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Boston Herald
Boston Herald
29 Apr 2023
Tribune News Service

NextImg:Bill Madden: Buck Showalter managing a short-handed Mets roster as he waits for reinforcements to show up

The probable pitching matchups for the first showdown Mets-Braves series of the year — David Peterson vs. Max Fried, Tylor Megill vs. Spencer Strider, Jose Butto vs. Charlie Morton — only accentuated the obvious: Buck Showalter is managing short.

That’s short as in, short at least two proven quality starting pitchers, and short as in another outfield bat to offset a mostly black hole bottom third of the Mets lineup.

Right from the get-go, when Jose Quintana went down in spring training with a lesion on his rib and Justin Verlander was KO’d from starting the season with a teres major strain, Showalter began the process of putting together a “cut and paste” starting rotation comprised of Triple-A call-ups Joey Lucchesi, Megill and Butto, and further compromised by Carlos Carrasco’s sore elbow and Max Scherzer’s 10-game sticky stuff suspension. The Quintana injury now looms especially large since he was slated to assume the innings left by Chris Bassitt as either the No. 3 or 4 starter behind Scherzer and Verlander. Ideally, he was to be the No. 4 with Kodai Senga slotting in as the No. 3, but the $75 million Japanese import has so far had a difficult adjustment to U.S. baseball, throwing way too many pitches and barely able to make it through five innings in four of his first six starts.

Once the Braves series is over, things look a little brighter next week with Scherzer and Verlander both returning, but the long haul remains problematic for Showalter, with Quintana not due back until at least June, the two aging aces always subject to injuries and Senga so far looking like an expensive back of the rotation starter. What Showalter needs, if the Mets are to keep pace with the Braves, is for Lucchesi, Peterson and Megill to provide quality starts throughout the season — a big ask.

Meanwhile, there is the matter of the lineup which is still trying to get its footing and remains in need of another outfield bat. In their first 15 wins this season, the Mets homered 22 times and averaged 6.7 runs per game whereas in their 12 losses going into the weekend they hit five homers and averaged 1.5 runs per game. The five players who’ve primarily hit in the bottom third of the lineup — catchers Tomas Nido and Francisco Alvarez, and Eduardo Escobar, Luis Guillorme and Tommy Pham — were hitting a collective .178 as of Friday. Little by little, Showalter is getting Brett Baty more playing time at third base, but the lineup still needs lengthening at some point — which may be sooner rather than later in the person of shortstop Ronny Mauricio, who is presently raking at Triple-A Syracuse (.330/1.004 OPS/6 HR/16 RBI in 24 games) and making a strong pitch for a call-up.

It was significant last week that Mauricio began paying some games at second base. For as Showalter, who was impressed with the kid’s maturity this spring, said: “He’s going to be in the major leagues here soon, just not at shortstop.” After signing with the Mets out of the Dominican Republic for $2.1 million in July 2017, the switch-hitting Mauricio was immediately touted as a future superstar, only to quickly fade from prospect to suspect with back-to-back .296 on-base percentages in the low minors amid of flurry of strikeouts in 2021-22.

But he’s apparently made some adjustments and has followed a torrid performance in the Dominican winter league (.803 OPS, 15 doubles and a league-leading 31 RBI) to Triple-A. After a sit-down with the manager this spring, he’s also toned down his tendencies to showboat. (As Buck has said repeatedly, “it’s not their fault they do some of this stuff, it’s our fault for not teaching them the right way to go about things.”)

For the time being, the Mets remain mum on their plans for Mauricio. But here’s the issue: Mark Canha is a nice player who’s more suited as a fourth outfielder rather than an everyday outfielder. The Mets know that. Once the Mets decide Mauricio is ready, it’ll be as much for his versatility as his bat. Showalter believes he has the ability to play anywhere — second, third or the outfield — but apparently the Mets’ thinking is now, assuming nothing happens to Francisco Lindor, it’ll be at second to start off, with Jeff McNeil presumably getting in some outfield time.

It is only April and remarkably, for all their missing parts, the Mets have been in second place a few games back of the Braves. Showalter can be forgiven for daydreaming to June when Quintana will hopefully be back and Omar Narvaez, a catcher who actually can hit, will be recovered from his calf injury and swapped out for Nido, and Verlander will be pitching up to his $43 million Cy Young pedigree.

For the present, however, the Mets are not in the Braves’ class and Buck Showalter must be resigned to managing short.

Strange doings in Pittsburgh these days where the Pirates are suddenly no longer the pits of baseball and their tightwad owner, Bob Nutting, stepped out of character this week and rewarded their star outfielder Bryan Reynolds with an eight-year, $106.75M extension. More than likely, Nutting’s decision to lock up Reynolds — who this spring had asked to be traded — had a lot to do with the Pirates’ remarkable 18-8 start, which has been accomplished without the services of their budding star shortstop Oneil Cruz, out for four months with a broken ankle. It would appear all those years of finishing at the bottom of the NL Central and reaping high draft picks is finally starting to pay off for the Pirates. But it would be wrong to suggest Nutting effectively taking Reynolds off the market was a blow to the Yankees, who had talked to the Pirates about the 28-year-old center fielder/left fielder. The fact is, Reynolds, who could not be a free agent until after the 2025 season, was never really on the market unless some team was willing to step up and offer their top three prospects — as the Padres did last year for Juan Soto. Nobody did. Instead, Nutting doled out the first $100 million contract in the Pirates’ history for Reynolds, leaving only three other major league teams, the Royals, White Sox and A’s who have never signed a player for $100 million. …

Apparently the MLB poohbahs are not satisfied with the near-universal praise they’re getting for all the rule changes this year, especially the elimination of shifts and the pitchers’ and batters’ time clocks, and are looking to take them a step further. It was announced this week there will be more experimental rules in the Atlantic independent league this season, including something they’re calling the “double hook” that allows teams to use the DH throughout the game as long as their starting pitchers throw at least five innings — and another new wrinkle, “the designated pinch runner” which would allow a player not in the starting lineup to be used at any point of the game as a substitute baserunner. As part of the latter, the player who was subbed out, as well as the designated pinch runner, would still be able to return to the game. Pu-leeze! Enough of the gimmickry. It’s OK to instigate speed-up measures and eliminate the shifts, but stop messing around with the game itself and the way it was played for 125 years — and that includes the extra innings ghost runner.


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