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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Mets' manager: 'You can't strike out 12 times'. Tell that to 28 other teams

It was laughable to read New York Mets Manager Terry Collins, a lifetime .255 minor league hitter, criticize his players for not taking the right approach against Giants ace Tim Lincecum, who struck out 12 in seven innings -- including the last five he faced -- in S.F.'s 2-0 win Wednesday night.

"You know, you’ve got to grind out at-bats. You can’t strike out 12 times. And with guys in scoring position when you’ve got to put the ball in play, you’ve got to go up there, get ready to hit. We can’t be late getting our feet down, can’t be late getting in balance. We’ve got to get in there ready to hit, got to hunt something, and we can’t miss it.”

You can't strike out 12 times? Tell that to the 28 other teams that have struck out 10 or more times against the two-time Cy Young.

"Get ready to hit?" What is this Little League? Of course the Mets were ready to hit. They just had a hard time putting that readiness to use when what they were ready for never came. Can't be late getting in balance? What good is that if you're balance is all screwed up by a split finger that dives from waist to toe in .0006 seconds?

Collins says in one breath you "got to hunt something," but in the next, “You can’t guess. You can’t guess with those guys.”

Reminded me of Jim Bouton's beautiful retelling, in Ball Four, of then Seattle Pilots pitching coach Sal Maglie's second guessing his pitcher in the dugout: "throw him heat, throw him heat" he'd say, and when the guy hit a home run off a fastball, would mutter "damn it, I knew he should have thrown him a curve."

Especially as the game went along, Lincecum was masterful and overpowering, an artist with a sledgehammer. Or was it a butcher with a scalpel? He mystified Mets with fastballs down the middle for crissakes. Who does that?

He seemed to get extra amped by the defense behind him: an over the shoulder catch on the run by Pat Burrell in LF that ended the third inning, and a spectacular, far-ranging, sliding catch and pop up throw by second baseman Freddie Sanchez, holding Carlos Beltran on third in the sixth when the Giants were holding precariously on to a 1-0 lead. Lincecum, who has his own Nuschler going in those spots, rewarded Sanchez' play by striking out the next two to strand Beltran.

The Giants' lineup is out: Rowand, Burriss (did Sanchez hurt his arm on the throw?) Fontenot (he keeps getting those clutch hits), Huff (he looks locked in), Schierholz (ride the hot bat), Ross (hmm) Tejada (he's on a roll: he had a hit!), Whiteside (see below), J. Sanchez.

If Buster Posey appears tired and beat up at the plate, it's because he is. We're getting glimpse of how a catcher's offense can suffer because of the demands of his position. 

He's taken some real shots behind the plate on the road trip. On two successive nights, he took hard foul balls off his right shoulder, in the exact same spot; last night it was a toe and a bell ringer off his forehead. 

It's no wonder that he's dropped to .250 (6-for-his last 39) and it's a concern for the long haul: how much will we lose from his offense, and how much will be shaved off his career after the bruises add up?


I'd been yelling from my little perch here to use LH Nate Schierholz against lefties -- he's got a .364 lifetime batting average against them -- and finally Boss Bochy listened (or figured it out himself). Sure enough, Schierholz plunked down a single in three at bats against lefty Chris Capuano.

Schierholz, hitting .298 with a couple monster HRs this year, has earned himself some playing time, forcing the competition for the third OF spot, for the time being, to be between Cody Ross and Burrell.

Burrell helped his case with an RBI single that gave S.F. a 1-0 lead, astoundingly his first in 11 games and only ninth of the year. He also hit a blast that would have cleared most fences around the league but was caught at the 384-foot mark in left center.

Ross' newly beardless face and lowered pants didn't help him in his only AB: a strikeout into a double play. 

Ross swung wildly at two fastballs up and out of the strike zone before swinging through a fastball down the middle for the strikeout. Bochy, strangely, sent Miguel Tejada (who, praise the high chiefs, actually hit a line drive single up the middle!) from first on two strikes to draw a throw to try and steal a run with Schierholz from third, but the Mets played it cleanly for the DP at the plate.

I say strangely because Aaron Rowand was on deck. Rowand has been as clutch as anyone in the lineup, so it was puzzling to see the opportunity taken out of his hands. Rowand later came through with a double to lead off the Giants' run-scoring seventh.

Ross has been put in a tough spot by management eager to get him back in the lineup. He should have taken more time in his minor league rehab stint to get his swing back. The Giants have learned the lesson, and are saying Andres Torres will not be rushed back from his stint.

And now, with management thinking hard about bringing Brandon Belt back up, Ross could find himself being pushed back on the depth chart, similar to when he first arrived in S.F. when he was stuck behind Jose Guillen. Not that he needs to be spurred by competition -- Ross is a proud ballplayer. But, those guaranteed contracts have a funny way of messing with a players' performance, especially if they've spent their career having to prove themselves.

At minimum, Ross will look better -- sans that faux Mennonite beard and high black socks -- as he tries to earn his way back in. Today's a big day for him.

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