Michael Conforto thrilled to return to Mets’ big-league spring lineup as shoulder rehab is ‘ahead of schedule’

PORT ST. LUCIE - Michael Conforto got a call he had been waiting for Thursday night, now he is waiting for THE call. After playing in his first major league “game,” in eight months, the Mets’ All-Star outfielder is hoping that the call telling him he is being activated off the disabled list won’t be far behind. The last three days at spring training certainly seem to have accelerated the initial rehab schedule that had him returning on May 1. “I would hate to put a timetable on anything, like we know it’s hard to make those kind of assumptions,” Mets manager Mickey Callaway said, “but the way he’s progressing now, there a good shot at that.” Conforto has been trying to follow the Mets’ lead and focus on the day-to-day. As he has progressed quickly in the last two weeks from facing live batting practice, to playing in minor league games to facing major league pitching for the first time, it’s hard for him not to get a little anxious. “I don’t know,” Conforto said when asked if he could be ready even sooner. “I am just happy to be back in the lineup today and back with the team. We’ll see what happens. “But May 1 feels like a really long ways away.” For now, Conforto was thrilled to get the call from Callaway Thursday night to ask if he wanted to be the designated hitter against the Cardinals the next day. “I told him ‘We need a DH for tomorrow, is that an option for you?’ and he said OK,” Callaway said. “Everybody else cleared it medically. So it was exciting.” It’s been nearly eight months since he has faced major league pitching in a game. Last August, he dislocated his shoulder swinging at a pitch, tearing the anterior capsule in the process. Friday, Conforto went 1-for-4 with a single off former Mets lefty Sean Gilmartin in the Mets’ 10-7 loss to the Cardinals at First Data Field. He Continue Reading

Mets’ Jason Vargas lands in emergency room with stomach virus

PORT ST. LUCIE - Jason Vargas' short time with the Mets has not exactly been smooth. The veteran lefty took a line drive off his glove hand last week, fracturing the hamate bone in his non-pitching right hand. He had surgery to remove that bone Tuesday. Friday, Vargas was taken to a local emergency room with a stomach virus. "He got a little stomach virus, so he’s at the emergency room right now taking care of that," Mets manager Mickey Callaway said. "I am not sure if that got in the way (of seeing a hand specialist) He’s doing OK, he played catch the last couple days." The Mets are hoping Vargas can be ready to make his first start in the regular season, but the 35-year-old was expecting to meet with the hand specialist Friday to see when he could get back into a game. He had sutures to close up the wound in his hand, which pitching coach Dave Eiland said is the major concern with him right now. It takes 10 to 14 days for stitches to be removed after surgery. CAUGHT ON The Mets are happy with the platoon of Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki, but their are taking out insurance. The Mets are expected to pay Jose Lobaton a retention bonus Saturday too keep the veteran catcher on their Triple-A team Saturday. They have until noon Saturday. Sign up for BREAKING NEWS Emails privacy policy Thanks for subscribing! Send a Letter to the Editor Join the Conversation: facebook Tweet Continue Reading

Rep. Peter King clarifies after saying he was unaware spending bill makes minor leaguers exempt from minimum wage laws

PORT ST. LUCIE — Hours after voting in favor of the omnibus spending bill, which included a provision to strip away federal minimum wage and overtime protection for minor-league baseball players, Long Island Congressman Peter King made his annual appearance at Mets spring training Friday morning. President Trump avoided a government shutdown by signing the bill Friday afternoon after threatening to veto it. King admitted that he did not read the entire 2,323-page bill, but he clarified remarks earlier Friday saying he wasn’t aware that the provision was in the bill. He said that his staff had made him aware of some media coverage of the bill. “I make sure there are things like Homeland Security and transportation (funding for the Gateway tunnel in the Tri-State area) and then I ask my staff to make me aware of anything of particular interest to me,” said King. “I am a baseball fan, so someone told me about it. I read either (the Daily News’ column) or something in the papers on it before I voted.” King said that he was not lobbied by Major League Baseball or anyone associated with the bill. King is not among the politicians who received donations from baseball in the 2016 election cycle. “I didn’t hear from one person about (the provision),” King said. “I didn’t hear from MLB or the players' union. Not one person.”  The provision, which makes minor-league baseball players a class that is exempt from federal minimum wage and overtime laws, was slipped into the enormous bill on page 1,967. King, decked out in his orange-and-blue Mets jacket with a Mets World Series hat tucked into his back pocket, admitted that was a tough side effect of the bill. "Unfortunately, in a situation like this, it doesn't get the top-billing that is should," King said with a sigh. "It's unfortunate." A devoted Mets fan and baseball fan, King has sympathy for the minor leaguers. "There should Continue Reading

