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Heilman: Starter or Reliever?

Mike SteffanosFriday, March 17, 2006
By Mike Steffanos

As we get closer to the start of real games, one of the more interesting stories is whether the Mets will give Aaron Heilman the fifth starter job that he certainly seems to have earned up to this point. As outlined by Steve Popper in the Bergen Record, Heilman has fulfilled his end of the deal by pitching great. What's working against him is strong performances by Brian Bannister and Usaku Iriki, and the thought that the Mets might want to give Jose Lima some early season starts to see the can catch lightening in a bottle. In addition, because no one has stepped up at all as a lefty specialist in the Mets bullpen and Jorge Julio has not shone in the World Baseball Classic, there is strong sentiment for forcing Heilman back into the relief role he excelled at in the second half of 2005.

I understand the logic, but to me this would be a mistake. It's too early to make definitive judgments on the Mets' bullpen, and if there is a belief within the organization that Heilman can be an effective starter -- and there would certainly seem to be, based on Omar's willingness to trade Seo and Benson -- now is the time to find out. You have enough potential options for the bullpen. What's still not clear is whether you have enough starting pitching. I'm sorry, I like Jose Lima, he seems like a funny and straight-up guy, but he doesn't deserve a spot with the Mets that he hasn't pitched well enough to earn.

I'll leave it for another time to argue the point of whether Victor Zambrano should be a starter or a reliever, but again -- with questions abounding in the rotation -- I wouldn't move him out of there right now. It would be easier at some point to move Zambrano or Heilman from the rotation to the bullpen than visa versa.

I've been really impressed with Brian Bannister this spring. He has the mentality and maturity to succeed in the pros without a blazing fastball, especially with a repertoire of pitches he commands, including a great curveball. Still, with only a few starts at AAA level at the end of last season, and a changeup that is still a work in progress, it couldn't hurt to let him at least start the year in Norfolk. If someone falters or gets hurt, or Heilman needs to be moved to the bullpen, you know you have someone ready to step up and accept the challenge.

The point here, I believe, is that not every decision has to be made before the year starts. I know that everyone has their favorite theories and favorite guys, but rather than making moves in undo haste, it would be better if things were allowed to shake out a little first. All I really ask is please -- no Kaz Ishiis this year. While I am advocating some patience, that is not the same as obstinance. It's a good thing for a manager to show faith in a player who is going through a rough patch. However, if something is obviously not working, and you have other options, don't wait forever to fix it.

SportsNet New York
Nothing new to report on the Cablevision/SNY situation. They supposedly have agreed on money -- usually the biggest sticking point -- and are working on peripheral details. Even if you're not a Cablevision subscriber this is important to you, as it is generally conceded that other deals should happen quickly once this big one gets done.

Daily News: Welcome Back
With the welcome return of the Mets that competed for Puerto Rico and Venezuela in the WBC, Adam Rubin updates us on all the Met players that have competed.

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