Despite Setback, Pitching Coach Confident with His Options

March 2, 2009

“If we stay healthy, we should win a lot of games,” said Mets Pitching Coach Dan Warthen during a recent interview with WFAN’s Mike Francesa.

Warthen may have sounded optimistic then, but several days after the interview, he learned that there was a possibility that the ace of his staff, Johan Santana, might experience a delay in his return to the rotation due to tightness in his pitching arm. The Mets organization has not jumped to any conclusions, but they have recommended that the elbow be examined in New York if the soreness persists. After completing a short bullpen session on Sunday, the outcome was positive and the left-hander has been green-lighted to resume his regular preparations in Port St. Lucie, FL.

At the start of this season’s training camp, the major concerns for the Mets were centered on the health of their second baseman and the durability of their corner outfielders. Fortunately for the organization, those issues have become less of a factor. However, the latest news regarding the state of their pitching staff, specifically the starting rotation, has become very unsettling.

With the recent turn of events, GM Omar Minaya should still feel confident heading into the season. For one, he has a strong pitching coach in Dan Warthen. Additionally, he has plenty of viable arms should Santana’s current situation become worse.

“We have a lot of options out there,” Warthen said. “We went out and signed Tim Redding and certainly he’s got to be right at the top of the lineup as long as he is healthy. We also have a young Jon Niese, Livan Hernandez, Freddy Garcia is throwing the ball pretty decently at this point in time, and there’s a little guy by the name of Dillon Gee that has opened everybody’s eyes around here.”

Gee, a 23 year-old right hander listed at 6’1”, has been with the Mets organization since they selected him in the 21st round (663rd overall) of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of Texas-Arlington. In four starts for Double-A Binghamton last August, he went 2-0 with a 1.33 ERA. This past winter, he had ten starts for Puerto Rico in which he had a 4-0 record. In 48.2 innings pitched, Gee struck out 43 batters and surrendered only 12 earned runs. He finished with a 2.22 ERA.

“He‘s going to be on our radar all year long,” Warthen said. “This guy is something special.”

The Mets have not offered any indication as to which of these noted candidates has secured the fifth starting job with their rotation. “We have five guys that are really vying for that number five slot and five guys going for that extra bullpen spot in that sixth or seventh inning,” Warthen said.

“We have some tough decisions to make,” he added.

One decision that came easy for Warthen was to have right-hander John Maine, who is recovering nicely from off-season surgery, to initiate the curveball into his current repertoire. “John is known to throw a high fastball,” Warthen said. “We want that pitch that has the same look that comes out of the hand the same way but with a big break to it with a huge speed variance.”

If Santana is unable to make his projected opening day start, the Mets could opt to hand the job over to Mike Pelfrey. When asked to comment on the emerging right-hander’s reaction to a heavier workload this season, Warthen responded, “When you watch him pitch, he looks like he’s in a rocking chair. He’s out there nice and easy, good long strides. He uses he legs, his back. He uses his body perfectly as a pitcher.”

Since Warthen took over as the Mets’ pitching coach, he has devoted the majority of his time trying to straighten out the erratic performances of left-hander Oliver Perez. “Here’s a dedicated kid that had a wild streak in him,” Warthen said, “pitching-wise and lifestyle-wise. He’s turned the corner.” Let’s hope this is true for the rest of the team as well.

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