game, on April 14 against the Philadelphia Phillies, columnist Kevin Kernan writes in the Post.
Harvey threw a 26-pitch batting-practice session to Wright and Granderson on Monday, in Harvey’s final tune-up against batters for Friday’s Grapefruit League game against the Detroit Tigers. Harvey, who was pleased with his curveball on Monday, will oppose David Price. Harvey will be permitted to throw 35 to 40 pitches against Detroit. His last game came on Aug. 24, 2013 -- also against the Tigers, at Citi Field, when Harvey surrendered a career-high 13 hits.
Pitching coach Dan Warthen said he is “very skeptical” Harvey will be permitted to reach 200 innings during the regular season. Read the original story in Newsday.
Read more on Harvey’s Monday session in the Post, Daily News, Newsday Record and at NJ.com and MLB.com.
• Jeff McKnight, a utility player with the Mets in 1989 and again from 1992 to ’94, has died at age 52 after battling leukemia. Read more at MLB.com.
• Although Sandy Alderson reportedly said this past weekend that there are no active trade discussions for Dillon Gee, Chris Cotillo at MLB Daily Dish reports Gee’s hometown Texas Rangers remain interested, as they were during the winter meetings. Gee is due to start Wednesday’s Grapefruit League opener against the Atlanta Braves at ESPN Wide World of Sports. Let’s see what high-profile scouts are watching that day, if any.
• Two days after Alderson revealed that one of his pitchers is vehemently against shifts being played behind him, Wheeler confessed his distaste for those alignments. Read the original story at NJ.com.
• Top prospect Noah Syndergaard purposely has been paired with Harvey during batting-practice sessions, columnist John Harper notes in the Daily News. “Just watching his warm-up pitches in bullpen," Syndergaard told Harper, “you see the amount of focus, determination he had there. You could just tell by the look in his eyes that he knew what he wanted to accomplish. One thing I can take from him, the demeanor he takes out there to the mound. I’m a fairly anxious guy, I want to go full speed all the time. Watching him, the poise that he has out there, it’s all calm and relaxed. That’s something I want to be able to take from him."
• Tim Rohan in the Times breaks down the competition for the final bullpen spot, which may only be temporary until Bobby Parnell returns from the disabled list anyway. The left-handed candidates are Sean Gilmartin, Scott Rice, Dario Alvarez and Jack Leathersich, but the Mets instead could just go with an extra right-hander.
• Read more on Eric Campbell's versatility, including Collins’ plan to expose him to the middle infield this spring training, in the Post.
• Lucas Duda (intercostal strain) should begin swinging Wednesday, albeit lightly. That comes three weeks after he originally developed the side-muscle issue.
• From the bloggers ... If not Harvey, Bartolo Colon should be the Opening Day starter, Mets Report writes.
BIRTHDAYS: Dilson Herrera turns 21. ... Jorge Julio is 36.
TWEET OF THE DAY:
The Mets don’t need Harvey to over-amp it on Opening Day in Washington and run into issues as he returns from Tommy John surgery that cost him his 2014 season. As for the Mets home opener, the same thinking is in place, the Mets don’t want Harvey to be over-amped, try a bit too hard, and run into trouble.
They figure that pitching at home for the first time since Aug. 24, 2013 is enough to get the fireballing right-hander ready.
McKnight's family told the Mets that McKnight died Sunday after battling leukemia for 10 years. His father, Jim, who played for the Chicago Cubs briefly in the early 1960s, was born in Bee Branch, Arkansas.
Jeff McKnight made his big league debut with the Mets in 1989 and hit .233 with five home runs and 34 RBIs in 218 games. He singled in his final at-bat for the Mets in August 1994, on the final day before a players' strike wiped out the rest of the season.
McKnight hit his first big league home run off Jack Morris, with an eighth-inning shot that helped rally the Orioles over Detroit at Memorial Stadium.
McKnight was mostly an infielder and played every position in the majors except center fielder and pitcher.
Along similar lines, pitching coach Dan Warthen told Newsday on Monday that he is "very skeptical" Harvey will be allowed to reach that 200-inning threshold. Instead, Warthen reportedly indicated between 180 and 190 innings is more appropriate.
"I would be very skeptical of 200 innings," Warthen told the newspaper. "I don't think we're going to reach that number, but it would be very close. That's at the high, high end."
