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Harper: Mets will still be cautious with young pitchers

John Harper

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Saturday, February 6, 2016, 10:39 PM

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Mets ace Matt Harvey won’t be coming off Tommy John surgery this season and won’t have an innings limits, but the Mets, rightly so, will still be cautious with him and the rest of their young stars.

No doubt weary of all the hand-wringing over the issue last season, both Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins are on record saying there are no more innings limits for the Mets’ golden arms. But in truth it’s mostly semantics.

That is, technically it may be true but the reality is the Mets are going to be cautious again with their young guns after Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz all threw career-highs in total innings last season and pitched deep into October for the first time.

“Those are factors you have to keep in mind the next season,” Alderson told me on Friday. “We won’t have innings limits but we’ll be a little protective. We may do some things to keep them healthy and strong with the possibility they’ll be going late into October again.”

He’s not talking about a six-man rotation so much as occasional spot starts from non-regulars and perhaps a skipped start here and there to refresh the young starters and guard against a hangover effect.

The 23-year old Syndergaard, for example, threw 198-2/3 innings last season, a whopping 65-inning increase from his previous high – rare these days when organizations try to limit such increases to 30 or so innings for young pitchers.

And naturally the Mets will watch Harvey carefully after he wound up throwing 216 innings, 38 more than his previous high and 36 more than the 180 that agent Scott Boras said would be “putting the player in peril” coming back from Tommy John surgery.

But are such concerns overblown in this pitch-count era?

Perhaps it’s instructive to look back at the ’86 Mets. They won 108 games and then a championship with a similarly young starting rotation, and in doing so their top four starters also totaled career-highs (or tied it, in 21-year old Dwight Gooden’s case) and pitched into the post-season for the first time.

It was a different era obviously; Gooden, Ron Darling, and Bob Ojeda totaled 276, 259, and 244 innings, respectively in ‘86. And what happened in 1987?

Each of them, as well as No. 4 starter Sid Fernandez, pitched to a higher ERA and WHIP. In Darling’s case the ERA jumped from 2.81 to 4.29.

Gooden’s dominance decreased as his strikeout total fell sharply, and while he had other issues, starting the season in rehab for cocaine use, you have to wonder if the staggering total of 770 innings in his first three seasons, all before he was 22 years old, took some of the snap out of his fastball.

Ojeda, meanwhile, made only seven starts before needing season-ending elbow surgery, which may or may not have been the result of the ’86 workload.

Jacob deGrom pitches deep into the postseason for the first time in his career in 2015.Howard Simmons/New York Daily News

Jacob deGrom pitches deep into the postseason for the first time in his career in 2015.

The ’87 Mets still won 92 games and might have won the NL East had they not suffered a host of other injuries, including rookie David Cone breaking his finger trying to bunt.

In any case, Darling on Friday said he doesn’t recall feeling any sort of hangover after the ’86 season, and thinks the dip in performance may have been a natural result of trying to follow up a championship season.

With that in mind, Darling, an SNY and MLB Network analyst, doesn’t want to hear any more talk of a six-man rotation or limitations for the current starting rotation.

“I think the Mets have done an amazing job of making sure these kids are taken care of,” Darling said by phone. “And even this year it’s fine to be judicious, give a guy an extra day here and there, but if I’m going to be judicious, I’m also going to make sure these guys are on the mound every turn.

“For most pitchers there’s a 4-to-6 year window of excellence. For a Hall of Famer you might get 10 to 12 but you don’t know that yet, and these guys are right in the middle of this 4-to-6 window, and to me that’s when you want to get the most out of them.

“Can they handle the workload? Absolutely. But it’s a mindset too. If you’ve been treated with kid gloves, that becomes your expectation level; at some point you have to learn how to push through that.

“You saw it with Matt (in the ninth inning of World Series Game 5). He’d never had the chance to learn how to finish. Maybe next time he’ll know how to get those last three outs.”

CAROLINA ON THEIR MINDS
​The Yankees PR department utilized Twitter creatively on Friday, posting pictures of their players and manager holding up Super Bowl predictions on signs from their homes all around the country.

In all 13 players made picks, and the final total was 8-5 in favor of the Panthers. Alex Rodriguez, Joe Girardi, and Jacoby Ellsbury all picked the Panthers by double-digit scores.

Leading the Broncos’ contingent was Greg Bird, fresh from shoulder surgery on Tuesday, with his right arm in a sling. Playing hurt for the cause; well, why not? He’s a Colorado native.

REMARKABLE HANK
Hank Aaron turned 82 on Friday. Still the people’s choice as home run king with 755 pre-Barry Bonds dingers, Aaron’s career was most remarkable for not just its consistency over 22 years, but the fact that he seemed to get better in some ways with age.

NYC PAPERS OUT. Social media use restricted to low res file max 184 x 128 pixels and 72 dpi Howard Simmons/New York Daily News

New York Mets starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard (34).

Enlarge NYC PAPERS OUT. Social media use restricted to low res file max 184 x 128 pixels and 72 dpi Howard Simmons

New York Mets starting pitcher Steven Matz (32).

Enlarge

Noah Syndergaard (l.) and Steven Matz (r.) are the youngest of the Mets young stars.

It wasn’t until his 30s, in fact, that he perennially struck out fewer times than he walked. And he retained his power nearly his entire career. In 1971 at age 37 he hit 47 home runs and slugged .669 to post a rather stunning 1.079 OPS.

At age 39 he hit 40 home runs in only 120 games, striking out only 51 times compared to 68 walks, again posting an eye-popping 1.045 OPS.

SHECKY ALDERSON
Mets fans surely appreciate Sandy Alderson’s dry sense of humor these days, after a World Series appearance and now the re-signing of Yoenis Cespedes. Now, if we only knew how Harvey feels about it.

Alderson enjoys needling his man-about-town star pitcher, doing so on a couple of occasions recently.

Two weeks ago at the BBWAA awards dinner, which was snowed out for fans but held as a private ceremony for honorees already in town, Alderson presented the Toast of the Town Award to the Mets’ young starting pitchers. DeGrom and Matz were on hand; Noah Syndergaard and Harvey were not.

​“I know they closed the Dallas airport,” Alderson said, referring to Syndergaard’s hometown. “Matt lives in Soho; I don’t know whether they closed the Greenwich Village Airport or not.”

​At the Cespedes press conference on Wednesday I asked Alderson if he’d heard back about his dig.

“I haven’t heard from Matt,” Alderson said. Pause. “Or Scott (Boras).”

Then on Friday, during an appearance on SNY’s Baseball Night in New York show, Alderson was asked how he takes advantage of all that Manhattan has to offer.

“Well there’s no room for another Met employee in Fashion Week, I can tell you that,” he said, referring to Harvey’s well-publicized participation this week in the event.

Somewhere Harvey is surely either chuckling in appreciation of his GM’s wit or counting the ways he’ll get even come free agency in three years.


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