Archive for March, 2009

Mets May Want to Rethink Their Bullpen Strategy

March 30, 2009

One of the drawbacks of looking for employment in New York City is that most of the time there is an ample supply of applicants who are vying for the same position as you. For Mets left-hander Pedro Feliciano, he is fortunate that he won’t be faced with such a dilemma. Glancing at the team’s active roster, the Puerto Rican-born reliever is listed as the only relief pitcher who throws left-handed. Feliciano, who will turn 33 by season’s end, has been with the club since 2002.

In 2006, the Mets began utilizing him in a much larger role, specifically as a left-handed specialist coming out of the bullpen. That season, his best thus far, he appeared in 64 games. Feliciano finished with a stingy 2.09 ERA and a W-L record of 7-2. The Mets were so impressed with his performance that they rewarded him with a heavier workload. The following season, he appeared in 78 games. In those appearances, he reinforced his durability as a strong reliever. However, the more the Mets leaned on the veteran left-hander, the more he began to struggle. In 2008, he appeared in almost ten more games than in 2007. With that, his ERA shot up from 3.09 to 4.05. In other key statistics such as on-base average against (.304 to .366) and slugging percentage against (.306 to .424), Feliciano experienced a significant rise in both.

It’s no secret that Feliciano is at his best when he’s pitching against left-handed hitters. Last season’s splits show a distinct contrast between hitters from both sides of the plate. Against lefties, he was able to command a respectable 2.76 ERA in which opposing hitters managed just .280 against him. Righties fared much better. They produced an impressive .453 batting average which led to a much higher ERA of 5.63.

Heading into the regular season, Manager Jerry Manuel feels comfortable carrying just one lefty, Feliciano, in his bullpen this season. Therefore, the veteran left-hander will most likely be his go-to-guy especially against hitters who reside from the left side of the plate. Having just one left-hander in the Mets bullpen may be a recipe for disaster. As history dictates, the more work Feliciano is asked to take on, the less effective he becomes. To combat this problem, Manuel has stated that he will carry right-handed “crossover guys,” who are successful pitching against both left and right-handed hitters.

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Can Anyone Put An End to All This Ollie Hoo?

March 27, 2009

After signing a three-year deal with the New York Mets in February, Oliver Perez did what any normal 27-year-old making $12 million a year would do. He went to Mexico and got fat. The Mets coaching staff up until now has been repeating the words, Serenity Now, as they try to address the recently disconcerting performances of two of their starting pitchers, Mike Pelfrey and John Maine. With manager Jerry Manuel being reduced to spewing epic movie references and uncontrollable bursts of laughter, his pitching coach has had enough. “I think he’s out of shape,” Dan Warthen said, speaking about Perez. “The arm is out of shape. He needs to start pushing himself a little more.”

Since the left-hander was brought over to New York in a trade, he has been every pitching coach’s pet project. When Rick Peterson was with the Mets, his advice to the fans was to just hop on and enjoy the ride. Former manager Willie Randolph followed suit by simply responding with, “That’s Ollie.” But Warthen projects himself as someone who doesn’t just pack up his tent when he senses the slightest storm up ahead. It seems as if he is in it for the long haul and will continue to make every effort to solve the riddle of Ollie Perez until it kills him. “Ollie’s a guy that has to repeat his delivery time and time again, with a lot of volume delivery-wise,” Warthen said.

It’s no surprise to Mets fans that their erratic left-hander has found himself in hot water as of late. On any given day, Perez is capable of walking the bases loaded. He’s even been known to cruise along for three innings and then suddenly find himself nine runs down in the top of the fourth. I have personally witnessed both sides of the spectrum. Last year, I went to a Mets game at Shea Stadium in which Perez was the starting pitcher. Six innings in and the damage was irreparable. I left, later learning that the final score was 14-1 in favor of the Pittsburgh Pirates. However, like most people, I like to stay positive. I did get to witness a well-disciplined outing in which the unpredictable left-hander was given the victory. He efficiently shut down the opposition helping the Mets to a much-needed victory down the stretch against the Florida Marlins.

There are two sides to every coin just as there are two sides to every story. The story for the Mets and their fans now is whether or not the southpaw will be ready to go on April 9th which happens to be his first start of the regular season. “We’ll find out,” Warthen said. “I certainly hope so. He’s set back probably at least 10 days,”

According to Manuel, There’s No Reason to Worry

March 25, 2009

“He should be fine,” Mets manager Jerry Manuel said. “I’m not overly or even concerned at this point.” Manuel was responding to questions regarding the state of his right-hander, John Maine. “There comes a time in Spring Training when pitchers hit a lull … usually at this time. Then you pick it back up. … I’m not concerned by what I saw,” he said. Those comments were in response to another one of his starting right-handers, Mike Pelfrey. As you can tell, Manuel doesn’t seem the least bit worried that two-fifths of his starting rotation may have to undergo a crash course in preparation for the regular season.

