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Terry Collins' handling of young pitchers could determine future with Mets

Mets manager Terry Collins takes the ball from

Mets manager Terry Collins takes the ball from starting pitcher Jonathon Niese during the seventh inning of a game against the Colorado Rockies in a at Citi Field on Monday, Sept. 8, 2014. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Terry Collins shook his head at a touchy subject, one that might dictate whether he sticks around for a fifth season in the Mets' dugout.

With the team building around a core of young arms, protecting them has become his most important job. But he recently spoke publicly about team guidelines that call for limiting pitchers to fewer than 330 pitches in any three-start span, a policy that he himself often has overlooked.

With his fate already up in the air, Collins' management of the Mets' most precious resources has spawned hints of displeasure from some voices within the organization.

"Yeah, that was a big mistake," said Collins, who on Monday night lamented discussing the guidelines. "Big mistake."

Within the last week, reports have emerged that Collins' future could be tied to the way he manages the workloads of his young pitchers.

One Mets official insisted Monday that "there's nothing" to the notion that Collins is under fire for his tendency to push his young pitchers. But another team insider pointed out that the manager's fate remains an open question, and that openly discussing the 330-pitch guidelines left Collins more vulnerable to criticism.

During a session with reporters before the Mets' walk-off 3-2 win over the Rockies Monday night, general manager Sandy Alderson did not directly address the reports speculating on the future of Collins, who has one year remaining on his contract.

But Alderson did speak about the team's efforts to manage workloads. "There won't always be perfect agreement among all of us as to what's right and wrong," he said. "But I think by and large, they've done a very nice job."

Collins has spoken often about the value of pushing young pitchers deeper into games in hopes that they learn from the experience. Alderson said he can see the benefits, but he also sees reason to exercise some caution.

"There's a certain amount of judgment that has to be exercised," Alderson said. "It depends on the outing and exactly who's pitching and what you're trying to achieve. But sometimes it makes a lot of sense to bring a guy out one more time and sometimes it doesn't."

With the season winding down, Alderson said it has become "doubly important" to be vigilant about pitch counts to ensure that the team's young arms stay healthy for next season.

Zack Wheeler, the 24-year-old righty who frequently has gone over 330 pitches in three-start spans, already has logged a career-high 170 1/3 innings. Jacob deGrom, 26, has pitched a career-high 157 2/3 innings.

To help space out starts, pitching prospect Rafael Montero will start Wednesday night, temporarily giving the Mets a six-man rotation.

As for the 330-pitch rule for starters, it appears that the guidelines will remain in place.

"It certainly makes sense and it's a reminder from outing to outing of the importance of at least monitoring the [workload]," said Alderson, who noted that the guidelines stemmed from the Mets' field staff. "It's not a hard-and-fast rule but it's something to be mindful of, and I think that's the basis for it."

Not that Collins seemed eager to discuss it. "From now on, it will pertain to no one, I can tell you that," he said. "They're all right now under a watchful eye from the veterans on down."

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