The Mets Spring Training Report: Volume 4

March 23, 2010

Pelfrey gave up 4 homers to the Nationals on Monday

All the discussions this spring about the young minor-leaguers, Reyes’ overactive thyroid, K-Rod’s pink eye, and Jason Bay’s arrival have overshadowed the fact that the 2010 Mets will live and die by the depth of their starting rotation.  Despite a glaring need for a number 2 starter behind Santana, Omar Minaya and the Coupons passed on Lackey, Pineiro, and Marquis and failed to make a trade for a Bronson Arroyo esq starter.  They believe that Big Pelf, Ollie, and Maine will all have bounce-back years and surprise the baseball world. 

So far this March, all three of those guys have had their ups and downs.  I guess the best thing you can say right now is all three are healthy.  Nevertheless, when Santana has a 9.00 ERA in three starts, Pelfrey has a 7.36 ERA in four starts, Oliver Perez has a 5.73 ERA in three starts, and John Maine has an 11.37 ERA in three starts, concern has began to rear its ugly head again. We’re getting to the point in Spring Training where results begin to matter a little bit, and its time to step it up. 

Makings matters worse were John Maine’s comments after he was roughed up last week to the tune of five runs against the Marlins. 

“I just wasn’t kind of that into it. It wasn’t good. It’s just I wasn’t all that prepared.”

Those comments are hard to swallow for a pitcher that has been injured the last two seasons on a team that has been nothing but a failure since 2006.  You were’nt that into it?  I could understand if this was a Yankee pitcher saying this, coming off a World Series Championship.  But a Met?  C’mon now.  

One positive is continuing to be Oliver Perez, despite a high ERA.  Two words that go together like Peanut Butter and Tuna Fish are Oliver Perez and consistency, but that has been the case this Spring as the south-paw is focused on throwing more strikes.

“I’m just trying to help the team out as much as possible,” stated Perez.  “Sometimes, you try to strike guys out and you get lost and lose your focus.  I’m trying to be more consistent in the strike zone and allow the defense behind me to make plays.”

I always go by the notion that you are what the back of your baseball card says you are.  Oliver Perez is not likely to revert back to his 2004 form when he lead the NL in ERA (bet you didn’t know that!)  He’s an inconsistent pitcher whose going to look brilliant one day, and horrible the next.  Can he match his 15 wins of 2007?  Possibly….but the best Mets fans can hope for is that he stays healthy and gives you that occasional gem and limits his horrendous outings.  I think 13-14 wins is a fair barometer for Ollie to hit this season. 

The Twins got the best of their former, and current Mets ace Johan Santana on Friday, but I wouldn’t be too concerned.  Spring Training has always been just a “feeling out” process for the lefty, and as long as he is healthy everything should be fine. 

“I’m not just going out there and throwing,” Santana said. “You’ve got to pitch and get people out for sure. But at the same time, I’m getting all my work in. I felt pretty good. I’m pain-free and that’s the most important part of spring training for me.”

With spots 1-4 pretty much carved in stone, the 5th starter race is heating up, but still appears to be in the hands of Jon Niese over the likes of Fernando Nieve and Nelson Figueroa.  It’s no secret that the Mets organization wants Niese to win the 5th starter’s job.  He’s young, a lefty, and has shown glimpses of stuff this spring that will get major league hitters out.  Fernando Nieve has been pretty good in limited starts for the Mets, but could also be used out of the bullpen which Niese probably couldn’t. 

Despite a brilliant spring so far, Nelson Figueroa has been a journey-man for a reason and it is unlikely he will win the job, even if he thinks he’s done enough to get another shot. 

“I think I’ve put up the numbers to deserve it,” Figgy recently told the New York Times.  “I don’t think I pitch like a 35-year-old on the way out.”   

Even though opening day is a mere two weeks away, I still think its premature to say definitely what the Mets should or shouldn’t do with the fifth starters job.  The best case scenario is Niese continues to progress and Nieve is put in the bullpen with the potential to take over if Niese falters.  I like Figueroa, mainly because he grew up in Brooklyn as a Mets fan and he is very versatile.  I just don’t think at the end of the day he will make the roster. 

