Mets Generation K 2.0 Rotation Ready 'To Win World Series, Not Just Get There'

Scott Miller@@ScottMillerBblNational MLB ColumnistMarch 10, 2016

JUPITER, FL - MARCH 01:  Pitchers (L-R) Bartolo Colon, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler pose for photos during media day at Traditions Field on March 1, 2016 in Port St. Lucie, Florida.  (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
Marc Serota/Getty Images

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Look at them.

Far end of the New York Mets spring clubhouse, short row of lockers, crawling around like scorpions in a box. The most lethal rotation in the game, just waiting to sting someone.

There's Matt Harvey, unleashed from last year's innings limit. There's Jacob deGrom, all hair and deception. At the locker next door, Noah Syndergaard, as if he isn't dangerous enough already, is polishing the new weapon he started throwing in last fall's World Series.

"Cutter, slider, depends on what day it is," Syndergaard tells Bleacher Report.

End of the row, whiz kid Steven Matz, baby-faced assassin, all of 24, six whole regular-season starts on his resume. Next to him, Zack Wheeler, who didn't even factor into last year's runaway success story. The Tommy John rehab is entering its end stages, and Wheeler hopes to return to the rotation by July.

Yes, with a bit more growth, learning and depth, baseball's best rotation will be even better in 2016.

"I don't think we all reached our potential yet," Wheeler says during an early-morning conversation. "We all throw hard so we can get away with certain things.

"But we can get better by throwing a slider here or front-hipping a two-seamer to a left-hander.

"It's something I've learned from watching Bartolo [Colon], throwing a front-door slider to lefties."

Bartolo Colon
Bartolo ColonSteve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Ah, yes, Bartolo Colon. He's back as Wise Old Sage, dispensing advice to these kids and continually leaving everyone wide-eyed with his straight-out, uptown funky repertoire of athleticism usually foreign to chubby, jolly men over 40.

"You can learn something from each guy," Harvey, who turns 27 on March 27, says. "The core four or five of us, you can pick up something from each of them. Mechanically, I always watch them—and Bart, too.

"One thing I always pick up from Bart is the fun that he has. And how loose and relaxed he keeps it."

Together, there are more reasons to believe in the Mets this spring than there are palm trees in Florida. And as far as whether this collection of kids can live up to what already are enormous expectations, the way they handled the Chicago Cubs and the World Series pressure in October is a pretty good indicator of how they will handle what's just up ahead this summer.

"I think so," pitching coach Dan Warthen tells B/R. "I think some people might believe these guys would come in overconfident, maybe a little bit lackadaisical, and it's been just the opposite.

"Everybody has come in ready. They feel that they want to win the World Series, not just get there. They've got that year under their belt, they know how good they are, but they realize that the other teams are going to be expecting that and they're working hard and expecting a lot more out of themselves than maybe even I do."

Harvey, the Dark Knight, went 13-8 with a 2.71 ERA over 189.1 innings in 29 starts last season, slamming, at the end, into controversy over his workload following Tommy John surgery. By the time the postseason ended, he was at 216 innings, and this spring he thinks he's left the restraints behind.

Matt Harvey
Matt HarveyJohn Raoux/Associated Press/Associated Press

"I feel like last year I did a pretty good job at establishing my role in the rotation, establishing the confidence that [manager] Terry [Collins] has in me now, going out every fifth day and putting the team in position to win a ballgame," Harvey says. "I feel like that was step one right there.

"Now it's just being able to maintain the routine. Ever since I've gotten into professional baseball, the one thing everyone's been harping on is, establish a routine. When things start to spiral out of control you can always go back to your routine and it will put you back on track."

Considering this is a guy who already has started one All-Star Game (2013) and starred in one World Series, Harvey still appears like he's just getting started.

"I think we'll see [an] even better Matt Harvey this year," Warthen says. "You're going to see a full arm-strength guy, you'll see a more explosive fastball on a regular basis and he'll have his slider back.

"He didn't have his slider for much of last year. And he didn't have that second-gear fastball. I expect Harv to have a huge year."

Score that slider as one more extra weapon for Harvey this year, just like Syndergaard's cutter/slider (depending, as he says, on whether this is Thursday, Friday or whatever).

"I started toying with it last year, and then I started throwing it during the World Series," Syndergaard, 23, says. "It helped me in Game 3. It's a very unique grip. Dan showed it to me. It puts no pressure on the [finger] joints.

"It's the same one Harvey and deGrom throw."

Noah Syndergaard
Noah SyndergaardJeff Roberson/Associated Press/Associated Press

Says Warthen: "This kid has come on in leaps and bounds. His confidence is at an all-time high, and it should be. Because not only does he have the great arm, but he locates extremely well and has four pitches he can throw for strikes."

