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Steven Matz Jersey

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Mets LHP Steven Matz is a pivotal player for the Mets, which means the difference between making or missing the playoffs could hinge on how he performs in 2019.

Assuming each takes the mound 30 times this season, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard will again be among the league’s elite pitchers. There’s every reason to believe Zack Wheeler, in his walk year, will continue his terrific turn-around from 2018. Jason Vargas (and the pitchers behind him) should never be counted on to be a difference-maker at any point in the season.

This leaves Matz, who, at 27 years old, is at a make-or-break point in his career. And he could be poised for a breakout.

The fact is, as he enters what is historically considered a player’s prime, he’s had just one impact season out of the four he’s thrown in the big leagues. Also at play are his total innings on the mound, during which a player gains experience and knowledge about how to pitch as opposed to just throwing.

At this point in the career of a left-handed starting pitcher like Matz, most guys have thrown 650 innings and made 120 starts. Matz has essentially half that work load under his belt, which means he has spent 50 percent less time learning and feeling out situations than many who have come before him.

Matz is up to the challenge, though. He may be quiet and one of the most friendly, nicest people in baseball. But, at his core, he’s as competitive as deGrom and Syndergaard.

Health has been his big obstacle in his previous seasons. Matz began his professional life by having Tommy John surgery, which delayed the start of his career. Since then, he’s dealt with and eventually had a bone spur removed from his elbow, he’s had his ulnar nerve moved, he had an issue with his finger and has battled a variety of back issues, all of which were reportedly received with frustration by the organization.

“He needs to understand that pitchers pitch in pain, it’s part of life,” a clubhouse source told me in 2017, parroting a talking point that existed within the front office as well. “The great pitchers aren’t just great because they’re healthy. The difference is that they learned to prepare between starts, they’ve learned how to manage their body, pitch through whatever their issue is that day and allow themselves to be great.”

Matz projects to have a low 4.00 ERA, a 1.25 WHIP and his typical low 90s fastball and traditional swinging-strike rate, according to a composite of all the major statistical systems.

The above is likely a 2.0 WAR season and perfectly fine for third or fourth starting pitcher. Matz and the Mets will enter this coming season in hopes of more production, though.

In 2018, he reached a career-high in starts (30) and innings pitched (154). According to his friends and family, after finally staying on the mound for a full season, Matz has been given a sense of relief never experienced during his first seven years as a professional baseball player.

In other words, if he’s going to take the next step in his career, which would mean another 30 starts, closer to 200 innings, an ERA lower than 3.30 and at least 3.5 WAR while receiving national attention, this is it. This is the year to make it happen. And if it does, suddenly the Mets will have three aces (potentially four if Wheeler carries over his 2018 success) and without question the best rotation in MLB.

Hopefully, going 150 innings, pitching through pain and making 30 starts put his past frustrations to bed and gave Matz the experience and lessons needed to repeat his workload.

Because, when healthy and strong, Matz knows he can pitch on par with his best friend, deGrom.

“They room together, their families are close, they support each-other through good and bad, but they also have a healthy competition,” former Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen told me during spring training, 2016. “I’d love to see them both at the top of their game and what that dynamic would be like for a full season.”

In 2016, deGrom missed all of September to undergo surgery that decompressed and repositioned the ulnar nerve in his pitching elbow. According to deGrom, this alleviated a significant amount of chronic pain, which in large part helped him throw 200 innings in 2017 and become the best pitcher in the National League in 2018.

Matz underwent the same surgery in late 2017. And, like deGrom the year after his surgery, Matz finished with a career-high in innings and starts in a season. Now, I’m not saying he will elevate his game and become the best pitcher in the National League in year two just because that’s what his happened to his buddy deGrom. But, damn, wouldn’t that be nice if it did happen…

Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen never discussed Matz in trade proposals with other teams this offseason, according to team sources. Van Wagenen, manager Mickey Callaway and pitching coach Dave Eiland believe Matz crossed a career threshold in 2018 that he’s mentally and physically capable of building on in 2019.

“He’s got a tremendous arm. I love the way he throws inside to righties, so he neutralizes that component that usually hurts a left-handed starting pitcher, and he’s gonna continue to improve,” Callaway said on WFAN earlier this winter. “He’s a great worker, a great guy, and Eiland is gonna get him where he needs to be.”

Eiland and Callaway are on record saying they spent a lot of time last season helping Matz break down his game pitch-by-pitch, looking at each moment as an isolated event with its own unique context. During games that he was not pitching, Eiland would encourage Matz to put himself in the mind of the pitcher and hitter to continue the task of thinking about each solitary moment.