On Monday, Maine was called in to work on his day off. Pitching Coach Dan Warthen felt that the right-hander was shortening up his stride when delivering his pitches causing him to land too soon. “In the back of his mind, he was afraid to let go,” Warthen said. Maine has been accused of “babying” his arm since coming off of shoulder surgery. Since the beginning of spring training, Maine who will turn 28 in May, has fed the media’s craving for back page storylines with his blunt and often candid interpretation of his pitching performances thus far. His musings have even begun to create doubt in the minds of Mets fans who felt great confidence in their starting rotation heading into this season.

If the uncertainty surrounding Maine’s slow progression towards opening day isn’t cause for alarm, then having Mike Pelfrey’s lower left leg wrapped everyday since March 6th may also be nothing to fret about either. For the time being, it has been viewed as a minor inconvenience and according to Pelfrey will not force him to miss his up-coming scheduled start. “They told me I looked a little tired,” said Pelfrey. In 2008, the young right-hander pitched 200.2 innings. Experts cautioned the Mets coaching staff to keep an eye on him this season just in case the previous year’s workload was too much. Perhaps it’s a little premature to accuse last season’s totals to Pelfrey’s fatigue during spring training but you have to admit, it does make you wonder.

I guess I can’t blame Manuel for maintaining a level of calm. If I was stationed in Port St. Lucie, FL in mid-March with the sun blaring down on me all day and the temperature nearing eighty degrees, I would whistle on my way to work, too.

Anderson Has Earned His Tenure with the Mets

March 24, 2009

When you take a look at the Mets current roster you’ll notice that 34-year-old Marlon Anderson is listed as an outfielder. Funny thing is, he’s not much of one. When Anderson broke in with the Philadelphia Phillies organization in 1995, he was drafted as a second baseman. Then in 1999, the Phillies gave Anderson the role that led him to start at second base for three of the following four seasons, including one with the Tampa Bay Devils Rays in 2003.

During those four seasons, he averaged 142 games and about 499 at-bats. Anderson, who bats left-handed, is predominantly considered a contact hitter. He makes his living by pulling the ball down the first base line in hopes of getting an extra-base hit. With that type of ability, he went on to average 134 hits and 28 doubles in that time. Unfortunately for the Alabama native, the opportunity to start everyday began to expose him as a liability in the field. As his offensive production grew more consistent, his ability to play his position began to suffer. He averaged almost 15 errors a season which prompted teams to label him as a utility infielder.

For the next four years, he bounced around the National League playing full seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Mets respectively. After accumulating seventeen pinch hits with the Cardinals in 2004, Marlon began to embrace the art of pinch hitting. As part of the 2005 New York Mets under manager Willie Randolph, he was the go-to-guy in the clutch. One memorable highlight that season occurred during an interleague game with the Los Angeles Angels, when he tied the score in the ninth inning with an inside-the-park homerun.

Now, with a little more than nine years of major league experience under his belt, Anderson has gone through various transformations that have allowed him to settle into his role as a left-handed hitter coming off the bench. Last season, he was sidelined with a hamstring injury and this upcoming season, he is expected to finish out the final year of a two-year contract. With less than two weeks until opening day, Anderson seems as if he will definitely be there on April 6th. The question is, how long?

“That’s the most fun part of putting a team together — the bench,” Mets GM Omar Minaya has said.

For Minaya, Hernandez Has Always Been an Option

March 21, 2009

As the Mets inch closer and closer towards opening day on April 6th in Cincinnati, those who will round out their pitching staff are quickly coming into focus. With the recent departure of 22-year-old left-hander Jonathon Niese, who will be starting his season at Triple-A Buffalo, it almost all but assures the fifth spot in the rotation to veteran right-hander Livan Hernandez. But if you ask him, he will tell you that he’s not so sure.

“Nobody has told me. I’m still waiting to see what happens,” the 34-year-old right-hander said.

Perhaps the reason for the Mets’ hesitation in handing over the fifth-starter job to Hernandez is because when they signed the right-hander to a Minor League contract he was considered a third option. With the ineffectiveness of righty Freddy Garcia and the fact that Tim Redding, also a right-hander, will be opening up his regular season on the disabled list, Hernandez has become the team’s only option.

So far this spring, Hernandez has performed well. In 14.2 innings pitched, the most on the staff thus far, he has struck out seven batters and his five earned runs has produced a 3.07 ERA. However, in that time, he has surrendered 14 hits. GM Omar Minaya has always had a soft spot for the Cuban-born right-hander. Hernandez played under Minaya when he was the general manager of the Montreal Expos. Minaya was also interested in the right-hander during the 2007 off-season.