Terry Collins has mentioned the Mets may pattern Harvey's return after Adam Wainwright's first season back from the same elbow procedure. Wainwright threw 198 2/3 regular-season innings in 2012, in his first year back.
On Monday, Zack Wheeler acknowledged to NJ.com that he dislikes shifts behind him.
"I don't want to piss anybody off but, honestly, I don't like it," he said. "Teams are starting to be more analytical these days. ... I don't like analytics all that much, but I'm not the boss here. I really can't control it. They know where I stand on that."
Warthen said Jacob deGrom, the reigning NL Rookie of the Year, threw 85 percent of his pitches for strikes during his session, with none over the middle of the plate.
• Versatile Eric Campbell won't play catcher much during this portion of camp, to try to keep his legs fresh for the season. But Terry Collins will get Campbell continued work at unfamiliar positions. Collins said he will give Campbell limited exposure to second base and shortstop in exhibition games just so Campbell has some experience there in case of an in-season emergency.
• Daniel Murphy prefers to work on hitting on the side rather than play in Tuesday's noon intrasquad game, but David Wright, Michael Cuddyer and Curtis Granderson all will play. That quartet won't see action in Grapefruit League play until Friday, when Harvey faces the Detroit Tigers in the exhibition home opener.
Juan Lagares also will be held out of Tuesday's intrasquad game. He is due to make the trip to Disney and will lead off against Wandy Rodriguez and the Braves in the Grapefruit League opener.
• Ron Darling will make his play-by-play debut Saturday on WPIX. Gary Cohen will handle the Friday and Sunday games. Cliff Floyd will join Cohen on Sunday as the analyst.
“Who?” Wright playfully said. “So we’re going to do this after every live BP, huh? Can we start games already?
Turning slightly more serious, Wright added: “He looked good. He looked just as good as last time.”
Pitching coach Dan Warthen said the target for Harvey is 35 pitches on Friday, ideally over two innings. The Mets will not let Harvey throw more than 40 pitches.
“I don’t want to go out there and overwork or get too excited about one or two innings or however many pitches we’re going to throw,” Harvey said. “I’ve been through spring training before. I realize there’s a lot of work to be done. There’s still a lot of steps to be taken to be game-ready.”
Harvey will oppose Detroit Tigers ace David Price in the Mets’ spring-training home opener. The two have known each other for years, since Harvey was pitching at the University of North Carolina and Price was a Tampa Bay Rays minor leaguer assigned to Triple-A Durham in 2008 and ’09.
“I appreciate his support and excitement to have me back out there,” said Harvey, who has been exchanging text messages with Price. “It’s much-appreciated that people are recognizing that I’m coming back.”
Harvey downplayed the significance of Monday’s batting-practice event, but noted it does mean that “we’re close.”
Said Harvey: “Once the hitters start swinging, that’s kind of a sign games are near and the season is coming closer. For us it’s exciting. Especially being 18 months from a competitive game, it’s a good feeling.”
Hitters were complimentary of how Harvey looked.
“The big thing is he went to both sides of the plate really consistently and accurately and effectively,” Granderson said. “If he did miss, it was a miss that he wanted to make -- not toward the middle of the plate.”
During his major league career, Harvey has thrown his curveball 12.4 percent of the time. It was a pitch he used more frequently while at UNC to complement his fastball. Harvey has found it very sharp of late, especially during Monday’s session when he was using it to get batters to chase down in the zone while simulating two-strike counts.
“I don’t know if I figured out something in my mechanics or it just magically appeared, but it’s nice having that and it felt good out there,” Harvey said.
Warthen confirmed Harvey is not a consideration for Opening Day because there are pitchers who accomplished a lot last season who are more deserving. Still, Warthen added, Harvey looks ready to compete.
“I thought that he was ready to pitch at the end of last year,” the pitching coach said. “And I think Matt thought he was ready. I think we made the right decision. It would have done us no good. But he was ready to pitch then, has stayed ready all winter long, and came out throwing.”
2014 totals: .314 OBP (24th in majors), 86 runs (24th)
Jason Heyward was fine in this role in 2014, but after Fredi Gonzalez moved him down in the order in mid-June, Melvin Upton Jr. and Emilio Bonifacio were terrible at the top of the lineup. Heyward eventually went back to the leadoff spot. Of course, he's gone this year, so now what? Maybe Nick Markakis, who hit leadoff with the Orioles but doesn't steal bases and took the extra base just 18 percent of the time compared to the MLB average of 40 percent (that's all baserunners, not just leadoff hitters). Rookie second baseman Jose Peraza -- who had 60 steals in the minors -- could slot here if he makes the jump from Double-A.
