Posts Tagged ‘Bullpen’

It’s Not a Hill; it’s a Mountain, as the Mets Start Their Climb

April 8, 2009

Just a short walk north from Great American Ballpark, the Cincinnati Reds’ home, there is a casual little eatery named Paula’s Café with a home-style atmosphere that serves up mostly breakfast and lunch. When the Reds are in town, it caters to the hustle and bustle of the downtown vicinity as well as the out of town baseball fan who is trying desperately to flee an early April-like storm. That would be me.

As long as anyone can remember, there has always been an Opening Day game in Cincinnati. And, just as long, there has been a parade which runs across Walnut Street to the tune of high school marching bands decked out in a sea of red. Prior to the start of Monday’s day game between the Mets and the Reds, a small group of us barreled down I-71 South from Columbus inside a driving rainstorm that seemed to get worse with every successful lane change. Eventually, we ended up inside a parking garage adjacent to Pete Rose Way and made our final descent towards the stadium. Regardless of the weather, we were set on seeing a baseball game.

During the seventh-inning stretch, well after the Mets’ Daniel Murphy had blasted a solo shot into left field which put the Mets up, 1-0, reliever Sean Green slapped the choke-hold on the Reds hitters cutting off any chance of a rally and reducing the hometown fans into sullen mockery throughout the reciting of God Bless America. The following two innings were then headlined by two of the newest members of the Mets’ bullpen, J.J. Putz and Frankie Rodriguez. They followed Green’s lead. Overall, the Mets relievers retired 10 of 11 hitters to allow for Johan Santana’s first win of the season. “They deserve all the credit,” Santana said. “That’s when the game was won.” For Rodriguez, he earned his first save as a Met, with more to come.

Others, such as Jose Reyes did their job as well. In the top of the first inning, Reyes got on with an infield hit, stole second, moved over to third on a fielder’s choice but was left stranded after David Wright struck out swinging. Wright redeemed himself later in the game with a brilliant defensive play at third in which he snagged a laser-beam hit by the Reds Alex Gonzalez and then rose to his feet to complete the play for an out. Left-fielder Ryan Church, who seems to be playing for his life these days since the recent acquisition of veteran Gary Sheffield, made an outstanding play in which he slid and secured the ball, then came up firing to gun down Edwin Encarnacion for a double play. However, the main event for the Mets was their bullpen.

“Our bullpen may be one of our best assets,” David Wright said. “They were lights-out the first game of the season.”

For GM Omar Minaya, who was instrumental in orchestrating the significant trades and free agent signings that went into acquiring about a third of the relief core, he was proud of their success.

“It’s the way you want it to work, the way you draw it up in January,” Minaya said.

As for Jerry Manuel, he can relax for at least one night and enjoy a bowl of Skyline’s signature chili. “We pitched well and played good defense,” he said. “We could have done more with the bats.”

Of course, for me, I would have liked it if the weather had been a bit more pleasant. But heck, I’ll take the outcome any day.

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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.

The Many Shades of Green

February 12, 2009

When the Mets orchestrated a three-team trade to acquire the Seattle Mariners’ closer, J.J. Putz, they were forced to give up and thus replace two of their other right-handed relievers. Perhaps the most unpopular player with Mets fans by season’s end, right-hander Aaron Heilman had the audacity to demand that the Mets either start him or trade him. See ya! The trading of Joe Smith was a tougher loss to bear, as he started with the Mets and was well on his way to becoming a fan favorite. When the dust finally settled, the Mets were compensated for their loss of Smith with the acquisition of right hander Sean Green, a player considered to be of equal value.

Green began his career with Seattle in 2006. For three seasons, he was primarily used as a right-handed specialist coming out of the bullpen. In 2007, his best season on record, Green appeared in 64 games. He finished that year with 68 innings pitched producing a 5-2 record and a 3.84 ERA. According to his former manager Jim Riggleman, Green was “outstanding” and his coaching staff that season gave him the title of “Unsung Hero.” The most impressive statistic for Green was his ability to hold opposing hitters to a .255 batting average including a .234 mark against right-handers.

Coming off such a solid and consistent performance in 2007, the Mariners were safe to expect much of the same for 2008. Unfortunately for Green, it did not end up that way. According to Riggleman, there were “periods where he [Green] was going through a kind of a dead-arm stage.” Critics site that the sinkerball pitcher’s best qualities began to suffer after the 2008 All Star Break. Prior to the break, Green was impressive. In 48 appearances, he had a 2.72 ERA and opposing batters were hitting .224 against him. After the break, his arm lost its sizzle. In 18 games, his ERA was a whopping 8.31 and opposing hitters were having their way with him by producing a .300 BA.

“I haven’t been able to make a good pitch when I’m ahead in the count,” Green said. “It’s one of those things that when I get ahead in the count, I can’t finish them off. I feel good. I just haven’t been able to put guys away.”

In 2008, a common theme among Mets relievers was their inability to close out an inning, let alone a game. Although Mets GM Omar Minaya has gotten high praises for resurrecting the Mets bullpen, fans should still be skeptical when skipper Jerry Manuel heads out to the mound to make a pitching change.