Opening Day: Grading the New York Mets in 7-1 Win Over Florida Marlins
It's Opening Day around baseball, and the New York Mets can finally put the disappointments of 2009 behind them.
Here's a look at how the Mets fared in their home opener at Citi Field, with letter grades for each of the players.
Alex Cora (B+)
Cora was given the nod at shortstop with Jose Reyes on the DL. He went 0-for-4 in the curtain-raiser at Citi Field with a hit-by-pitch and a run batted in.
He grounded out three times—once to the pitcher, twice to second base—and he was unlucky to line into an unassisted double play with the bases loaded in the fourth.
Cora narrowly missed dropping down a bunt on a 1-1 count on a suicide squeeze in the sixth, but he put the ball in play and scored Pagan on the infield groundout. He also flew out in the bottom of the eighth.
In the field, Cora robbed Cody Ross of a base hit when he went to his left to snare a stinging one-hopper. He stumbled getting to his feet, but he corrected his balance and made a strong throw to Jacobs for the out.
Luis Castillo (B-)
The top two in the Mets order, the two middle infielders in Jerry Manuel's defense, went a combined 0-for-8 with Castillo, like Cora, 0-for-4.
Castillo ground into a force out in his first at-bat, but his hustle down the line allowed him to beat the back end of the throw and avoid the 4-6-3 double play. His speed will be key at the front of the Mets lineup this season.
He drew a one-out walk in his second at-bat after falling behind 1-2, and he recorded the Mets' first stolen base of the year when he took off on the first pitch to Wright. The strong throw to second was on the money, but Castillo's speed allowed him to beat the tag.
He grounded out tamely to shortstop in his third time up, reached on the third Marlins error of the sixth inning on a ground ball to short, and he ground out again to end the eighth.
David Wright (A-)
Howard Johnson worked with Wright over the winter and the benefits manifested themselves straight away. He went 1-for-3 with a two-RBI home run, and a walk, and his swing looked very solid.
Josh Johnson missed his location down and away in the very first inning, and Wright capitalized, taking the belt-high cutter the other way for a two-run home run in his first at-bat of 2010. It marked the second consecutive home opener with a dinger for No. 5.
Johnson pitched him a lot more tentatively the next time up, aiming for the inside corner. Wright showed patience and drew a walk in the third, and he lined out to third on an 0-1 pitch in the fifth inning. It had "base hit" written all over it, but Jorge Cantu was nicely positioned to snag the drive.
Wright took another set of impressive cuts against Dan Meyer in the sixth inning, narrowly missing a pitch up in the zone before eventually lofting out to left. If this is his swing—and his approach at the dish in 2010—he's going to be just fine.
He did have an error in the eighth inning when he threw the ball away trying to throw out Ramirez. He made a great play to bare-hand the ball, but he never really had a shot at first. Jacobs could have came off the bag to block the ball, but it trickled to the dugout and Ramirez went into second.
Mike Jacobs (D)
With Daniel Murphy on the DL, Jacobs got the call to start the year at first base. It's only day one, but boy did he look overmatched. Sure, a lot of people do against Johnson, but Jacobs took some bad hacks.
He struck out weakly on a fastball away in the first inning, and he did the same in the third. The pitch ran away from the left-handed Jacobs, and he was unable to catch up to the 95 MPH heat. He finally put bat on ball in the fifth inning, but it was a broken bat jam shot that sent the ball straight up the chute.
In the field, Jacobs was fine, so put this 0-for-4 performance down to Opening Day nerves.
Jason Bay (A-)
“Welcome back to New York, Jason Bay,” was how the Mets PA announcer called Bay onto the field in the pre-game player introductions. Welcome, indeed.
Bay went 2-for-4 with a triple and a run in his Mets debut. He swung through a pair of fastballs in the first inning, but he rolled his top hand over on the following pitch and pulled the ball into left field.
He's a little bit of a free swinger, and with two out and runners on first and second in the third inning Bay fouled off a 3-2 slider away and a fastball up and in before swinging over a changeup for strike three.
Bay legged out the Mets' first triple of the year in the sixth inning when he shot a gapper to the wall in center field on a belt-high fastball. He scored the Mets' third run on Bay's sac fly later in the inning.
Bay played left field without any problems, and he almost had an outfield assist at second base on Cantu's double. We know the Mets have two cannons in the corner outfield spots, and Bay showed off his arm.