When deGrom starts, of course, the radar gun can take a breather. After Harvey and Syndergaard make it sizzle, along comes deGrom, who turns 28 in June, and his array of non-awesome individual pitches (fastball, curve, slider, sinker) that almost always add up to a whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts blockbuster.

"We're going to protect him as much as we can, give him the extra days, because he still wore out a little bit in September, October last year, which is understandable," Warthen says. "But we want to make sure, strength-wise, he stays solid all year long, keeps his arm in a good angle and works the ball in the bottom of the zone."

Jacob deGrom (left)
Jacob deGrom (left)Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Fact is, the Mets intend to protect each of their young starters every bit as much as they did last year, minus the 2015 six-man rotation. Make no mistake: If they need to spot-start someone to give everyone else an extra day of rest, that's on the table again this year, too. But just like last year, Warthen, Collins and general manager Sandy Alderson will be watching for potential frays in the fabric and make subtle adjustments on the fly.

The first of those tweaks was visible this week, when Matz (Monday) and Co. made their first spring starts one week later than normal. This, of course, is related to all of the extra pitches last October and the continued aftercare for the three of them who already have undergone Tommy John surgeries (Harvey, deGrom, Matz).

It is a point of pride for Warthen that a Mets starter threw more than 110 pitches in a game only "seven or eight times last year, which was remarkable because they were going seven innings."

The Mets will keep a sharp watch on pitches this year, hoping to limit each starter to 110 in a game and, more importantly, no more than 330 pitches over any three-start sequence.

Pitching coach Dan Warthen
Pitching coach Dan WarthenJeff Roberson/Associated Press/Associated Press/Associated Press

"We're already handling the spring differently," Warthen says. "We're starting these guys at later dates. We'll probably cut back on [spring] innings, but they'll still get their volumes up like they're supposed to.

"We'll discuss the rest of it. We have targets for each and every one of them. We'll abide by our targets but still adjust with what it takes in September and October to make sure we're all healthy."

Last year's late-comer, Matz, will get a formal unveiling in what should be his first full season. Crazy thing is, he made half as many postseason starts (three) as he did regular-season starts (six) in his debut last summer. In those six regular-season starts, he went 4-0 with a 2.27 ERA.

Those six starts were the third-fewest of all time for a man who started in that year's World Series, according to Baseball Prospectus, trailing only Joe Black in 1952 (two) and Marty Bystrom in 1980 (five).

"I think it's huge for anybody to experience that type of atmosphere," Matz says of October, in which he started a National League Championship Series game against the Cubs and Game 4 of the World Series against Kansas City. "In that setting, I don't care what happens."

Steven Matz
Steven MatzJeff Roberson/Associated Press/Associated Press

Time spent at Triple-A Las Vegas last summer maybe helped hasten his development, because the ball flies in the dry air and a pitcher must adapt and survive or end up on the desert floor as vulture food.

"I always liked pitching inside, but I took it to a new level there," Matz says. "Owning the inside part of the plate. You've got to open up that outer half of the plate."

Says Warthen: "He's kind of the dark horse here. He's healthy, he's throwing free and easy, and all three pitches are working great right now. I'm very excited."

Then there's Wheeler, who turns 26 in May and should arrive along about midsummer like a rocket booster and launch this crew to even greater heights. He was last seen in 2014, going 11-11 with a 3.54 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP in 32 starts.

"His stuff might be as sneaky, and more electric, than any of them," Warthen says. "Because his fastball's got that ease, kind of that whippy deGrom-type that just gets on top of you. He's got the great curveball, a changeup, and he's a guy who I think is going to be more determined than ever."

Wheeler, understandably, is excited about his return. "The first thing that comes to mind is, it's going to be fun," he says. "I was a fan watching these guys all last season, and it was fun watching them. To be able to be a part of it, it's going to be so much more fun.

Zack Wheeler
Zack WheelerJeff Roberson/Associated Press/Associated Press

"And you get to go compete against them."

As in, Harvey sets the tone one night, so let's see what you've got, Syndergaard, tomorrow, and then Wheeler will step in and see whether he can upstage them.

Internal competition leads to an even higher level of external competition. Scorpions, out of the box. Look out.

"They're all wonderful individuals," Warthen says. "That's the fun part. A lot of people should be envious of my job right now because they're all great kids, they all want to learn, they all want to go out and work hard and they're all great setters for the rest of the organization.

"The other people watch the way these guys work, and they understand what it takes to be in the big leagues."

Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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