By Ernie Palladino
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This can all blow up in Terry Collins’ face over the next few days, weeks or months. But for now, he can’t argue with what his starters have done lately.
That bunch, led by Dillon Gee, Jenrry Mejia, Bartolo Colon, and Jon Niese were 3-2 heading into Tuesday’s game against the Cardinals. That wasn’t going to get the Mets anywhere as far as 90 wins goes. But a look behind the simple won-loss column shows a lot of encouragement, especially from Gee and Mejia.
Those two were 3-0 over that span, with a nice 0.00 ERA over 22 2/3 innings before Gee gave up two fourth-inning runs Tuesday night. Even at that, Gee pitched himself out of a bases-loaded, none-out jam. It took him 34 pitches to do so, but his strikeout of a great contact hitter in Matt Carpenter underscored the current grittiness of the group.
Throw in the two solid but losing performance from Colon and Niese, and a solid no-decision from Zack Wheeler, and the numbers were 1.51 over 41 2/3 innings after Gee’s tightrope walk in the fourth. And until that point, Mets starters had shut out opponents for 20 straight innings.
That’s a nice little stretch that would have looked even better had Jose Valverde been able to close out the two games that ultimately lost him his job to Kyle Farnsworth.
For a team beset by injuries and an iffy offense, the rotation’s current string has to come as a big comfort to Collins. A bit of a surprise, too, considering that two of those wins encompassing 11 2/3 innings have come from Mejia, the guy who snuck onto the roster the last day of spring training.
Better yet, the Mets are 4-0 when he starts. Mejia — a recipient of Tommy John surgery, bone-chip surgery and most recently a blister — has simply adhered to the age-old pitching principle of “throw strikes.”
Can’t go wrong with that. It also helps if he gets a little defensive backing. Mejia did Monday in 6 2/3 innings of shutout ball in New York’s 2-0 win.
As the team opened its “Military Mondays” tribute with those awful-looking camouflage tops, the infield offered military efficiency. Or at least military improvisation. Take that fifth-inning double play started by the diving Ruben Tejada, which was relayed barehanded by Daniel Murphy. It was by far the prettiest DP of the year for the Mets, and it erased a leadoff walk. The Mets held only a 1-0 lead at the time, so it was more than opportune.
And how about the bullpen? Carlos Torres, proving to be a bulldog, has a 0.79 ERA over his last eight games. Scott Rice — a pitcher with as many peaks and valleys as a rollercoaster, it seems — got a big out to end the seventh inning on Monday night. And the aged Farnsworth nailed down the save with a scoreless ninth.
There’s no telling how the 38-year-old will perform as the season progresses into the summer months. Will that fastball he so relies on remain at 96 MPH on the gun, or will his arm wilt?
Will the starters, viewed as the strongest part of this squad, remain as efficient as they have been, or will they fall into mediocrity that will leave them well short of Sandy Alderson’s wins goal?
Even Collins doesn’t know the answer. It’s still April, a month when weird things happen.
For now, it’s sufficient that the starters and, by extension, the bullpen haven’t added to the collection of gray that sits atop the manager’s head.
He should enjoy it while it lasts.
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