Posts Tagged ‘Pitching’

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.

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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.

Something’s Not Right with This Year’s Spring Training

March 9, 2009

With the World Baseball Classic underway, most of the major league rosters have been left decimated and depleted, ultimately, rendering this year’s Spring Training meaningless. I was never a big fan of the Grapefruit or Cactus Leagues. I could never understand why anyone would waste their Sunday afternoon watching exhibition baseball. Followers of the game talk about how this is their favorite part of the season. I tuned in to watch the Mets against the Washington Nationals yesterday and lasted about a half an inning. Honestly, has there ever been a fan that felt compelled to punch a hole in their television in anger after witnessing their favorite team in defeat after a pre-season loss? I felt no emotion as 23-year old left-hander Roy Merritt threw the ball wide of first base, inevitably prolonging the inning. I was not the least bit embarrassed by the 8-3 drubbing in the hands of the Nationals. Mets manger, Jerry Manuel, wasn’t even there.

When you find yourself more amped up for the premiere of the Nationals’ mascot, Screech, then cheering on the Mets while they man-handle the University of Michigan, you’ll know what I am clamoring about. Just once, perhaps the Mets split squad could lay down for Fred Wilpon’s alma mater. Or why not just let them use those god-awful metal bats. That way, Tim Redding could at least have an excuse for his lackluster performance. Redding was scheduled to pitch one inning. He did throw 30 pitches, but they produced one out, five hits and five runs. As it stands now, Redding is damaged goods. Right hander Mike Pelfrey has been seen wearing a plastic boot because of swelling from his shin to his ankle. Freddy Garcia is still trying to find his velocity. And John Maine is trying to find a good reason to move on. As the Mets bullpen has become its strength, the starting rotation has become its Achilles heel.

Former Mets Closer is Given a Special Role

February 26, 2009

When you look up the meaning of the word ambassador it will tell you that it is an official envoy appointed for a special and often temporary assignment. For the next six weeks, the Mets have invited former left-handed pitcher John Franco to act as their special envoy to the Mets pitchers and specifically, left-hander Pedro Feliciano. Franco is interested in teaching Feliciano his signature pitch, the changeup.

Franco, 48, and a native of Brooklyn, has been retired from the game since 2005. In his twenty-one major league seasons, fourteen with the Mets, he earned 424 saves, has appeared in 1,119 games, and holds a 2.89 career ERA.

“I’m glad to be back,” Franco recently told WFAN’s Eddie Coleman.

In 2002 at age 42, the successful closer was still with the club when he underwent an MRI that revealed an avulsion of the medial collateral ligaments and flexor tendon from his elbow. Meaning quite frankly, it was time to hang it up. The decision for Franco was either find another line of work or undergo “Tommy John” surgery to repair his left elbow. Franco chose the latter and the organization could not help but honor his request since he gave them so many years of quality service.

He came back during the 2003 season and returned the following year. At the conclusion of the 2004 season, the Mets decided it was in their best interest to part ways with the St. John’s University alum. Franco finished out his final season in 2005 with the Houston Astros. Unfortunately, after his return from major surgery he was only a shell of himself. He was unable to regain the form that brought him to the forefront of his career.

During those great playoff runs of the late nineties which culminated with the Subway Series of 2000 against the Yankees, Franco took on the responsibility as one of the team’s leaders. When he was asked who he thought could lead this current team, he mentioned third baseman David Wright and shortstop Jose Reyes. “They’re the face of the organization,” Franco said. “David is starting to feel his oats here. He’s the type of guy who could lead by example.”

Regarding Mets manager Jerry Manuel, Franco said he considered Manuel a straight-shooter, a real player’s manager. When Coleman asked him if he was interested in a career in coaching with his former team, Franco replied, “If they give me an opportunity to take some baby steps, do things on a part-time basis, and work at my own pace.” Franco seemed hesitant due to the fact that he felt it was still important for him to be there for his family. “I still want to be around for them and watch my son’s high school games,” he added.

Franco went on to mention that he was looking forward to seeing Mets pitcher, Johan Santana. “I always have a special thing for left-handers,” he said. “Maybe I can learn something from him.”

He reinforced the notion that the pitchers the Mets brought in will definitely help the bullpen this year. “It will make the game shorter,” he said. “When you have those two big guys at the end of the game…I think it’s going to be interesting.”

Perhaps, having Franco back in the fold will bring the Mets some added karma going into the season.

Rotation Looks Up to Big Pelf for Answers

February 23, 2009

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Up until now, the Mets starting rotation has not been viewed as a cause for concern, yet when you take a closer look, you can see a few uncertainties here and there. Two of its pitchers are coming into spring training fresh off of post-season surgery. A third pitcher remains inconsistent on the mound, while one of the possible contenders for the role of fifth starter has recently been sidelined with a sore shoulder. It’s safe to say that the Mets organization has a lot on their plate to digest as they approach the start of the 2009 season.