Minor-league players are in danger of not receiving a living wage if Congress passes spending bill

PORT ST. LUCIE — Thursday afternoon, as the Mercedes and Range Rovers of the Mets players were carefully being loaded onto two car haulers in the parking lot at First Data Field, three big wardrobe boxes appeared inside the clubhouse. As the players cleaned out their lockers and prepared to break camp, they were encouraged to throw in used cleats, clothing or equipment to be donated to the minor league players. It was a nice gesture, but a better one would be for teams to actually pay minor leaguers a living wage. Instead, MLB has spent $2.6 million over the past two years lobbying Congress, and it looks like very soon they will get their payoff: an exemption to the federal minimum and overtime wage laws. After failing to even get a vote on it two years ago, Congress has slid the provision into the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill that must be signed by Friday to keep the government open. Buried in the 2,232-page bill is the “Save America’s Pastime Act,” which would basically take away minimum wage rights for minor-league baseball players, making them “apprentices.” That would also likely squash the lawsuits by players against Major League Baseball seeking a living wage. MLB declined comment, but sources said they see this as a way to maintain the status quo, that minor leaguers are apprentices and minor league baseball is not a career. But burying this provision in the spending bill means at this late point that to keep the government going, we have to take away the living-wage rights of non-40-man roster players. For the Mets, that would be P.J. Conlon, Matt den Dekker, Ty Kelly and spring training hero Phil Evans. The idea was initially introduced to Congress by Representatives Brett Guthrie of Kentucky and Cheri Bustos of Illinois. They pitched the bill as protecting minor league baseball by shielding the teams from devastating cost increases, but major league teams are responsible for the Continue Reading

Adrian Gonzalez likely to be Mets’ starting first baseman with Dom Smith still sidelined

JUPITER — The competition never materialized at first base. Dominic Smith got benched and then got hurt. Adrian Gonzalez has won the job seemingly by reputation and default. Two Mets sources confirmed Tuesday that the Mets are not going to sign another first baseman, and will start the season with Gonzalez in a platoon with Wilmer Flores. After Gonzalez homered Tuesday, his first homer and only second extra-base hit of spring, Mickey Callaway said he was confident going into the season with the veteran at first. “Yeah. I think Adrian is a professional. He’s gonna get to where he needs to be,” the Mets manager said. “Obviously he’s probably pressing a little bit, not quite knowing what’s going on and things like that. I am very comfortable with Adrian Gonzalez at first to start the season.” Mets should be cautious with Vargas, use 'Big Five' rotation Gonzalez was limited to 71 games with the Dodgers last season because of back problems. He saw a significant drop off in his power numbers to career-lows, hitting just .242. His slugging percentage dropped to .355 from .435 in 2016 and .480 in 2015. His OPS dropped to .642 from .734 in 2016 and .830 in 2015. “His bat speed looks fine,” said one scout who has watched him this spring, “but he looks like his power is gone.” Tuesday, Gonzalez hit an opposite-field homer that went out with the wind. “You work on little things here and there. Once you start getting closer, around 10 days, like now, you start getting more of a mental approach, trying to get into the mentality to compete,” Gonzalez said. “You stop thinking mechanics so much and just compete. That’s just kind of where I am at right now. I am trying to limit mechanics and look for a good pitch to hit and be aggressive.” Gonzalez said hitting coach Pat Roessler had him move his hands up on Continue Reading

Mets fans are right to have hope entering this season, no matter how many ifs surround team