According to Adam Rubin of the Daily News, “If Figueroa clears waivers, he can declare himself a free agent. Figueroa strongly indicated he would use that option, and would not remain with the Mets in the minors.”

Side bar:  Adam Rubin, who has been covering the Mets for the Daily News, will reportedly be leaving for his new gig at ESPNNewYork.com.  He will now cover the Mets for the website, which is set to launch in the first week of April.  

One name that is causing chatter in Mets camp is Hisanori Takahashi.  In 8 and 2/3 innings this March, Takahashi has let up zero runs and just three hits, while striking out an impressive nine batters. 

“What we have seen so far is he really has the ability to pitch and pitch with all his pitches,” Manuel said, in regards to Takahashi.  “He probably is our sharpest pitcher right now, as far as everything hitting where he wants it to hit.”

According to the Associated Press, Jerry Manuel recently said he would like to see Hisanori Takahashi start a game or two this spring. 

The former Japanese League star has been perfect, there’s no other way around it.  If he keeps this up, and is effective yet again in his first start later in the week, he has to be on the roster.  Can he be the fifth starter?  Maybe….Niese has options, and it wouldn’t hurt to send him to Triple-A for more seasoning.  But like I said earlier, the plan is for Niese to be in the rotation, and Takahashi used out of the bullpen. Nonetheless, there is still plenty of time for things to play out, and change, so it’s foolish to make any concrete projections at this point. 

Hoping to assist the starting rotation will be some new additions at Catcher, specifically Rod Barajas and Henry Blanco.  I loved the Barajas signing, mainly because he is notoriously great with pitchers and any help the rotation can get is a plus.  Barajas has just a .238 career batting average but hit 19 homers last season while driving in 71 runs as well.  You can’t beat the price that the Mets got him at and this will allow catching-prospect Josh Thole to start the season at Triple-A. 

Last year, Barajas also cut down 27 of 80 potential base-stealers.   Blanco is in the same-mold as Barajas, but doesn’t have as much offensive punch.  Nevertheless, it looks like Blanco will be the back-up catcher, replacing Omir Santos. 

A look into the bullpen will find the usual suspects- K-Rod, Feliciano, Bobby Parnell, and Kiko Calero?  Yes, the Mets signed a man with the name Kiko early in the Spring and i’m still trying to figure out why this guy wasn’t signed earlier.   Last season in 67 games for the fish, Calero had an ERA under two and had 69 strikeouts in 60 innings.   Opposing batters hit just .180 off him as well. 

Is there something I’m missing with this guy?

I won’t say, however, that Calero is lock to make the pen, as he only signed a minor-league deal and is behind schedule considering he signed so late.  The locks in a presumed seven-man pen are K-Rod at closer, Pedro Feliciano as the left-handed specialist, and righthander Ryota Igarashi who signed a two-year, $3 million deal in the off-season.  Igarashi hasn’t been all that impressive this Spring with an ERA over five in seven innings, but with his contract he is likely to make the 25-man roster. 

Adam Rubin reported over the weekend that Bobby Parnell and Sean Green both could be in danger of not making the Opening Day roster.  Both still have minor-league options remaining, so one, or both, could find themselves at Triple-A Buffalo to open the season.  Complicating the matter for Green is his big toe, which was injured on Saturday when the skin rubbed off.  According to Marty Noble of MLB.com, Green typically wears two pairs of socks to add a layer of protection when he pushes off, but didn’t wear that second pair of socks on Saturday.   Interesting….

In six relief appearances this Spring, Green has allowed five runs, three earned, on five hits with seven walks and four strikeouts in 5 and 2/3 innings.

With the struggles of Green and Parnell, that opens the door for the previously mentioned Nieve, as well as Jenrry Mejia.  I’ve told you in the previous editions of The Mets Spring Training Report how much the coaching staff loves Mejia  and how impressive he has been.  It is now looking like a strong possibility that Mejia ends up in the bullpen to start the season, as he has only allowed two runs and seven hits in 10 and 2/3 innings, striking out nine.

