Manuel's options limited in tinkering with Mets' lineup

Until the Mets start hitting better, Jerry Manuel's

Until the Mets start hitting better, Jerry Manuel's lineup shuffling won't make much of a difference, says Anthony Rieber. (Credit: Getty Images)

Anthony Rieber

Newsday columnist Anthony Rieber Anthony Rieber

Anthony Rieber has been at Newsday since Aug. 31, 1998

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After the Mets' 9-3 loss to the Cubs on Wednesday, David Wright was asked about manager Jerry Manuel's intended plan to shake up the team's lineup starting tonight. "I'm so tired of talking about the lineup," Wright said.

Sorry, David. You may be tired of it, but the manager isn't tired of thinking about it. Manuel reiterated Thursday night that he is looking to tinker, adjust, retool, whatever word you'd like to use, and plans to do it starting Friday night against the Braves.

He didn't change a thing Thursday night because the Mets were facing lefty Tom Gorzelanny. Manuel ran out the same batting order that couldn't solve Carlos Silva on Wednesday, the same all-righthanded 3-4-5 of Wright, Jason Bay and Jeff Francoeur.

It should come as no shock, then, that the Mets did not get their first hit until Ike Davis singled with one out in the fifth. And even though they put up five runs in the final three innings in a 5-2 win over the Cubs, Manuel said he will not let one game deter him from "mixing it up a little bit" tonight.

"Our hitting hasn't fully come around yet," he said after the game. "We're eventually going to have to start swinging the bats better to give us some room to do some different things."

Manuel may trot out something radical against Braves righty Kenshin Kawakami tonight. Jose Reyes or Angel Pagan in the three-hole? Bay second? Mike Jacobs cleanup?

(Just kidding about that last one. Manuel already tried the Jacobs/cleanup thing; predictably, it worked so well that Jacobs is now a Buffalo Bison. It was a significant misstep by Manuel, strike one against him in the 2010 lineup construction game.)

"I think a lot of managers, and I'm included, spend a lot of time tinkering, putting people in different spots," Manuel said. "In my office."

He was asked if the time he spends thinking about batting orders and the time we - fans, writers, people on line at Shake Shack - spend talking about them is equal to their importance when it comes to winning and losing. "Probably not," he said.

See, that's the problem for the Mets: Manuel can look over scouting reports and scribble different combinations on the back of a napkin and consult a Ouija board, but it won't matter much if he doesn't have the talent.

With Carlos Beltran months away, Reyes rusty, Wright and Bay striking out every five minutes and Francoeur going 24 at-bats without a hit, it's not as if he's choosing between Kobe beef and lobster tails.

Still, the Mets would be better off if Manuel used a few basic precepts from the statistical revolution in baseball, such as putting the players who get on base most at the top of the order.

Using Alex Cora and his .314 career on-base percentage as the leadoff man twice, as Manuel did in Reyes' absence, is a violation. And strike two.

Manuel's continued placement of Pagan and his Beltran Lite combination of power and speed in the eight-hole is strike three. (And any at-bat Gary Matthews Jr. gets at Pagan's expense would be strike four, although Manuel has corrected that one.)

For now, Manuel gets to keep swinging even if his average isn't too high. He floats interesting proposals; the latest one is batting Bay second.

Manuel thinks the $66-million leftfielder will see more fastballs hitting behind Reyes, assuming Reyes reaches first base more often than he has so far (.273 OBP going into Thursday night).

"I don't like all those changes," Manuel said. "But at the same time, you have to find something that fits and they respond to."

He has a habit of sending out little thought bubbles and letting them fall to the ground without any action. But he's going to do something. It's just not clear whether it matters if he does.