My hope is that Matz continues using the same release point that he used after returning from the DL last summer. The adjustment ended up getting hitters to swing more at pitches inside the strike zone. The weak contact helped him throw fewer pitches each inning, which played a large role in him reaching 150 innings. To do this for a full season, especially if he uses his curveball more frequently than he has, Matz should have no trouble creating quick innings and pushing on 200 innings for the season.

In addition, it’s important to keep Matz pitching every five days.

I’ve heard Eiland believes it is important for Matz to keep his body and mind moving and never allowing for downtime, which can tighten up muscles and allow doubt and bad habits to creep in.

From what I can gather, at the end of this past season, Eiland prepared a strength and conditioning and pitching program for Matz that will keep him loose and throwing every few days, including throwing multiple bullpen sessions between starts during the season. The plan, like it was for deGrom lat season, was to start the programs a few weeks after the end of this past season.

To date, Matz has been frequently described as having “good stuff,” and a lot of “potential.” He took a big step toward being the pitcher he hoped to be when the Mets drafted him out of Ward Melville High School in 2009.

Finally, the evidence, experience and stars are aligned for him to put all of the above behind him and add his name to the mix of pitchers considered to be among the best in baseball.

Drew Gagnon Jersey

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The New York Mets have officially released veteran right-handed reliever Drew Gagnon ahead of the 40-man deadline.

The offseason continues for the New York Mets, and on Friday, they made their latest move. Ahead of the 40-man deadline, the Mets have decided to release right-handed reliever Drew Gagnon.

The 29-year old appeared in 23 games with the team over the last two seasons.

Gagnon is reportedly close to inking a deal for a team in the Korea Baseball Organization League.

This past season, Gagnon pitched in 18 games for the Mets. In that span of time, he posted a record of 3-1 with an ERA of 8.37 and a WHIP of 1.732. Gagnon additionally struck out 17 batters and walked seven through 23.2 innings pitched.

In 2018, he went 2-1 with an ERA of 5.25 and a WHIP of 1.667 through five appearances (one start). During that campaign, he struck out eight batters and walked five through 12 full innings pitched.

Needless to say, he struggled during his entire time in Queens, combining for a 7.32 ERA and a 1.710 WHIP.

Gagnon didn’t stand out from the bullpen, however, which possessed numerous issues this past year. The Mets relievers in 2019 finished 25th in the majors with a combined 4.95 ERA. It’s definitely an aspect of the game they’ll need to improve on ahead of the 2020 campaign.

As one goes, however, another arrives. This week, the Mets inked a minor-league deal with left-handed reliever Chasen Shreve. It comes with an invite to Spring Training, so there’s a chance Shreve can receive a promotion to the big leagues if he impresses.

Chris Flexen Jersey

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The Mets called up Chris Flexen in 2017 to make a start despite him having zero starts in Triple-A and only seven starts in Double-A Binghamton.

Shockingly, he didn’t go well for the inexperienced Flexen. After his pro debut on July, 2017 (three innings, three runs), Flexen would stay with the Mets making 14 appearances and nine starts down the stretch. He posted a 7.88 ERA in 48 innings.

Flexen finally got to Triple-A to start the 2018 season. Made eight appearances for the Las Vegas 51s before the Mets called him up. He would pitch poorly in relief on 11 days rest then get sent back Triple-A to start. He would continue to bounce back-and-forth between Las Vegas and New York before finishing strong in Triple-A with a 3.24 ERA in his last four starts of the season.

The 24-year-old had offseason knee surgery and came into camp this year noticeably slimmer. He made two starts in Triple-A this year before getting a spot start for the Mets on April 20 that didn’t go well. Back down to Triple-A for two outings before returning for one appearance with the Mets.

Flexen was finally able to settle in with six straight starts for Triple-A Syracuse starting on May 11. He posted a 3.15 ERA and 40 strikeouts in that span. Pretty impressive numbers in the International League, where runs per game have jumped from 4.16 in 2018 to 5.24 this season.

Then on June 12, the Mets did something interesting, they had Flexen pitch out of the pen for Syracuse. He pitched two scoreless innings, but more importantly he saw a velo spike with his fastball up to 96 mph.