PORT ST. LUCIE — This was the other day in spring training, at the point when the spring training days start to run together in the run-up to the season. Mickey Callaway, the new Mets manager, was talking about what it was like last October when he was the pitching coach of the Indians, what it had been like to game-plan against the Yankees in the postseason, even before the Yankees put Giancarlo Stanton in their batting order. And Callaway, who can talk about pitching with you all day, talked about how well the Indians did against Aaron Judge in that division series they ended up losing in five games, and how hard it was to pitch to guys like Didi Gregorius and Brett Gardner because of how many pitches they see. “Guys like that schooled us a little,” Callaway said. Then he grinned and said, “The fine line you walk is giving your pitchers the information they need without creating anxiety.” Now that Callaway manages the team across the city from the Yankees, he knows that the anxiety around the pitchers he has with the Mets doesn’t involve giving them too much information. It is simply keeping them healthy. Because if Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz and Matt Harvey – yeah, him, artist formerly known as the Dark Knight – do stay healthy, the Mets are going to be really good again. You always start here: In a city that loves baseball the way ours does, a city that saw a rising of the Mets in October of 2015 as they became the first New York team in six years to make the World Series and then saw the Yankees make a rising of their own last October before the Astros smacked them around in Games 6 and 7 of the American League Championship Series, the best season is one in which both the Yankees and Mets have a chance. That means even with the Yankees so often making more noise, and generally taking up most of the air. There are fewer questions about the Yankees, for sure, even as they Continue Reading

Mets should use caution with Jason Vargas and use the one-time ‘Five Aces’ rotation for start of the season

PORT ST. LUCIE -- Dust off the Five Aces posters from 2016 or '17. The day may finally have arrived when the Mets' five pitchers, formerly known as all aces, will be in the same rotation for at least one turn. With Jason Vargas having surgery to remove the hamate bone from his right, non-pitching, hand Tuesday, it is shaping up for the first time to have the Big Five, as they were once called, in the same rotation. Zack Wheeler is slotting into Vargas's spot for the final week of spring training and should be joining the other highly-touted one-time top pitching prospects -- Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey and Steven Matz -- in the rotation for the first time. Mickey Callaway says Mets lefty Steven Matz showed ‘conviction’ But Sandy Alderson wasn't all that sentimental about the one-time Fab Five getting together. "Me personally, no," Alderson said if it meant anything to see the one-time dream rotation together for the first time. "We're past that. It's about winning games and being competitive." The Mets GM said all winter that the key to winning games and being competitive in 2018 was the health of his rotation. In fact, that's why Alderson smartly went out and signed Vargas last month as insurance against the injuries that have plagued theses five hard-throwing pitchers. So, what's the rush with Vargas? Mets' Jason Vargas hoping for quick recovery from hand surgery Monday, the Mets were not ready to rule out Vargas for the start of the season, despite the fact that he will have surgery just nine days before Opening Day. Technically, even if the Mets put Vargas on the disabled list to start the season, they could get through the start of the season without a fifth starter and let him slot in during the second turn through the rotation. "We haven't determined that yet, right now we're trying to kind of evaluate what's kind of going on and where Continue Reading

Mets pitcher Jason Vargas hoping for quick recovery after surgery to repair fractured hand

PORT ST. LUCIE — Jason Vargas stood on the bullpen mound Monday morning next to Dave Racaniello. The veteran lefthander, who will have surgery to remove the fractured hamate bone in his non-throwing right hand Tuesday, waited for the catcher to throw the ball back to Racaniello and have it placed in his glove so he could pitch it back to him. Vargas is eager to keep his throwing arm strong and keep up with his pitching progression, but Monday’s modified bullpen session made it obvious he will miss at least a few regular-season starts. The Mets announced he will begin throwing five days after surgery, but Vargas admitted he did not know how long before he will be able to use his glove hand. An injury that is more common among hitters, the usual recovery time is six to eight weeks. “Hopefully not. It’s all going to depend on how things go post-op, but the word is that I should be able to get back to throwing in about five days after surgery, that’s definitely a positive that I won’t have to be shut down and rebuild the throwing program,” Vargas said Monday after his side session. Zack Wheeler, who will slide into Vargas’ rotation spot, threw a simulated inning Monday morning. He threw 18 pitches, faced Dominic Smith three times and Gavin Cecchini twice as a tune-up for taking Vargas’s scheduled Grapefruit League start on Thursday. Wheeler, perhaps motivated by the Mets' signing Vargas and hearing rumors he would be sent to the bullpen, has pitched fairly well this spring. He struggled in his last spring start but was able to self-correct and finish well enough. He said Monday he has not been told anything about taking Vargas’ spot in the rotation and still feels like he needs to win a spot. “I am just going to continue to do the best I can,” Wheeler said after his simulated inning. “I haven’t been told anything. I am going to battle and try to win a spot best I can, all I Continue Reading

