For most of the season, Mickey Callaway and pitching coach Dave Eiland have been quietly waging a fight within the organization to upgrade the Mets’ defense. It has been an uphill battle.
Improving the defense cannot happen overnight, but it better change before next season.
“If you are going to build a team around pitching, you better value defense,’’ one scout said Tuesday night. “The Mets better start valuing it.’’
When Callaway was asked about the importance of defense throughout the organization, the manager spelled out what must be done moving forward.
“I think with who we have on the mound in our organization, I think defense needs to be paramount,’’ Callaway said on a night the Mets played solid defense and beat the Giants 6-3 at Citi Field.
“We’ve seen when we play good defense, we win games. [Monday] night we didn’t play great defense in one inning and we end up losing the game because of it.’’
Callaway strongly believes in defense, but does the rest of the organization? Will the new head of baseball operations value defense?
“If we are going to lean on our pitchers to carry us to where we need to be, I feel like everybody in the organization is starting to understand that our defense needs to improve,’’ Callaway said. “When you are trying to develop people, you are not developing a one-faceted player, you have to value defense just as much as hitting, just as much as bunting, just as much as taking a secondary [lead], you have to evaluate every part of that player to make him a winning player.
“If you don’t, then things are going to be left by the wayside and it’s going to cost you games.’’
The Mets staged a late rally Tuesday night scoring two runs in the seventh and four in the eighth; three of those eighth-inning runs came on a Michael Conforto home run. Conforto, who has been given Yoenis Cespedes’ locker, drove in four runs. Rookie second baseman Jeff McNeil had his second four-hit game since being called up July 24.
McNeil has worked hard on improving his defense.
“I’ve been working on being quicker, and I know I’ve really improved over the last three weeks,’’ he said.
On Monday night the Mets lost 2-1 to the Giants in 13 innings when shortstop Amed Rosario dropped a pop-up as inexperienced left fielder Dom Smith ran into Rosario.
Also in that inning rookie reliever Tyler Bashlor made an errant pick-off throw to first base. The Giants scored their first run when an opposite field pop-up double fell to the turf in left because the Mets had a shift on Alen Hanson.
Callaway admitted Tuesday that the fielders have a starting point for the shift, but can make adjustments as the game goes along depending upon what is happening. Rosario was still pinched up the middle on the play in question. So not only does the pure defense has to improve, reading the defensive situations must improve as well and players cannot be afraid to make changes off what they see.
The Mets have had serious defensive lapses often this season, sometimes on the easiest of plays, overthrowing a cutoff man, throwing to the wrong base, making the wrong read. Not getting in the proper position to make a play.
This is a combination of mental and physical mistakes they must learn to overcome, and Callaway is well aware of all the shortcomings. Player development must improve throughout the organization.
Callaway and his coaches have been holding defensive tutorials throughout the season with his major league players and they have had deep discussions within the organization to improve the teaching of defense throughout the organization so players are more prepared when they get to the major league level.
“All season we’ve really concentrated on prepping guys with pregame routines, focused on defense,’’ Callaway said. “We’ve been out there a lot working on fundamentals and getting better and better.’’
Soon after he spoke, Callaway’s coaches were running players through defensive drills instead of early batting practice, including hitting fly balls to Smith and Conforto.
Defense really matters.
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