The Mets needing a reliever – decided instead of letting Flexen settling into his new role – they would call him up after only one appearance as a strict reliever. The right-hander pitched the eighth inning of a tie game against the Cardinals. His stuff looked good overall, though he was a victim of Mets killer Paul DeJong‘s solo homer.

In the outing, Flexen would strikeout out two including Jose Martinez on a 98 mph fastball. Yes, 98 miles per hour on a fastball (averaged 93 mph in 2018) from Chris Flexen. He was also throwing his slider 88-91 mph and struck out Paul Goldschmidt on a good changeup at 86.

Chris Flexen has shown increased velocity since moving to the bullpen, here he blows 98 mph by Jose Martinez. pic.twitter.com/8tuAheb6JV

— Michael Mayer (@mikemayerMMO) June 20, 2019

Flexen got his second chance as a full-time reliever in the big leagues on Wednesday night against the Braves. He came in with nobody out with a runner on second in the sixth inning, a runner he would end up stranding. Though his control was still not where it needs to be, he flashed better stuff yet again.

He would come back out to pitch the seventh inning and he was impressive, setting down Dansby Swanson, Freddie Freeman, and Josh Donaldson in order. He struck out Swanson swinging at a 92 mph slider and blew a 97 mph fastball by Freeman.

As I noted, control was an issue for Flexen with only 23 strikes in 40 pitches. However, his fastball in the 95-98 mph range and slider at 88-92 certainly makes him an intriguing potential bullpen asset going forward if he’s able to settle into controlling his pitches as a full-time reliever.

Tyler Bashlor Jersey

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The Mets have promoted 25-year-old RHP Tyler Bashlor from Double-A Binghamton for Monday’s game against the Pirates, with Chris Flexen being sent down.

Bashlor, or, “Bash,” as they call him, has a 2.63 ERA and 1.08 WHIP with 30 strikeouts in 24 innings across 20 outings this season. Since the Mets drafted him during the 11th round in 2013, he has a 3.29 lifetime ERA in 117 career minor-league games. He last pitched on Friday.

During this past spring training in St. Lucie, Bashlor quietly emerged as a young reliever worth keeping an eye on this summer. The kid works hard and is aggressive on the mound.

He clearly earned the attention of several veteran players and coaches when throwing live batting practice during a session in late February…

According to people that have watched him this season, while his fastball is consistently in the mid to upper 90s, he is still struggling to command his breaking ball. If this continues for him after his promotion, major-league batters will either walk or sit on his fastball, at which point he’ll be hit hard.

I can see a typical inning being shaky at first. However, if he can find his command, experts say his fastball is varied and quick enough that he can one day be a set-up guy…

In Bashlor, I simply saw a small guy with a lot of attitude, that throws loud and hard and has a pretty badass tattoo on his entire right arm. I’m no scout, and have no idea how he’ll perform on the big stage, but he certainly looks the part…

By the way, with one of the last pitches he tossed during the aforementioned spring training session, Bashlor lost the handle on a fastball and nearly hit Todd Frazier, who — without skipping a beat — slammed his bat to the ground and started marching angrily toward Bashlor and the mound…

Naturally, Frazier then dropped his bat, pointed and laughed. Bashlor, however, looked beyond nervous and struggled the rest of his session. He got through it, though.

As the session wrapped, Mickey Callaway made a point to walk out to the mound, put his arm on Bashlor’s shoulder and seemed to say something that reassured the young man.

Nolan Ryan Jersey

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Two-time National League MVP Dale Murphy called Nolan Ryan “the only pitcher you start thinking about two days before you face him.”

Ryan’s career spanned four decades and when all was said and done, he retired with 324 wins and a major league-record 5,714 strikeouts.

Ryan’s career began with the Mets organization in the mid- 1960s, but his commitment to his country, through military reserve service, prevented him from really hitting his stride in New York. It was not until the completion of his military service, and his trade to the California Angels, that the real Nolan Ryan emerged.

During his time with the Angels, he hurled four no-hitters and broke Sandy Koufax’s modern-era single-season strikeout record. Reggie Jackson, one of the most dominant sluggers of the generation, explained what it was like to face him. “I love to bat against Nolan Ryan and I hate to bat against Nolan Ryan. It’s like ice cream. You may love it, but you don’t want it shoveled down your throat by the gallon. I’ve never been afraid at the plate but Mr. Ryan makes me uncomfortable. He’s the only pitcher who’s ever made me consider wearing a helmet with an ear flap.”