2014 totals: .346 OBP (fourth), 104 runs (ninth)
Christian Yelich started 139 games here and provided very good production. So of course, the Marlins went out and acquired a worse leadoff hitter in Dee Gordon, who is one of the fastest players in the majors but posted a mediocre .326 OBP (and just .300 in the second half) in 2014. If Gordon can learn to draw a few more walks and get his OBP back into the .340 to .350 range, he'll be an asset here, with Yelich likely moving to the No. 2 hole.
New York Mets
2014 totals: .308 OBP (26th), 92 runs (19th)
Eric Young Jr. and Curtis Granderson got the most time here -- with 53 and 52 games, respectively -- but combined for a sub-.300 OBP. The Mets don't have a good solution but may go with Juan Lagares against left-handers and Daniel Murphy or Granderson against right-handers.
2014 totals: .335 OBP (10th), 91 runs (20th)
Ben Revere drew 13 walks in 626 plate appearances -- not exactly the kind of eye you want from your leadoff hitter -- but he did hit .306 and was an efficient 49-for-57 stealing bases. He had a .332 OBP while batting leadoff, which was still above the MLB average, so he's not terrible as long as he keeps that batting average over .300 and steals bases as effectively as he did last year.
2014 totals: .347 OBP (third), 101 runs (12th)
Denard Span will be back after a solid 2014 in which he posted a .355 OBP overall, hit 39 doubles and stole 31 bases in 38 attempts. That was his highest OBP since 2009, however, so I would expect a little regression. The guys behind him didn't do a particularly good job of driving him in either, even though Span's rate of taking the extra base was 52 percent.
2014 totals: .303 OBP (27th), 85 runs (25th)
The leadoff spot was a big problem a year ago, but new center fielder Dexter Fowler and his career .366 OBP should help plug this hole. Fowler left the Rockies and still put up a .375 OBP with the Astros (he split his time hitting first, second, third and cleanup), but if he's the regular leadoff guy the Cubs will improve on that 85 runs scored ... and Anthony Rizzo will drive in a lot more runs.
2014 totals: .298 OBP (28th), 90 runs (22nd)
Billy Hamilton didn't do a good job of getting on base -- and also led the majors by getting caught stealing 23 times -- giving the Reds subpar production despite his blazing speed. He'll get another chance in 2015, but he's clearly more Vince Coleman than Tim Raines.
2014 totals: .339 OBP (sixth), 115 runs (second)
This production wasn't all Carlos Gomez's, but he did bat here for 106 games and hit 20 home runs, helping the Brewers to an MLB-leading 26 homers from their leadoff hitters. Ron Roenicke tried some other guys at the top of the lineup around midseason before putting Gomez back there. Scooter Gennett or Jean Segura could conceivably get an opportunity here, but there's nothing wrong with power in the leadoff spot, especially since the Brewers still have some pop coming up behind Gomez in Jonathan Lucroy, Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez and Khris Davis.
2014 totals: .332 OBP (12th), 110 runs (fourth)
Josh Harrison eventually took over this spot last season and will presumably return this year. We'll see if he can come close to repeating his .315/.347/.490 batting line. Starling Marte is another possibility, although Clint Hurdle seemed to like him lower in the order.
St. Louis Cardinals
2014 totals: .369 OBP (first), 102 runs (11th)
Matt Carpenter is your unconventional leadoff hitter because of his lack of speed, but he has scored the most runs in the majors the past two seasons. The Cardinals struggled to get good production from a variety of No. 2 hitters in 2014, however, so it's possible Mike Matheny will move Carpenter there and try Kolten Wong or Jon Jay (.372 OBP in 2014) in the leadoff spot. Wong has the best speed but had just a .292 OBP as a rookie, so I'd hit him lower in the lineup to start the season and make him earn his way up to one of the first two spots.
2014 totals: .331 OBP (13th), 99 runs (13th)
Ender Inciarte got the most time here -- 76 games -- and posted a .725 OPS when hitting leadoff, much higher than his overall OPS of .677. He's probably a bench player in 2015, so maybe A.J. Pollock (.352 OBP) will slide in here. I certainly wouldn't recommend Chris Owings and his .300 OBP.