Gary Matthews Jr. (A)
Matthews was the surprise choice in center field for the Mets, with most people assuming Angel Pagan would get the start. He actually handled himself pretty well, especially on a windy day in the field.
He went 2-for-3 with a walk, two runs, and an opposite field double. His single to right to lead off the bottom of fourth was his first ever hit in a Mets jersey after going 0-for -1 in his only at-bat as a Met in his first stint back in 2002.
His walk in the sixth inning knocked Marlins' starter Johnson out of the game after five-plus innings and 99 pitches, and his presence on the basepaths resulted in an error when Clay Hensley tried to pick him off at first base.
Matthews did the little things right, too. He advanced to second on a wild pitch and forced a throw from left field when he tagged up at third base.
Matthews tracked down at least four awkward fly balls in center field, and he dealt well with the wind in his first real test of the New York outfield. He also made good decisions on defense, choosing to throw the ball in to second base instead of trying to throw a runner out at third when he would have had no chance.
Jeff Francoeur (B)
The Mets right fielder had a solid, if uneventful day against the Fish. He went 1-for-2 with a walk, double, and two RBI.
After a groundout to third base and a five-pitch walk in the fourth, Francoeur gave the Mets an insurance run in the sixth inning, driving a changeup to straightaway center field for an RBI and sac fly to score Jason Bay.
Francoeur hit a two-out pop-up in the seventh inning, but Hanley didn't go back on it too well and the pitcher didn't cover second base. The ball blooped into shallow center field and Francoeur had a fortunate RBI double.
Rod Barajas (A-)
Barajas had a nice debut at Citi Field, going 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI. He looked uncomfortable in his first at-bat, going around on a changeup down and away, fouling off two fastballs, and missing a hanging breaking pitch, but he had a better approach at the plate after that.
Barajas popped up a fastball in the fourth inning, but no one took charge of it and it fell between three fielders behind the shortstop. He notched his first RBI of the year in the sixth inning when he took Clay Hensley's hanging breaking ball to center field over the head of Maybin for a double, but he struck out on a check swing in seventh.
He called a fantastic game for Santana behind the plate, and Mets fans will hope that the veteran tandem of Barajas and Henry Blanco will provide some offense in the bottom half of the order.
Johan Santana (B+)
Santana will be pretty content with the start. He gave up one run on four hits and a walk through six innings of work, striking out five on 103 pitches. He held the Marlins in check for the first five innings and surrendered the only run to Florida on a two-out 1-2 pitch to Jorge Cantu. It was their only extra-base hit.
His fastball looked sharp, but it was his changeup which really shined, especially early on. Santana changed the eye level of hitters, and he kept the Marlins off balance by changing speeds and moving the ball up and down the zone. He retired the first seven hitters of the game, but he needed 20 pitches to get out of the third inning and 23 to get out of the fourth.
After a 12-pitch fifth inning, the Marlins had managed just two hits—both singles.
Santana's strength came from finishing his pitches, causing his changeup to sink at the end. He struck out Cameron Maybin on it three times—in the first, fourth, and sixth innings—but he also seemed to telegraph it at times during the middle stages of the game.
Similarly, the Marlins may have picked up something on his delivery out of the stretch, because two Marlins (Hanley Ramirez and Chris Coghlan) stole second base. In 2009, Santana only allowed two total stolen bases the entire season.
The victory was his third straight Opening Day victory in a Mets jersey.
Angel Pagan (B)
Pagan, pinch-hitting for Santana in the sixth inning, gave the Mets a 5-1 lead with an RBI single to center field on the first pitch against Hensley. The pitch was up and away, and he didn't try to do too much with it, lining it back up the middle. He then stole a base and went to third on an error on the pickoff attempt that ended up down the first base line.
He will see a lot of time in center field platooning with Matthews while Beltran is out, so he could be a key in the first few months of the year.
Fernando Nieve (B+)
Nieve came on in the seventh inning in relief of Johan Santana with a 6-1 lead. In an indication of his likely role for the season, Nieve pitched two innings of shutout ball. He gave up a double and an infield single, and his slider looked sharp, especially to righties.
Francisco Rodriguez (B+)
Facing the six, seven, and eight hitters in the non-save situation, K-Rod induced a ground out and two fly balls to center to end the game. I'm glad he got an appearance under his belt, and he looked very strong. He's the crucial part of an otherwise hit-or-miss bullpen, so his contributions will be huge throughout the summer.
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