It may not have been snowing, but the weather certainly wasn’t pleasant as the Mets got set to play the Phillies for the first time this season. Matt Harvey took the mound in 40 degree weather with a fine mist coming done, as the rest of New York wistfully wished for spring to just hurry up and get on with it. Opposing him was Ben Lively, an unremarkable 26-year-old righthander who had an unremarkable rookie year with the Phillies in 2017.
As you can guess from our title, Jose Reyes got his first start of the season, subbing in at shortstop with Amed Rosario getting the day off. Brandon Nimmo slotted back in at leadoff and Travis d’Arnaud got a start against a right handed pitcher. In a somewhat disappointing move, Yoenis Cespedes moved out of the second spot in the lineup, returning to the more traditional but less important third spot. We’ll see if this is temporary or if the sabermetrically informed lineup will disappear for the time being.
Harvey got off to a fantastic start, setting the Phillies down in order in the first, including a strikeout of Aaron Altherr. His fastball sat in the low 90’s, touching 93 but more often coming in at 91 or 92. The slider was consistently in the 87-88 range with more of a cutter action, and he seemed in better command of his pitches then we saw at any point of the last two years.
The Phillies managed a leadoff baserunner in each of the next three innings (single from Rhys Hoskins, terrible error by Reyes, walk to Altherr), but Harvey was never rattled. He held the Phillies off the board, inducing plenty of weak or medium fly balls and striking out four over the first four innings. It was a very encouraging start to his season – the Dark Knight version of Harvey wasn’t around, but this serviceable, third starter version could be plenty valuable behind Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom.
On offense, the Mets managed to squander opportunities left and right. Singles from Asdrubal Cabrera and Jay Bruce put runners on first and second with two outs in the first, but Todd Frazier popped out. Reyes was caught stealing to end the second, forcing Harvey to lead off the second. Harvey managed a single anyway and Nimmo was hit by a pitch to put runners on first and second with no outs, but Cabrera, Cespedes, and Bruce failed to push any runs across. By the end of the fourth, the Mets already had five men left on base.
Harvey recorded a clean inning in the top of the fifth, including his fifth strikeout, and left the mound at 84 pitches having faced each Phillie twice. That’s all the run he’d get, as the Mets stuck to their plan to limit opportunities to face a lineup three times. Harvey finished with five strikeouts, a walk, and one hit allowed over five scoreless. It was a performance oddly reminiscent of his glory days, as the Mets gave him no runs in a no-decision.
While the decision to remove Harvey makes sense, replacing him with AJ Ramos instead of Seth Lugo or Robert Gsellman was a bit questionable. Things immediately went down hill, as Cesar Hernandez laid down a beautiful leadoff bat, and Carlos Santana walked to put runners on first and second with nobody out. The Mets managed to wiggle out of it with Altherr lining out and Rhys Hoskins striking out, before Jerry Blevins came in to induce a pop out from Odubel Herrera.
With the threat avoided, the Mets struck in the bottom of the sixth. Cespedes was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning, and moved to second on a ground ball that should have been a double play if not for a misaligned shift from the Phillies. Frazier followed with an RBI double, giving the Mets a 1-0 lead. d’Arnaud followed two batters later with a two-out RBI single to give the Mets an insurance run.
That was all the Mets would get, but it was all they would need in large part thanks to Lugo. Pushed to the bullpen after getting his start pushed back by the snow, Lugo tossed two perfect innings, striking out four and throwing only three of 22 pitches for balls. Jeurys Familia made things interesting in the ninth (and had a somewhat troubling lack of offspeed pitches), but ultimately the Mets locked down the 2-0 win for the first shutout of the season. The win pushes the Mets to 3-1, with Noah Syndergaard set to take the mound against the Phillies this afternoon.
Thoughts from the Game
The AJ Ramos trade remains one of the most befuddling, misguided moves that Sandy Alderson has made. The Mets surrendered a marginally interesting pitching prospect (Merandy Gonzalez) in exchange for the right to pay a mediocre reliever with extreme control problems almost $10 million dollars in 2018. For a lower or similar AAV, the Mets could’ve had Luke Gregerson, Tommy Hunter, Jake McGee, Yusmeiro Petit, Bryan Shaw or Joe Smith, all of whom are equivalent or better options. A slightly higher AAV could’ve brought in Brandon Morrow. The current front office has a notorious dislike for multi-year reliever contracts, however, and it’s clear they chose to stick to that philosophy rather than add a more talented player to the roster.
Mickey Callaway moving Cespedes down in the lineup naturally leads to a discussion about what the Mets lineup will look like once Michael Conforto returns (more on that later). Ideally, your best hitters bat second and fourth, but teams and players still view the third spot in the lineup as a prime position. There’s also something to be said for breaking up righties and lefties in your lineup. As such, I think an optimal lineup once Conforto returns looks something like this:
2B – Asdrubal Cabrera
CF – Michael Conforto
LF – Yoenis Cespedes
RF – Jay Bruce
3B – Todd Frazier
1B – Adrian Gonzalez
C – Travis d’Arnaud / Kevin Plawecki
P – Pitcher
SS – Amed Rosario
That’s a decent blend between sabermetric construction and traditional sensibilities, while also alternating lefty-righty the whole way through. If the Mets’ pitching stays healthy, there’s more than enough offense there to make this team successful.
Other Mets News
Mickey Callaway today: “I think you guys will probably see him very soon.” The him, of course, is Michael Conforto, who seems highly likely to return Thursday or Friday. It’s a tremendous leap for Conforto, who was originally slated to miss the entire month of April. If he’s actually healthy (and that’s a huge if, given the Mets’ penchant for mismanaging injuries and bringing hurt players back too soon), this is a huge boon for a Mets team off to a solid start to the season.
Photo credit: Wendell Cruz – USA Today Sports