2014 totals: .325 OBP (19th), 93 runs (18th)
Charlie Blackmon hit here for 137 games last season and posted a .291/.335/.446 line while batting leadoff. He struggled mightily on the road, however, and didn't hit lefties that well. Drew Stubbs has his flaws, but he can still pound left-handers, so if they end up platooning in center, it makes sense to platoon them in the leadoff spot as well.
Los Angeles Dodgers
2014 totals: .333 OBP (11th), 109 runs (fifth)
Minus Gordon, the Dodgers lack an obvious candidate. Jimmy Rollins spent most of his career with the Phillies as a leadoff hitter, of course, but he's had an OBP above .325 only once since 2008. Don Mattingly has said he's not committed yet to using Rollins at the top of the order. Carl Crawford has never liked hitting leadoff, although he did it regularly in 2013. Howie Kendrick is coming off a .347 OBP with the Angels, matching his career high as he saw his walk rate spike, but he's never been a leadoff hitter. Yasiel Puig is another option, considering his .382 OBP from 2014. Of course, Puig is also the team's best No. 2 hitter, best No. 3 hitter and best No. 4 hitter. Mattingly will probably want to split his lefty-righty hitters, so I could see something like Kendrick, Crawford, Puig and Adrian Gonzalez in the first four spots, or maybe Crawford-Puig-Gonzalez-Kendrick. No reason to hit Rollins up there when he's not one of your best hitters.
San Diego Padres
2014 totals: .292 OBP (29th), 71 runs (29th)
They were terrible here in 2014 and didn't find a solution in the offseason, so Bud Black would be wise to think outside the box rather than do something dumb like use Alexi Amarista (career OBP of .279) just because he runs well. I'd suggest Wil Myers or Jedd Gyorko (who had a .347 OBP in the second half last year as he walked more and struck out less).
San Francisco Giants
2014 totals: .314 OBP (23rd), 96 runs (16th)
If Angel Pagan's back holds up, he's the guy. I actually liked the 30-game experiment Bruce Bochy had with Hunter Pence hitting leadoff, but he'll be back in the middle of the order. I'd be more worried about Joe Panik hitting second, wasting an important lineup spot with a guy who has no power and a mediocre-at-best OBP.
D'Arnaud's 2014 got off to a horrendous start. He hit .180 in his first 39 games and was sent to Triple-A. A brief stint there turned his season around. When d'Arnaud returned, he was a much more aggressive hitter and was able to get to pitches with which he was previously struggling.
D'Arnaud hit .272 with 10 home runs in 69 games after returning to the Mets, though his season was cut short by an elbow injury for which he had surgery to remove bone spurs.
He is healthy this spring and the expectations are high for 2015.
The Mets will be looking for better things from d'Arnaud on the defensive end. He ranked among the worst catchers in the majors both in blocking pitches in the dirt and throwing out potential basestealers. He finished last in the majors with -15 Defensive Runs Saved.
Again, the elbow could have been a factor.
"My arm feels looser. I have more range of motion in my elbow," d'Arnaud said. "I don't want to make excuses. I still should have made clean throws. You never know, though. It could have cut range of motion, so I couldn't extend all the way."
Extra benefit: Good framing
D'Arnaud is well-liked by the pitching staff because of his pitch-framing abilities, particularly when it comes to handling pitches at the bottom of and just below the strike zone.
That said, Mets pitchers had a 3.68 ERA with d'Arnaud behind the plate and a 3.10 ERA with Anthony Recker.
What2Watch4 in 2015
Can d'Arnaud put together consistency over a full season?
Projection systems are optimistic. Both ZiPS and Steamer forecast d'Arnaud to hit in the .250s with about 18 home runs. Bill James' system is extremely optimistic: a 277/.337/.468 slashline with 19 home runs in 451 at-bats.
FIRST PITCH: Three days after the last event, it’s another mini-Matt Harvey Day on Monday. Harvey is expected to face teammates in a batting-practice-type setting late in the morning. It will be Harvey’s final tune-up for Friday’s Grapefruit League start against the Detroit Tigers at Tradition Field. And this time the teammates are planning to swing, unlike Friday’s initial batting-practice session.