“Livan can give you innings; he can pitch in different roles,” Minaya said.

The Mets were looking to fill an opening in their starting rotation that year caused by the departure of left-hander Tom Glavine who had just signed as a free agent with the Atlanta Braves. Eventually, the team would go on to acquire lefty Johan Santana.

Wright Makes Executive Decision to Play in Final Round of Classic

March 20, 2009

The final leg of the World Baseball Classic commences this weekend at Dodgers Stadium. Sixteen teams have dwindled down to only four. Japan, Korea, Venezuela, and the United States have all earned the right to compete in the semifinal round. Two of those teams will then qualify to go on to the championship game scheduled for Monday night.

From the outset of the tournament, the on-going controversy has been whether or not major league players are being placed in harm’s way by participating. On Wednesday night, Mets David Wright fouled a ball off his left foot in a loss to Venezuela, 10-6.

“No problems, fouled a ball off, cracked a toenail. Other than that, things are good,” said Wright. “I probably would have played through it in the season.”

The All-star third baseman has maintained a business as usual approach and has confidently stated that he will continue playing for Team USA despite the injury to his toe. Wright also mentioned that if the Mets decide the best course of action for him is inaction, he will override that decision to fulfill his obligation to his country. His injury demonstrates the uncertainties that go along with allowing MLB players to offer their services for the tournament.

Just one night removed from the Americans’ come-from-behind win over Puerto Rico in which Wright was the hero, the slugger finds himself in an even more difficult situation. By opting to play hurt in what some consider just another exhibition-style game, Wright may have put himself at risk. What risk? Not placing his true obligation of playing for the Mets first. From a player’s standpoint, having your country’s name stitched across one’s chest is more endearing than a three-hour bus ride to Orlando.

Philadelphia’s Ace Is Faced with Some Bad Karma

March 18, 2009

Long before the start of this year’s spring training, the city of Philadelphia was in a state of ecstasy over their beloved Fightin’ Phils. They had just successfully captured their first World Series in more than a quarter-century by defeating the Tampa Bay Rays. After a long extravagant parade down Broad Street, Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins decided the best way to enjoy the festivities was to blurt out the first thing that came to his mind. Seizing the moment, he gave the baseball world a subtle reminder that even though the Mets have an ace on their staff, it still takes a whole team to win a championship.

Coincidentally, Philadelphia has an ace of their own: Cole Hamels. And like Rollins, the left-hander also has a tendency to be a tad loose-lipped. As a guest on a NY mid-day radio show, Hamels defiantly called his biggest rival, the Mets, “choke artists” for failing to make the post-season the last two seasons. Mets fans and players alike were not the least bit impressed.

With all the negativity that has been pointed towards the Mets by the Phillies these last few seasons, it was inevitable that Philadelphia was going to get a little taste of their own medicine. The reports coming out of Phillies’ camp most recently do not sound very promising. Hamels anticipated opening day start is currently labeled as a “long shot.” The left-hander has recently been complaining of tightness in his pitching elbow. Leaving nothing to chance, GM Ruban Amaro, Jr. had the 2008 Playoff MVP flown up north to the City of Brotherly Love to undergo an MRI. The results showed there was no structural damage. However, he was given an anti-inflammatory injection for the swelling in his elbow.

“I’ve always had just soreness in the back or elbow but it’s always gone away in a week to two weeks,” said Hamels. “Truly, I think it might have been more so, throwing too hard too soon.”

The 26-year-old left-hander’s words sounded eerily familiar to what Mets Johan Santana said caused his elbow to stiffen up. Santana accelerated his pre-season conditioning with the goal to participate in the World Baseball Classic for his native Venezuela. He was also advised to get a MRI on his elbow but in his case, it wasn’t necessary; the pain eventually went away.

The strange similarities between both pitchers’ uncertainties may have some experts scratching their heads. Could it be possible that the Phillies are that dark and disturbed that they would conjure up this scoop just to slight their self-proclaimed nemesis, the Mets? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Evans’ Future with Mets Is on Solid Ground

March 17, 2009

nickevans

It’s too bad the National League doesn’t allow for a batter to hit for the pitcher like in the American League. If that was the case, the Mets Nick Evans would most definitely fit in nicely at that position. In fifty games last season, Evans’ first season in the big leagues, the 23-year-old California native was called on to perform within many different roles. Whether it was a platoon in right field with the left-handed hitting Daniel Murphy, or backing up first baseman Carlos Delgado on his day off, or even coming off the bench as a right-handed pinch hitter, Evans never thought otherwise.

“I’m comfortable playing in the infield. I’ll play wherever they want me to play,” Evans told WFAN’s Steve Somers this past weekend. “Honestly, I’ve never played centerfield or right field,” he added. “That would be something I’d have to work on first.”