As the 1970s turned into the 1980s, Nolan Ryan returned home to Texas, signing with the Houston Astros and becoming baseball’s first one million dollar per year player. The 1980s were a decade of milestones for Nolan Ryan as he passed Walter Johnson’s all-time strikeout mark, broke Sandy Koufax major league-record four no-hitters, and struck out the 5,000th batter of his career.

Before hanging up his spikes at age 46, Ryan topped the 300-win mark and hurled a record seventh no-hitter as a member of the Texas Rangers.

Keith Hernandez Jersey

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“I consider cocaine the devil on this earth,” testified New York Mets’ first baseman Keith Hernandez. He described cocaine as “a demon in me.

Hernandez stated that he had used massive amounts of the substance starting in 1980 after he and his wife separated. He developed what he described as an “insatiable desire for more” and admitted that he played under the influence of cocaine in his career.

After he saw St. Louis Cardinals’ teammate Lonnie Smith have a such a bad experience after using cocaine that he couldn’t play in a game, Hernandez realized he had to break the habit.

Just before he was traded to the Mets in June, 1983, Hernandez, who had lost 10 pounds, awoke with a nose bleed.

“I had the shakes and I wound up throwing a gram down the toilet,” he testified during the trial of alleged cocaine dealer Curtis Strong, who had been the Philadelphia Phillies’ clubhouse caterer.

Hernandez and the other players that testified had been granted immunity from prosecution.

When he was asked to provide the names of other players with whom he had shared cocaine, Hernandez became uncomfortable. Unlike when he broke the law by obtaining and using cocaine, this time Hernandez took on the role of a law-abiding citizen.

He named pitcher Lary Sorenson and outfielder Bernie Carbo, a Boston Red Sox hero in the 1975 World Series.

Lonnie Smith testified that he had purchased cocaine from the defendant Strong for himself, Joaquin Andujar and Hernandez.

The list of players named in testimony sounded like an All-Star team. Included were Dave Parker, Gary Mathews, Enos Cabell, Al Holland, Jeff Leonard and J.R. Richard.

Strong’s defense lawyer. Adam Renfroe, insisted that baseball was on trial and that the players were “nothing but junkies.”

He called them “hero-criminals” who “sell drugs and are still selling drugs to baseball players around the league.”

Reports claim that by the time he joined the Mets, Hernandez was no longer using cocaine. Despite the fact that drug users often offer unreliable testimony, Hernandez should be believed.

He certainly played extremely well during his time with the Mets. He has been an excellent, if sometimes overly emotional broadcaster over the last few years.

Of course, we will always wonder what would have happened if one of Strong’s customers had been Mary or Joe Average Citizen.

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LOUISVILLE — Tim Tebow loves the highs, the lows, all of it. So despite experiencing the worst stretch of his professional baseball career, the ex-football star doesn’t care if he gets negative headlines. It’s not why he’s still playing.

“It’s never as good as it seems, it’s never as bad as it seems. That’s something I learned a long time ago in sports,” Tebow said during this week’s three-game series between his Syracuse Mets and the Louisville Bats. “I didn’t do it for the praise of it. I did it because it was a passion, and I wanted to fulfill it and do something that I love.”

Tebow’s series went pretty much how the 2019 season has gone for the 31-year-old quarterback-turned-outfielder. He went 1 for 7 with a walk and an RBI, raising his batting average to .131, as his Mets took the series. The fans flocked to Slugger Field — 21,886 of them, some wearing his football jerseys, others holding Sports Illustrated covers in the hopes of snagging an autograph.

The fans show up not for his .376 OBPS and 34 strikeouts in 26 games, but for his perfect-for-television personality.

The Pawtucket Red Sox (+10.9 percent), Rochester Red Wings (+19.3 percent), Scranton/Wilkes Barre RailRiders (+33.8 percent), Lehigh Valley IronPigs (+6.5 percent) and Louisville (+21.1 percent) have all had significant attendance bumps with Tebow in town.

“You’re always trying to do good and the best you can,” Tebow said. “I don’t think I put extra pressure on myself to do better because more people would show up.”

OPINION:It’s time. Tim Tebow should walk away from baseball

Tebow said he’s still adjusting to the minor league baseball lifestyle — especially the long bus rides. And he admitted he misses football, which he last played in 2015. It especially hits him around Thanksgiving, when college football teams are playing their rivalry games and the NFL teams are fighting for a playoff spot.

He called baseball a “funny game.” Sometimes you don’t get rewarded when you play well, and sometimes you do when you don’t. That’s why he’s here.

