New York Daily News John Harper columnJune 14, 2018 2:16pm

June 14--If Mickey Callaway expects his players to take anything he says seriously ever again, he needs to bench Jay Bruce for lollygagging in the outfield on Wednesday, allowing Ender Inciarte to turn the most routine of singles into a hustle double.

After all, the manager had a team meeting only about 10 days ago to address exactly these sorts of careless mistakes, calling his players out for "not playing the game the right way."

And then a day later Bruce vowed to do better after failing to call off Luis Guillorme on that pop-up the Cubs turned into a 180-foot sacrifice fly.

So let's start there with the manager. At the very least the perception is that his players aren't listening to him, and even if that's not the case he needs to send a message right now to make a point.

From day one, Callaway has made accountability a point of emphasis, but it's one thing to bench Dom Smith for showing up late in spring training and quite another to sit down a respected veteran, no matter how badly he's hitting, by the way.

Don't get the wrong idea, here. Obviously this Mets' crash-and-burn is about a lot more than the manager holding a player accountable for a lazy play, and indeed the big-picture problem has a lot more to do with the roster that GM Sandy Alderson assembled -- as he admitted on Tuesday.

Still, as mistakes small and large have added up, especially over the last couple of weeks, it's getting harder and harder not to think that Callaway is in over his head as a first-time manager.

The reference to the pressure of New York, as opposed to Cleveland, a couple of weeks ago revealed a lack of sophistication in not knowing that such a comment would be perceived as a sign of weakness by fans and media.

Likewise, Callaway made another recent reference to the huge salary the Mets are paying the injured Yoenis Cespedes, which is not only rare for a manager but could be interpreted by players as carrying water for the front office.

The unwillingness to offer a direct answer to a yes or no question about whether Asdrubal Cabrera bunted on his own in that loss to the Orioles last week, that also made the manager look unsure of himself, as if afraid to say the wrong thing.

Then there was Tuesday night, when Callaway was ejected for the first time, but then gave the impression he wasn't part of the decision-making process about when to take Zack Wheeler out of the game. If that was truly the case, his inexperience showed badly again in not finding a way to relay the decision to his coaches, as most every manager does after being ejected.

Finally, he has made his share of curious bullpen moves. Saturday night Callaway said he'd decided that Robert Gsellman was best suited as a one-inning reliever, then Sunday night he left Gsellman in for two, essentially saying the pitcher talked him into it.

As for Wednesday, I have to respect his opinion if he truly thought "stressful innings" were taking a toll on Jacob deGrom after seven innings and 86 pitches, and I know he's trying to find spots for Jerry Blevins to pitch his way back into the mix as a lefty specialist. But how does he leave him in to face Freddie Freeman, a guy who was 11-for-22 against him?

That's no small sample size for a reliever and, sure enough, Freeman took Blevins deep on a hanging curve ball, adding a potentially vital insurance run in the Braves' 2-0 win.

From the start, I've tried to see the best in Callaway. As unsophisticated as he sounded at his introductory press conference, saying he was going to love players as they've never been loved before, I sat down with him a few times over the winter and found him to be much more impressive talking baseball in such settings.

I presumed he'd get more comfortable in press conference settings, but it really hasn't happened, and that is contributing to a perception that he's not secure in his decision-making.

However, I'm not sure it's that so much as Callaway is always mindful that from the start his bosses have wanted him to be something of the anti-Terry Collins behind the microphone, careful not to offer too much information, not to mention colorful opinions.

With that in mind, the Collins video that went viral the last day or so, capturing his every coarse word via an umpire's mic as he got tossed for arguing about a Noah Syndergaard ejection in 2016, isn't such great timing for Callaway either.

Not that it was a surprise to hear Collins make such an impassioned argument. That's who he was, never afraid to show his emotions in good times or bad -- but what made him so angry, that the umpires didn't allow the Mets a retaliatory pitch for Chase Utley's dirty slide in the 2015 NLDS, did offer a reminder that Collins knew the ins and outs of the way the game is played in the big leagues.

So far the jury is out on whether Callaway has that same feel for situations, for dealing with players.

That's always the danger in hiring someone with no managing experience, especially a pitching coach who specialized in one facet of the game.

And while fellow first-timer Aaron Boone is making it look easy in the Bronx, let's be honest, that's largely the result of having a team overflowing in the kind of young talent that is lacking in Queens.

To be fair, Callaway looked awfully manager-esque when the Mets were 11-1, his hitters were showing fight and his relievers were making him look smart. So this isn't to say he can't learn from mistakes and grow into the job.

In fact, he can take steps in that direction by trusting himself to say what he believes he should say after games, and not just what his bosses want to hear.

Also by benching his right fielder.

Because if Callaway isn't going to act in a way that backs up his talk about playing the game the right way, his players may not hear another word he says.

___

(c)2018 New York Daily News

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