Monday marks the final game-free day for a while at camp. The Mets will play an intrasquad game Tuesday. Wednesday is the Grapefruit League opener against the Atlanta Braves at ESPN Wide World of Sports, with Dillon Gee making the start opposite Wandy Rodriguez.
Monday’s news reports:
• Terry Collins indicated that he would prefer Michael Cuddyer playing left field and Curtis Granderson playing right field. Cuddyer is amendable, even though that would be a new position for him, and even though he is deaf in his left ear.
Writes Marc Carig in Newsday about Granderson as a right fielder in 2014:
According to FanGraphs, Granderson's throwing cost the Mets 7.4 runs, worst among 16 qualifying right fielders.
Collins countered by suggesting that Granderson played the quirky right field at Citi Field well.
Read more in the Post, Daily News, Record and at NJ.com and MLB.com.
• Lucas Duda (intercostal strain) should begin swinging a bat this week, at least hitting off a tee. Read more at NJ.com and MLB.com.
• ESPNNewYork.com previously had reported that Bartolo Colon is getting serious consideration for the Opening Day start. Zack Wheeler is an alternative.
Wheeler told Mike Puma in the Post that less predictable pitch selections in the second half of last season -- such as not always throwing a fastball in fastball counts -- led to more success. Read more in the Daily News.
• Jared Diamond in the Journal looks at the Mets’ deficiencies in the leadoff spot. Collins prefers Juan Lagares emerges as the leadoff hitter. Writes Diamond:
Ideally, the Mets would bring in somebody who offers both power and speed -- “the Rickey Hendersons of the world,” as Ricco put it. But those players are remarkably rare, and given the Mets’ payroll constraints, they usually can’t afford to pursue them when they become available. (One such player, Jacoby Ellsbury, signed a seven-year, $153 million contract with the Yankees before last season.)
“Our actions obviously indicate that it wasn’t as important as some of the other things we look for,” Ricco said. “We value it, but not to the point where we’re willing to make sacrifices in other areas.”
• Columnist Kevin Kernan in the Post is embracing the Mets’ postseason expectations. Columnist Richard Justice at MLB.com addresses that topic, too.
On the Mets’ vociferous expectations about reaching the playoffs, David Wright tells columnist John Harper in the Daily News that you’re damned if you talk about it and damned if you don’t.
“It’s the dumbest thing ever,” Wright told the newspaper. “Somebody asks you if you expect to win this year. What are you supposed to say? It’s not cockiness. There’s a difference between confident and cocky. I haven’t seen anybody being cocky.
“People are saying, ‘You guys are talking a big game.’ We’re not talking a big game. But if you’re asking a group of competitive people who are confident in the guys in here if we’re going to be a good team -- the answer is yes."
• Tim Rohan in the Times looks at the Mets players recording many of the videos in recent days that will be shown on the scoreboard this season.
• Read about SNY’s newest addition, Nelson Figueroa, at NJ.com and at MLB.com.
BIRTHDAYS: Chico Fernandez was born on this date in 1932.
TWEET OF THE DAY:
YOU’RE UP: Will the Mets reach the postseason?
@AdamRubinESPN Probably a lot of ex-Yankee fans look for a new bandwagon to jump on.— Brian S. Sokoloff (@BrianSokoloff) March 1, 2015
Collins said the team instead will assemble weekly away from the ballpark to talk baseball.
• ESPNNewYork.com previously reported that Bartolo Colon is getting strong consideration for the Opening Day assignment. Collins mentioned Zack Wheeler on Sunday as an alternate candidate.
• Juan Lagares' audition as a leadoff hitter will begin with Wednesday's Grapefruit League opener at ESPN Wide World of Sports against the Atlanta Braves. Collins said this weekend that he prefers Lagares leading off, but he needs the center fielder's on-base percentage at least in the .330 to .340 range to make it viable.
• David Wright, Curtis Granderson, Michael Cuddyer and Daniel Murphy will not play during the first two Grapefruit League games -- both on the road. Collins plans their spring-training debuts to come in Friday's Matt Harvey Day game at Tradition Field against the Detroit Tigers, which will be televised by SNY.
• In the wake of issues in the NFL, the Mets will go through domestic-violence training on Monday morning.
Terry Collins said Sunday that Duda should begin hitting off a tee this week. Duda should advance to taking batting practice next week, according to the manager.