Fortunately, for the team, they have a formidable starter in 25-year-old Mike Pelfrey. Last season, Pelfrey had what some critics consider a year in which he came into his own. He won 13 games, completed 200.2 innings pitched, and finished with a 3.72 ERA.

“Last year was just the tip of the iceberg,” said the confident right-hander.

During a previous interview with WFAN’s Steve Somers, Pelfrey alluded to a game in late May of 2008 against the Los Angeles Dodgers in which he felt “enough was enough.”

“I was going to throw strikes,” Pelfrey said. “My confidence took over. I knew that I belonged. All I had to do was hit my spots and execute my pitches.” Since then, he’s never looked back.

At this time last year, Pelfey was fighting for a spot on the opening day roster. However, this season, he has already earned his right as the Mets’ number two starter. Pelfrey mentioned that not having to compete for a starting job took some of the pressure off but stated that he still has much to improve on.

Speaking about this year’s spring training, Pelfrey said, “It will be more of a working environment. The first thing is to establish my fastball command and be able to locate both sides of the plate.”

Pleased with Pelrey’s attitude, the coaching staff has shown much appreciation for the young right-hander’s maturity and discipline upon taking the mound. However, Mets Manager Jerry Manuel and Pitching Coach Dan Warthen must also consider Pelfrey’s durability heading into this season as he noticeably began to struggle towards the end of 2008. In 17 starts from June to late August last season, the right-hander made great strides as he won eleven of those starts on just two losses. Unfortunately, in his five September outings when the Mets needed him most, Pelfrey had a disappointing 0-3 record in which he surrendered 14 earned runs and 31 hits in 33 innings pitched.

Pelfrey seems to approach his task of having to pitch every fifth day with a grain of salt. “I like to look at every game like it’s just another game,” he said. “I just try to stay aggressive and not leave the ball up in the strike zone.”

Looking forward to this up-coming season, Pelfrey’s goals are to continue to throw strikes, work on his off-speed pitches, and obviously get better.

Perez Signs for Three

February 4, 2009

“I’m really happy to be back with the Mets,” the re-acquired left hander Oliver Perez said. “I know everyone in NY.”

During his press conference yesterday, Perez stood next to Mets COO Jeff Wilpon and GM Omar Minaya with a huge grin on his face and a brand new #46 New York Mets jersey on his back. In 2007, the enigmatic southpaw made $6.5 million. This year and for the following two years, he will be making significantly more. How much more? His contract is reportedly worth $36 million for the next three seasons. Not bad for a guy who collected a bevy of no-decisions last year and finished the season with a 10-7 record. Along with his 105 base on balls and 4.22 ERA, Perez was six innings shy of 200.

“I don’t have a problem with any team,” Perez stated. “I always pitch hard.”

His ability to perform masterly in the clutch was probably the left hander’s main selling point. Against the Philadelphia Phillies last year, Perez went 1-0 and had a 0.35 ERA in four starts. Another exceptional bullet point on his resume is that he consistently dominates left handed hitters. This will be a significant advantage for the Mets who have to face a Phillies’ team that plays with a mostly left handed lineup.

One of Perez’ most memorable starts last year was on June 29th against the Yankees. Over six innings, he allowed only one run and three hits against the Bronx Bombers’ highly-potent offensive.

“We have a really good bullpen this year,” the soon-to-be 28 year old Perez made sure to note. “We are going to be a better team this year,” he added.

With Perez now slotted for the starting rotation that leaves only one spot up for grabs. If you follow the pattern of lefty-righty-lefty-righty, a lefty should follow. Either right handers, Tim Redding or Freddy Garcia, will break that formation or the Mets will go with youth and give left hander Jonathon Niese a shot at the fifth and final spot.

Chicago, Heilman’s Kind of Town

January 29, 2009

“Starting has always been my first love,” former Mets reliever Aaron Heilman said.

Prior to being shipped off to the Emerald City in exchange for Seattle closer, J.J. Putz, Heilman gave the Mets an ultimatum. He simply said, “Start me or trade me.” The Mets did the latter and traded the Notre Dame alum to the Mariners. During his junior year as a starter for the Fighting Irish, Heilman went 15-0. Unfortunately, at the age of thirty, those days are long gone. During his tenure with the Mets, Heilman was used primarily as a cross-over relief pitcher coming out of the bullpen.

“It definitely makes you learn how to have a thick skin,” said Heilman of pitching in New York. “A lot of people there are brutally honest, and sometimes that’s a very good thing. Sometimes everybody needs to hear some things that they don’t want to hear.

“I’m looking forward to a little change of pace, a change of scenery.”

Upon signing for $1.625 million to pitch for the Mariners this season, Heilman felt he had been given a second chance. According to Seattle’s front office, they had intentions of making him their fifth starter. However, Heilman had to earn that role as he was one of several potential candidates.

“All you can ever ask for is a chance to compete and show what you’ve got and try to win a job,” Heilman said. “I know we’ve got a lot of starting pitching here, so it’s not going to be an easy task.”

