Commentary

Mets' new skipper still adjusting to job

Terry Collins did not push right buttons on Sunday, but was loss really his fault?

Updated: April 11, 2011, 2:45 AM ET
By Johnette Howard | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- Sixty-one-year-old Mets manager Terry Collins talks a lot about how much he is savoring his return to managing after several years of thinking he'd never get another shot. But Collins didn't come back for head-pounding, second guess-filled days like this. At times on Sunday, it felt like Collins himself had a little rust on his game. At other times it felt like the Mets' roster -- especially the bullpen -- left Collins with nowhere to go.

[+] EnlargeTerry Collins
William Perlman/US PresswireTerry Collins is still learning about his new club.

When Collins allowed Mets starting pitcher Chris Young to hit in the bottom of the sixth Sunday with two outs, a runner on third and the Mets clinging to a 3-1 lead, it seemed like Collins might be committed to staying with Young for a while -- especially when Young retired the side 1-2-3 in the seventh with two strikeouts. Young was cruising along with a one-hitter at that point, but Collins decided to remove him for reliever D.J. Carrasco in the top of the eighth. And that's when the Mets' unraveling began.

The Nationals immediately tied the game with a two-run rally, and then broke out for four runs in the 11th to send the Mets off to a dispiriting 7-3 defeat. Five Mets relievers coughed up six runs, and the Mets had only two hits after the fifth inning. The Mets have now lost four out of five overall, and ended up dropping two out of three to the Nats in their home-opening series at Citi Field, with Colorado coming in next.

"We have to win this kind of game," Mets shortstop Jose Reyes said. "It's hard because Chris Young had thrown an unbelievable game. We just let it get away."

Collins had an admittedly sticky decision to make with Young. Take him out when he did because Young had already thrown 108 pitches, it's still early in the season, and Young has a serious injury history that includes a comeback from Tommy John surgery? Or leave Young in because he was on such a roll and the Mets' bullpen -- besides being used a lot recently -- is suspect?

If the Carrasco-for-Young move had been the only thing that went wrong, the Mets might've survived. But nearly everything else Collins tried didn't work either.

Washington -- either by skill or chance -- seemed to expose every soft spot the Mets had over the last four innings. Ivan Rodriguez started the Nationals' game-tying rally in the eighth with a leadoff double that Mets right fielder Lucas Duda might've caught had he taken a better route to the ball. When Collins was asked if he thought about sending in a late-game defensive replacement for Duda -- who was playing because the Mets gave Carlos Beltran the day off despite Saturday night's two home-run game -- the manager said, "Well, it's easy to look back now."

Collins then pushed hard to try to win the game in the ninth -- first using up his closer, Francisco Rodriguez, for a one-out cameo in the top of the inning, and then pinch-hitting Daniel Murphy for second baseman Brad Emaus and Beltran for K-Rod when the Mets came up. The results? Beltran grounded out to second; Murphy made an out in his ninth-inning at-bat, and in the top of the 11th failed to get to a bounding grounder a few feet to his left that scored Washington's Wilson Ramos with the go-ahead run.

The Nationals' next batter, Laynce Nix, rubbed it in with a three-run homer that broke open the game.

Had the Mets somehow held on, the takeaway from this game would have been -- and to an extent, still should be -- the two terrific starts that Young has now given the Mets in two tries.

Instead, after watching Collins run through five relievers and seeing the Mets' hitters strike out 17 times, general manager Sandy Alderson sent down Sunday's loser, Blaine Boyer, and Duda and called up pitchers Ryota Igarashi and 38-year-old Jason Isringhausen.

Even with the wait for Jason Bay to return from his oblique strain, and the questions about whether Beltran's chronically bad knees can hold up the entire season, starting pitching was the biggest "If" the Mets brought into this season, if only because questions surround all five guys the Mets have penciled in. Can Mike Pelfrey, already 0-2, handle being the Mets' ace-by-default in Johan Santana's absence? Can journeyman knuckleballer R.A. Dickey repeat the breakout season he had last year?

What can the Mets reasonably expect from young Jonathon Niese and Chris Capuano? And how much does Young have to offer after appearing in only five games last season, and just 32 in the two seasons before that?

Young said he actually felt stronger in the sixth and the seventh innings Sunday than he did in the middle of the game. Though Collins said Young was lifted becaue he was right at the110-pitch limit that the Mets have him on, Young later blinked and said nobody has discussed any such pitch limit with him. But Young asked reporters "not to make a big deal out of something that's not ... it's a long season."

Asked if he believes in pitch-count limits, Young shrugged and said, "Yeah. [Pause.] Sure."

"It's more a feel thing," Young later added. "How hard are the innings, how hard am I working to get outs?"

Collins may yet get a better feel for this Mets club. But as presently constructed, the Mets are the sort of flawed team that can make it hard for a manager -- any manager -- to know which strings to pull.

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