The fact that Evans is so versatile makes for an easier choice in April when the Mets organization makes its final decision about who will be included on their opening day roster. But for now, Evans has made sure to take advantage of the opportunities he has been given this spring. Since the start of the World Baseball Classic, each major league teams’ roster has become decimated. And because of this, players like Evans have been given more playing time.

When asked if the WBC was having a positive effect on his spring so far, he responded with a very enthusiastic, “Absolutely. Having [Carlos] Delgado go to the WBC, it’s been great for me getting playing time.”

Evans has been impressive thus far. In just a few weeks down in Florida, the utility player has already played in fourteen games in which he has amassed forty at-bats. He is second on the team with a .325 batting average. And his 24 total bases and 10 RBI lead the team in those offensive categories. In such a short time, Evans also has a grand slam to his credit which tied a game on March 9th against the Baltimore Orioles in the eighth inning. The Mets eventually went on to win, 9-8.

“It’s just one of those things,” Evans said, “where I’ve been fortunate to get some playing time here in the spring and make the most of it.”

Those who follow the team have already penciled in the young prospect as a member of the 24-man roster in April. However, Evans still seems unsure of what exactly his role will be as manager Jerry Manuel has had no mention of it.

“He hasn’t really told me much. Come out here and play everyday,” Evans replied. “Worry about hitting now and playing as much as I can.”

Delgado, Beltran, and K-rod Shine at the WBC

March 16, 2009

If you ask any Mets fan who the face of the Mets organization is, most of them would probably respond with shortstop Jose Reyes and third baseman David Wright. If you went further and asked who also is an integral part of the ballclub, the answer might be centerfielder Carlos Beltran or first baseman Carlos Delgado. It’s no coincidence these four players make up the core group of individuals that have been there for the team the last few seasons, day-in and day-out. These same players are also currently participating in or have been involved with this year’s World Baseball Classic.

Looking at their performances thus far in the tournament, Delgado has been the most impressive.

C Delgado PUR: 6 for 10, 3 R, 2 2B, HR, 3 RBI, SB, .600 BA

C Beltran PUR: 7 for 15, 3 R, HR, 3 RBI, SB, .467 BA

D Wright USA: 5 for 19, 2 R, RBI, .210 BA

J Reyes* DOM: 1 for 9, 2 R, .222 BA

* The Dominican Republic was eliminated in the first round. Therefore, Reyes was unable to participate in the second round of the tournament.

In pitching, Francisco Rodriguez has earned his country’s stripes.

F Rodriguez VEN: 3 G, 3.1 IP, 2 SV, 6 K, 0.00 ERA

N Figueroa PUR: 3 G, 5.0 IP, 4 K, 0.00 ERA

J.J. Putz USA: 2 G, 2.0 IP, SV, 0 K, 4.50 ERA

O Perez MEX: 2 GS, 0-1 W-L, 6.2 IP, 8 K, 9.45 ERA

When It Comes to Free Agents, Mets Get What They Pay For

March 14, 2009

“It’s still early,” Mets manager Jerry Manuel said after witnessing another unimpressive effort from 31-year-old right hander Tim Redding.

When the Mets signed Redding to a one year deal worth $2.25 million, he was being considered by the organization as a Plan B. Plan A was to bring aboard a right-handed starter with some post-season experience. Preferably a veteran, like Derek Lowe, who would not only give the Mets quality starts but who would also make sure his pitches stayed down in the strike zone thereby forcing batters to hit the ball on the ground. Lowe, who turns 36 in June, eventually signed with the Atlanta Braves for a four year contract worth $60 million.

Unlike Redding’s sub-par performances thus far, Lowe has been nothing but lights out. In his last appearance this past Tuesday, the Braves right hander threw four perfect innings while striking out six. For his efforts, he earned his second victory in just two chances. In seven innings combined this spring, he has given up only one run and has fanned a total of nine batters.

Redding, on the other hand, has his coaches scratching their heads and searching under their desks for some recourse. In his second appearance of the spring in relief of Johan Santana against the Florida Marlins on Thursday, the veteran right hander gave up nine earned runs three of those runs were for home runs. He currently has a 40.50 ERA so far this spring.

“At least I don’t have to face the Wolverines again,” Redding said.

Redding was alluding to a split squad game he participated in against the University of Michigan in which he gave up five hits and five runs in just 30 pitches of work. Despite Redding’s inability to get hitters out, the Mets won anyway.

Manager Jerry Manuel understands that there is still plenty of time before the start of the regular season for Redding to get himself straightened out. The Mets are counting on him to take on the role of fifth starter, a role that for a number of years has never been one of their strong points.

For further reading check out a previous post entitled, The Mets Are Seeing Red

Following the publishing of this post, the NY Post reported that the Mets are moving forward and placing Redding on the DL because of shoulder discomfort and lack of arm strength.