Fortunately, for Heilman, his situation may have gotten a little easier. Most recently, the Mariners have dealt him to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for infielder Ronny Cedeno and reliever Garrett Olson. With Jason Marquis traded to the Rockies, Heilman may have a better chance in cracking the starting rotation as a member of the Cubbies than he did with Seattle. If Heilman does land a starting job, he may be slotted to pitch against his former club, the Mets. Both teams are scheduled to meet six times during the regular season.

Lowe Settles for the Southeast

January 15, 2009

In mid-February, the Mets will be making the necessary arrangements in preparation for this year`s pitchers and catchers. GM Omar Minaya has stated that all those who attend with the exception of Johan Santana, Mike Pelfrey, and John Maine have an outside chance of solidifying the back-end of the starting rotation. Reason being, those three pitchers have already earned their respective spots.

Since the start of the New Year, the Mets` front office has made it a top priority to sign durable and playoff-ready starting pitching with the hope that they will go deeper into ball games reducing the possibility of an over-worked bullpen. Veteran right-hander Derek Lowe is someone who could fill that void. However, that option is now null and void for the Atlanta Braves have succeeded in snagging the right-hander by simply offering a contract worth $60 million over four years.

“When you get a horse like Lowe in the rotation, that takes so much pressure off the rest of the rotation,” Atlanta reliever Blaine Boyer said. “This is good for the bullpen, the starters and all of the position players. This does so much good for the psyche of the players and the fans.”

With the recent departure of long-time Braves` pitcher John Smoltz, and the uncertainties regarding starters, Tom Glavine and Tim Hudson, Lowe`s services now seem much more vital than before. In the past, Lowe has stressed the importance of finishing out the end of his professional career with a ball club that will be able to provide an instant chance of reaching the post-season. On the other hand, the Atlanta Braves have struggled the past three seasons siting rebuilding as the reasons for their lack of competitiveness in an ultra-competitive NL East.

In my opinion, this was a good move for the Mets. They have had past experience with signing veteran pitchers who are in the twilight of their careers. Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine both with exceptional pedigrees were brought in to help a Mets ball club get back to the World Series and we all now how that turned out. If the Mets organization does not fulfill the need for another starter via free agency, they most definitely will choose from within.

“I feel good about my situation,” lefty prospect, Jonathon Niese said this week from his home in Defiance, Ohio. “I’m going into camp fighting for a job, and that’s basically all I’m worried about.”

The Mets Are Seeing Red

January 10, 2009

The word on the street is that the New York Mets are very close to signing a right-handed starting pitcher. Could it be, Derek Lowe? We all knew Omar would get his man sooner or later. It just goes to show you that if you stick to your guns and refuse to give in, your hard work will pay off.

“Isn’t Omar the greatest GM in all of baseball?”

First, he brings in the most exciting closer since Dennis Eckersley. Then, he successfully orchestrates a three-team trade replacing key players who made up the majority of last year’s disastrous bullpen.

“Wait a minute….one year, $2.25 million for Derek Lowe?”

“Oh my, this doesn’t seem right.”

After managing to pick myself up after falling off my chair, the Mets announced that they have reached an agreement with free-agent pitcher, Tim Redding. Redding, who turns 31 next month, accomplished something no other Washington Nationals’ pitcher accomplished: he won ten games.

It’s no secret the economy is flailing amidst reports that the Mets organization is requesting City Hall to send more public bonds to help defray some of the new stadium’s costs. Perhaps, the Wilpons, the Mets principal owners, have miscalculated the losses they incurred with their involuntary participation in the latest Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme.

Come to think of it, it all makes perfect sense: the Mets are broke. Compounded with the low offers for front-line starting pitching and the reluctance to budge, we may have to live with Redding and young left-hander, Jonathon Niese as our fourth and fifth starters.

State of the Mets: Pitching Rotation

January 3, 2009

I recently saw a preview of the Mets’ projected five-man starting rotation. And let me tell you, if the season were to start today, I would warn fans to heed on the side of caution. When I continued to scroll down towards the names that were in place for the fourth and fifth starters, Jonathon Niese and Bobby Parnell, I developed an ugly feeling in my stomach.

“All I kept hearing in the streets of New York when you go to get bagels in the morning was, ‘Please, address the bullpen,'” Mets GM Omar Minaya has said. He later added, “Well, to you Mets fans, we’ve addressed the bullpen.”

Now, Omar has to address the other side of his pitching staff, the starters. I’m not deaf. I see the headlines. I am well aware that the Mets had made an offer for Derek Lowe. But some insiders have said it was a “low-ball” offer. Who knows, due to the current economic situation, there just may be fewer clubs interested in front-line starters with high price tags? This would be to the Mets benefit.

I have to believe in the Mets organization in that they are looking out for the fan’s best interests. I just don’t want some poor guy losing his lunch this season because Mr. Niese or Mr. Parnell threw one too many hangers to major league hitters.