I don’t know whether or not it’s too soon for Mejia, but I am concerned that the organization doesn’t seem to have a definitive plan for him.  The Mets don’t need a similar situation to Joba Chamberlain and I think a long-term plan must be developed for him immediately.  He has the stuff to help the big-league club, but extra work in the minors and out of the New York spotlight can help him build more confidence whether it be as a starter or as the closer in Triple-A.

A report in the New York Post stated that Kelvim Escobar hopes to begin throwing this week, although he has yet to receive clearance from the team.  It is unlikely Escobar would be ready until May the earliest, but this is a step in the right direction for him.  It was thought a few days ago that he would be out for the entire season after the soreness in his shoulder had not gone away. 

A look around the NL-East will find some interesting stories brewing in the respective camps.  The Phillies don’t have much to worry about besides staying healthy, but a rebound year for Cole Hamels will go along way in Philadelphia repeating in the East.  After monster seasons in ’07 and ’08, Hamels struggled in 2009 finishing with an ERA of 4.32 and a record of 10-11.  With the addition of Roy Halladay, the pressure if off Cole, but the rest of the rotation is suspect so if Hamels falters again, look for a tight race in the NL East. 

A bounce-back year from Brad Lidge wouldn’t hurt as well. 

The team to look out for in my opinion is the Atlanta Braves, however.  Yes, they lost Javier Vazquez to the Yanks, but I still think they have the best rotation in the East, and maybe the entire National League.  Jair Jurrgens is a beast, and I expect Derek Lowe to be more effective than last season.  Tim Hudson is healthy as well, and the young Tommy Hanson showed what he is capable of last season.  In fact, I’d put Tommy Hanson up with Clayton Kershaw as my dark-horse Cy-Young candidates. 

The main story out of Braves camp, nonetheless, is Jason Heyward.  If you haven’t heard of this name by now, you’re not doing your homework.    The outfielder is only 20, but at 6-5 and 245 pounds he combined to hit .323 with 17 homers in the minors last season.  This spring, he has virtually forced his way into the major league lineup by demonstrating ”prodigious power, uncanny patience at the plate and instincts on the base paths beyond his years,” according to manager Bobby Cox. 

Chipper Jones shared in the excitement. 

“He’s the best talent I’ve seen in years,” said Larry.  “Bobby is going to give Jason every opportunity to succeed. If I had retired at the end of last year, I have no doubt that Jason Heyward would be hitting third this year.”

The Marlins did what they had to in the off-season, signing ace Josh Johnson to a four-year extension for roughly $39 million.  That is around the same amount that Zack Greinke got the year before he won the Cy Young.  Now the Marlins have Hanley and JJ locked up and can build a team around them.  Another name to look out for in 2010 is Chris Coghlan, who won the NL Rookie of the Year last season after hitting .321. 

Stephen Strasburg has immediately turned into the face of the Nationals, but was sent down to Double-A despite an impressive Spring thus far.  The Nats also bolstered their rotation with the signing of Jason Marquis, and will be much better than they were last season.  Washington received a devastating blow, however,  when the surgically repaired shoulder of Jesus Flores failed to heal in time, and the catcher is likely to start the season on the DL. 

Flores hit .301 in 93 at-bats last season, then had surgery to repair a torn labrum in September. The Nationals signed Ivan Rodriguez during the offseason partially as insurance in case Flores didn’t recover as quickly as expected.

Next week, in the last Mets Spring Training Report, I will update readers on all the position battles as the final 25-man roster will begin to finalize.  Will Ruben Tejada be the Opening Day Short Stop?  Who’s in Center Field?  Is Murphy still a lock for first base? 

It appears Mike Jacobs is the leading candidate for the final bench spot, and the Mets have also asked Jacobs to catch on a limited basis.  However, things can certainly change in a week as we’ve seen so far during Spring Training. 

Per Rich Coutinho of ESPN Radio, Ike Davis will be sent minor-league camp and will start the season at Triple-A.   In 25 at bats this spring, Davis hit .480 with three HR and 10 RBI.

Next week I will also give injury updates on Reyes and Beltran, as well as make my prediction for the Mets in 2010. 

As always, thanks for reading.


One comment

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