“It’s about having patience, following a process and really, truly trying to improve every day,” he said. “Not just focusing on just what happens in the game and results of it.”

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Gary Carter earned the nickname “The Kid” at Expos training camp in 1973 at the age of 19.

“I tried to impress everybody that spring, you know, being the first in line for sprints,” Carter said. “Running hard to first base all the time.”

A few big leaguers began calling him the kid – and the nickname as well as the style of play stuck with him throughout his 19-year career. The 11-time All-Star was an enthusiastic and resilient backstop for the Expos, Mets, Giants and Dodgers who helped his teams behind the plate and in the batter’s box.

“He’s a horse,” said Mets Manager Davey Johnson. “He’s in great shape. You try to rest him during the season, but he won’t stand for it.”

Born on April 8, 1954 in Culver City, Calif., Carter played baseball, basketball and football in high school, but rejected dozens of college scholarships to sign with the Montreal Expos. Used primarily as an outfielder during his 1975 rookie season, Carter came in second in Rookie of the Year voting before earning the full-time catching job in 1977.

“I was out of position. I was running into walls and hurting myself,” said Carter about his experience in the outfield.

A three-time Gold Glove Award winner, Carter set a record for fewest passed balls in 1978 and paced all National League catchers in total chances (1977-82), putouts (1977-80, 1982), assists (1977, 1979-80, 1982) and double plays (1978-79, 1983).

“He was a human backstop back there,” said former teammate Keith Hernandez. “Early, before his knees went bad, you couldn’t steal on him in Montreal. When he wasn’t able to throw because of his knees, that never affected his performance. He was running on and off the field after three outs. This guy played in some pain and it was hustle, hustle, hustle.”

Carter was traded to the Mets in 1984. He led his team to a World Series Championship, hitting .276 with two home runs and nine RBI in the Fall Classic. His two-out, 10th-inning single ignited a three-run rally that resulted in a Mets’ win to even the series. New York went onto win the Fall Classic in seven games.

Slowed by injuries, Carter played for the Giants and Dodgers before returning to Montreal to end his career in 1992. He had a career .262 batting average, belted 324 home runs and knocked in 1,225 runs to earn four Silver Sluggers.

“It is a grueling position (catching),” said Carter. “I can look back at it and say it’s worth it to be enshrined in Cooperstown. I don’t have any pain in my knees right now.”

Carter was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003.

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The New York Mets have made a reputation of making a spectacle out of organizational moves, the latest instance being their managerial search. Names like Joe Girardi, Eduardo Perez, and Carlos Beltran have emerged as finalists to replace ex-skipper Mickey Callaway. Yet the cloud looming over the baseball world and the Mets fan base is the new and mysterious “bombshell” candidate.

One of the most linked names to the mystery role is former third baseman and team captain David Wright. While he’d be a popular choice of those who take the 7 Line to Citi Field, we’re here to tell you to pump the brakes.

MLB insider Jon Heyman texted Wright about whether he’s the “bombshell” candidate, and like Alex Rodriguez, Wright replied with “hahaha,” before giving an emphatic negative.

So much for that idea.

Wright was the Mets’ face of the franchise once Mike Piazza left Flushing. Nicknamed “Captain America” for his contributions to Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, Wright was a seven-time All-Star for the Mets, where he won two Gold Gloves and two Silver Slugger awards.

After his career ended due to spinal stenosis in 2018, the team named him as a special adviser under team COO Jeff Wilpon and general manager Brodie Van Wagenen.

Despite the obvious link, New York Mets fans can officially cross David Wright off the managerial candidate list.

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The play, now 32 years old, would link Bill Buckner and Mookie Wilson forever, though the Mets’ World Series hero doesn’t want Buckner’s lasting legacy to be defined by that one moment.

A “saddened” Wilson honored Buckner a few hours after the 69-year-old baseball icon died Monday following a battle with Lewy Body Dementia.

“We had developed a friendship that lasted well over 30 years,” Wilson said in a statement. “I felt badly for some of the things he went through. Bill was a great, great baseball player, whose legacy should not be defined by one play.”

While Buckner’s mostly remembered for the Wilson dribbler that squeaked by, allowing the Mets to climb back and eventually win the 1986 World Series over Boston, he also managed an impressive 22 seasons in the majors.

The one-time All-Star racked up 2,715 hits and 174 home runs with the Dodgers, Cubs, Red Sox, Angels and Royals from 1969-1990.

And that’s how Wilson wants Buckner to be remembered.