By Ernie Palladino
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Between prized prospects getting hurt and hitting coaches getting fired, there’s been a lot of elbowing going on with the Mets these days.
Bad enough that Matt Harvey is already down after his Tommy John surgery. Now, Noah Syndergaard is on the DL with a strained flexor-pronator in his right elbow. Though his MRI came back clean, if you’re keeping score, this is the same injury that caused Washington ace Stephen Strasburg to go under the Tommy John knife in September of 2010.
Syndergaard has yet to throw a major league inning. Yet, Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins were counting on him as a major component of next year’s rotation.
He still might be, of course. His strain is considered mild. But anyone with any knowledge of young, modern pitchers knows what potentially can happen next.
It’s happening all over the league. Pure, bad luck with young pitchers. And let’s face it, if the Mets didn’t have bad luck lately, they wouldn’t have any luck at all.
Then we have the other news about the firing of hitting coach Dave Hudgens. We all know the Mets aren’t hitting. Nothing new there. They haven’t hit since 1986, it seems. So Alderson made the predictably clichéd move of tossing the hitting coach overboard.
For the uninitiated, the hitting coach is probably the least important assistant on the team. He’s second only to the bullpen coach, whose main job is picking up a phone and relaying a message to a reliever to get loose.
The good hitters rarely need a hitting coach. And you can count on one hand the number of truly great hitting coaches the history of baseball encompasses. There’s Charlie Lau and, um, well, there’s Charlie Lau. And he worked back in the Stone Age.
But there they sit, ready to be fired as soon as things go bad. George Steinbrenner used to go through them like facial tissues, sometimes just to tick off Billy Martin.
In reality, firing a hitting coach is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. It has no real effect. Few if any team batting averages have skyrocketed after the surfacing of a new hitting coach. They’ll talk to young players about stance, to veterans about approach. But ultimately, it’s about the batter making contact with the ball.
Hudgens really wasn’t a horrible coach. He preached patience. Wait for your pitch. Don’t hack at just about anything. Pretty run-of-the-mill stuff. But when a team can’t buy a win hitting .197 with runners in scoring position on a homestand, somebody’s going to get fired. Situational hitting, the pros call it. And guess who’s in charge of that.
The hitting coach.
Since Alderson wasn’t quite ready to jettison Collins, Hudgens was the next best option. By getting rid of Hudgens, Alderson eliminates a minor piece of the team while sending a major message to his skipper to turn this thing around quick — or else!
Syndergaard thankfully had nothing to do with the Mets’ latest slide to 22-28 heading into last Tuesday’s game against Pittsburgh. But he might help retrieve what is quickly becoming yet another lost season if this flexor-pronator heals up nicely. Or, more apropos of the Mets’ season, he could be headed for an extended absence.
Hudgens’ part in the struggle to lay bat upon ball was way overrated, as are the contributions of most hitting coaches. He was just a convenient fall guy.
With all that elbowing going on, it might be impossible to squeeze even a small winning streak in edgewise.
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