On the Mets' hopes for Hefner and Gee

Jeremy Hefner. (MLB.com)
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The Mets have been quite successful this season when Matt Harvey or Jonathon Niese starts for them.

When anyone else does, look out.

The Mets are 5-0 in Harvey starts, and 8-2 in Harvey/Niese starts. 

The Mets are 2-8 in games started by Jeremy Hefner, Dillon Gee, or the now-departed Aaron Laffey, following Thursday's 3-2 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

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And yet: there have been encouraging signs in Hefner and Gee's recent starts.

On Thursday, Hefner allowed a single run over seven innings. And Gee, in his last start on Sunday, pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings.

"If we get some consistent outings like Dillon and Hef have given us here, we’re going to be in much better shape," manager Terry Collins said during his post-game press conference Thursday.

There are reasons not to get too excited yet.

Hefner will never succeed in overpowering anyone--he is a command pitcher. One reason for optimism about him in 2013, despite an unsightly 5.09 E.R.A. in 2012, was that his peripherals suggested he was better. He walked just 1.7 batters per nine innings, compensating for a pedestrian six strikeouts per nine. His x.F.I.P. was nearly a run lower, at 4.21. That's not great, but it suggests a useful swing man.

As for Gee, his half-season in 2012 produced a decent 4.10 E.R.A., but the real reason he appeared to make progress as a pitcher came from his improved peripherals as well. In 2011, he walked 4 per nine, struck out 6.4 per nine. In 2012, he walked just 2.4 per nine, with his strikeout rate climbing to an excellent 8 per nine. Accordingly, his x.F.I.P. was 3.54, a bit better than Jonathon Niese's 3.64.

So far this season, both pitchers have suffered mightily in both areas. Hefner's walk rate has tripled, to 4.7 per nine; he's at rough walk/strikeout parity. Gee's peripherals so far have returned to 2011 rates, at 3.7 walks per nine, 6.4 strikeouts per nine.

Gee's Sunday start, at least, was mostly encouraging. Through five innings, he didn't walk a batter while striking out six. However, he lost the thread completely in the sixth, walking three in the inning while throwing a wild pitch.

Hefner's results were solid in Thursday afternoon, but how he got there was odd for him: he walked three, hit another batter, and threw just 56 of 93 pitches for strikes.

Nor was this an example of a patient team exploiting Hefner. Juan Uribe drew all three walks, two of them as a leadoff hitter in an inning. That is the same Juan Uribe who walked a total of 13 times in 179 plate appearances for all of 2012.

Gee is scheduled to pitch Friday against the Phillies, and build on his Sunday start. Seeing how well he limits walks against the Phillies will be especially interesting. They are like an entire team of Juan Uribes, having already endured a streak of four games without drawing a single walk, something just four National League teams have done since 1935.

Gee and Hefner aren't Aaron Laffey, who was essentially a lost cause before he ever started for the Mets. Both pitchers can help, and the Mets need them to, with Zack Wheeler still mastering Triple-A and little other help available.