Steve Cohen sat in the Mets dugout before his club opened up the home slate for the 2023 season a month ago. At the time, the Mets were 3-4 and were coming off a sweep at the hands of the Milwaukee Brewers. His message: It’s too early to panic.
General manager Billy Eppler sat in that same spot Friday afternoon before the Mets started a series against the Colorado Rockies. The team was 16-16 and this time, they had just been swept by the Detroit Tigers. His message was somewhat similar, though he didn’t exactly frame it in the same way the owner did. Eppler’s message was this: The club believes in the players on this roster and their ability to turn this season around.
“Not kind of succumbing to the recency bias, but kind of taking a step back and trying to look at it from a 10,000-foot view, I believe in this roster, I believe in this team and players that are here,” Eppler said. “There’s too much track record, there’s too much these guys have accomplished, there’s too much know-how.”
The Mets have had stretches where they the offense has carried them but the pitching has imploded. They’ve also had good pitching performances but no run support. The bottom of the lineup has not been producing and the rotation has fallen apart with injuries and at times been downright ineffective. Mets’ starters have thrown the sixth-fewest amount of innings in the league.
“That’s been the part of our club that probably hasn’t put up the numbers that they’ve expected or we’ve expected,” he said.
The Mets were anticipating injuries and periods of ineffectiveness with an older staff. But they weren’t expecting to have to use all of those reinforcements by the end of April.
“We weren’t expecting to use 22 pitchers within the first month of the season,” Eppler said. “I think we’ve used the second-most in baseball. You prepare for that. And one of the things that we always talked about in the wintertime is building the depth, you’re just not foreseeing that you’re going to have to use it in the first 30 days of the season, you’re going to think around this time of year, you’d probably be more in the 15-16 pitcher usage area.
“But I’ll tell you what, there’s reason for optimism.”
Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander have returned to the rotation, though their results have been sort of a mixed bag, and Carlos Carrasco is next. Looking at the numbers, he thinks Scherzer will be able to increase his velocity once he is back on a five-day schedule. He thinks left-hander David Peterson will be able to improve in Triple-A.
There isn’t much Eppler can do about the starting pitching right now, but he could give the offense a boost with Mark Vientos or Ronny Mauricio, two prospects who are currently tearing up Triple-A.
Eppler acknowledged the offense’s shortcomings. Much like last season, it’s still a station-to-station offense and the big hitters, like Starling Marte and Daniel Vogelbach. Aren’t producing big numbers. The DH spot has been particularly troublesome. Tommy Pham has done well as a platoon hitter but Vogelbach has hit only one home run and is slugging .383 with a .789 OPS. His high walk rate remains, but the power hasn’t been there this season.
“We like getting on base, but we like hitting the ball hard too,” Eppler said. “He’s aware of that. But the quality of his at-bats, he makes you work. We’ve seen the impact from him in the past, so no doubt that he’s gonna be able to get that back.”
One could make the case for Vientos, the first baseman/third baseman who boasts a 1.148 OPS with nine home runs in Triple-A, or even shortstop Ronny Mauricio, who has six home runs and a .982 OPS. But figuring out where to play them would be a challenge. They’re both blocked at their respective positions. Mauricio has played a few games at second base recently in an attempt to get a feel for other positions and he’s still blocked there too.
A move to the outfield might be imminent, but not right now.
“The feedback I got from Miguel Cairo was really strong at second base. Will there be a time where we introduce something else? Perhaps, but you try to take a systematic approach to this and not give them too much too soon,” Eppler said. “That can start to carry over to the offense. What we were seeing early with Ronny was really good decision-making in the batter’s box, really low chase percentages for his accustomed level, and swinging at balls when they were over the white.
“That’s just what we really want to drive. When you introduce multiple positions and things that can start to pull away from that a little bit.”
When it comes to the prospects, the message is the same as it was in spring training: The offense can’t come at the expense of the defense and if they can’t play every day in the big leagues, then they can’t miss out on key development opportunities in the minor leagues.
Eppler has to stand behind this roster as the one who constructed it. He also knows he could go down if the Mets continue to sink lower this season. For now, he’s remaining optimistic.
“You just try to focus on what the day brings to the table,” Eppler said. “Today brings the Rockies, and that should be that’s all we’re thinking about right now.”
Source: Berkshire mont
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