Jason Vargas’ looming surgery is further proof Mets made right move to get insurance for their starting pitching

SARASOTA — It’s a good thing the Mets got insurance for their pitching staff. They are going to need it now that lefty Jason Vargas will have surgery to repair a non-displaced fracture of the hamate bone in his non-pitching right hand. The Mets announced Sunday evening that Vargas will have surgery to remove the bone Tuesday in New York. They said he will “return to his throwing progression” five days after surgery. The injury is not to his pitching hand, but will affect him being able to use a glove and grip a bat, both of which he will have to be able to do before he can get into a game again. So, while it is ironic that Vargas, the 35-year-old pitcher the Mets brought in to protect against injuries to the rest of their rotation, went down, adding to their corps of starters is proving to be the right move. Zack Wheeler, who was upset at being the odd man out when Vargas was signed last month, is the Mets’ contingency plan, not that they would admit it Sunday. Mickey Callaway said that instead of pitching Wheeler in a minor-league game Monday, as had been announced, they would have him simulate one inning and then make the Grapefruit League start on Thursday. That was Vargas’ last scheduled spring start. Wheeler will now throw one inning. “We’re going to get him on Vargas’ day,” was all the Mets manager would say about the significant rotation hit after the Mets beat the Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium Sunday. While the Mets’ medical update was optimistic about the throwing program resuming in just five days, it is likely going to be a while before Vargas makes his debut at Citi Field. The hamate bone is more frequently associated with hitters being hit by a pitch, or as Wilmer Flores did in 2016, in a collision at the plate. Flores broke his on Sept. 10 and did not play again that season because of pain gripping the bat, eventually having surgery in October to Continue Reading

Mickey Callaway says Mets lefty Steven Matz showed ‘conviction’ in dominant outing against Astros

WEST PALM BEACH — Steven Matz is a believer — finally. The Mets lefty showed "conviction" Monday as he struck out nine in six innings of work against the Astros at the Ballpark of the palm Beaches. "Conviction," Mets manager Mickey Callaway said was what he liked of Matz's outing. "You saw it. Obviously the strikeout total was high, but that's maybe the best lineup he is going to face all year. That's a pretty potent lineup, and he went right after them. "That's what I thought was best about him today." Matz has been battling for a spot in the rotation this spring and started out slowly. He had allowed 10 earned runs, walked four and struck out one in 1.2 innings work over his first two starts. Since then, he has allowed four earned runs, walked four and struck out 16 in 14.1 innings work over three starts. Mets' Jason Vargas hoping for quick recovery from hand surgery "After the slow start I had, I put the work in and it is starting to pay off a little bit and starting to feel comfortable on the mound now," Matz said. Matz, who has struggled with injuries in his three seasons in the big leagues, was not finishing his pitches earlier this spring. One scout who has seen Matz's five starts said it looked like a bad habit he picked up last year before he was shut down to have surgery to move the ulnar nerve in his elbow. "He's corrected it well," the American League scout said. "He even got out of it a little bit his last start and self-corrected. That's a good sign." Matz had the edge over Zack Wheeler for the fifth rotation spot, but the injury to Jason Vargas will likely mean they both get to start the season in the rotation. Vargas' injury proof Mets made right move to get SP insurance Wheeler, who only pitched half a season after a two-year rehab from Tommy John surgery, still feels like he is battling for his spot. He will slide Continue Reading