By Mike Steffanos
You'll forgive me if there are no news links in this post today. I started reading the New York papers this morning and just had to give it up. It wasn't that they didn't do their usual great job today, it's just that I learned long ago that my key to not burning myself out as a day-in, day-out diehard fan is to know when to take a brief step back. The ugliness I witnessed with own eyes last night was quite enough for that game.
I understand that I have become the unofficial defender of Victor Zambrano in the Mets blogosphere. My initial reaction is to run away from this somewhat dubious honor. I felt the same way as most Mets fans last night: disheartened, disgusted, disillusioned, fill in your favorite dis- word here. I mentioned in last night's post that no one can look better giving up 7 runs than Zambrano, apparently some didn't understand that this wasn't meant as a compliment. It's less painful to watch a normal pitcher like Steve Trachsel go out there without his good stuff and just absorb an old-fashioned pounding than to watch Victor go out there with really good stuff and make mistake after mistake as the game slowly sinks down the drain.
My gut feeling after watching the game was the same as most. I felt that it was time for Zambrano to go. I even got a good ways into writing a post to that effect. But then I started thinking -- always a dangerous thing to do, it's caused me nothing but trouble in my life.
Right now, the bottom of the Mets rotation is populated by the enigmatic Mr. Zambrano and:
- Steve Trachsel, who is 36, missed most of last year with a back injury, didn't pitch well in most of his starts coming back, had a rough spring, and got bombed by the weak-hitting Brewers in his second start of 2006.
- Brian Bannister, a rookie with very little Triple-A experience, who made the team by throwing strikes in spring training but seemingly has lost the knack in his 3 starts once the games started counting.
Trachsel has yet to prove to me that he can return to being an effective pitcher in most of his starts. I like Steve, but I don't feel confident on days that he pitches right now.
I love Bannister, love his makeup, his grasp of the mental game, and his toughness. Despite reading repeatedly that he only possesses 4 "average" pitches, that's not quite true. His curveball, which he has been struggling with in the early going, is definitely a plus pitch -- if he can start throwing it for strikes. I think this kid might top out as a solid mid-rotation starter, but at least he'll be a dependable 4 or 5 guy.
Having said that, he needs to find his way back to getting ahead of hitters. He's taken advantage of the overeagerness of poor hitting teams with runners in scoring positions. If he continues to put himself into that position with better hitting teams, he will pay, and pay dearly. I need to see some growth out of this kid in that regard before I trust him when he starts a game.
Therefore, to me the big problem right now isn't just one question mark at the bottom of the rotation -- it's all three. I'm not quite sure where any of the three will be in a month or two.
When I look at the Mets' in-house options for a replacement, I don't like what I see. Do you really believe it will be any less demoralizing to watch Jose Lima or Jeremi Gonzalez get pounded? Sad to say, I doubt either gives the Mets even the same chance to win a game as Zambrano right now, much less a better one. Mike Pelfrey? It doesn't make sense to rush a top pitching prospect. He might be on the fast-track, but let's not put him on the express train to nowhere. Decisions on Pelfrey need to be made based strictly on what's right for him.
I know what name is going to come up: Aaron Heilman. I have to admit that I'm tempted by that one, but there's just too many questions in the bullpen right now. Besides the fact that Heilman and Sanchez have been the only effective setup men, Billy Wagner has yet to prove that the whispers we keep hearing about his finger being more serious of a problem than the Mets are letting on are false. Unless Jorge Julio can return from the dead, Aaron Heilman needs to stay in the bullpen.
I'd like to join in the chorus of dumping Zambrano, because I truly am getting weary of watching him. I just can't right now, because it doesn't make sense. When there is a real option available that gives the team a better chance of winning, I'll sign on. Hey, if Satan was to pitch for this team, could get batters out and help them to win, I'd be willing to look the other way as he devours a few souls, as long as they weren't important ones.