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Two Things to Lose Some Sleep Over

Mike SteffanosMonday, April 17, 2006
By Mike Steffanos

I've been uncharacteristically optimistic all spring, and feel like I need to take a step back and embrace some of my old pessimism. Maybe it's the Bravos rolling into town, with a long road trip looming at the end of this 3-game series. Maybe it's a life-long Mets fan's discomfort with things going a little too well. Whatever it is, I thought I'd like to share with you those two things that concern me amidst all of the glitter and success of this young season.

The Bullpen: Despite my conviction that the Mets have put together the best bullpen in the history of the franchise, it's not without concerns. The most obvious is Billy Wagner's early season struggles, looking nothing like a light's out closer, but rather like a left-handed version of Braden Looper. I know he missed a lot of spring training and is a slow starter anyway, but I need to see him come in and dominate for 2 or 3 games in a row before I can really relax about him.

Behind Wagner, Heilman and Sanchez look solid, and Chad Bradford looks like he'll get righties out, as promised. Beyond that, you have 2 guys at the bottom of the 'pen that scare me a little. After looking good in a couple of appearances, Darren Oliver seems to have reverted back to that high ERA, longball victimized pitcher he was his whole career as a starter. I know it's early, but for a guy that hasn't been an effective pitcher in this century, it doesn't inspire confidence. Combined with the atrocious Jorge Julio reclamation project, and you have two huge question marks in a short 6-man bullpen. Meanwhile Heath Bell, who had a very good spring, is attracting the interest of other major league teams down in Norfolk.

We know from experience that the guys that start the season in the bullpen aren't necessarily the ones that will finish the season. We also can see the potential in Jorge Julio and understand that he'd be a huge asset to the Mets if Peterson can help him find his groove. I find it hard to believe, though, that the Mets won't be forced to use him in more close games as the offense cools off a little. As with Danny Graves last year, there will likely come a time when promise is trumped by poor performance.

The Bench: Other than the valuable Chris Woodward and backup catcher Ramon Castro, the jury is really out on these guys. Nobody has hit much, and only the 100-year-old Julio Franco has a real track record of helping a team off the bench. We'll give him a pass for now, but Jose Valentin looks like a strike-out waiting to happen (0-7 with 4Ks so far) every time up. Coming off of a bad injury-plagued 2005 season and a poor spring, I have to question whether this man can help the Mets win games. Considering that light-hitting (career .259/.300/.359) Endy Chavez is the only other leftie on the bench, this is a serious problem. Victor Diaz, who I still like as an eventual everyday player, has yet to prove that he can help this team off the bench.

In fairness, I rate the bench a minor concern at this point, but it's something we'll have to watch closely. The Mets should be able to come up with at least a decent left-handed bat should Valentin continue to falter. There are many teams out there that have larger concerns than they do, including the one that they play the next 3 games.

Bergen Record: The Braves
Amidst all of the carefully worded attempts to downplay the importance of the upcoming Braves series, J.P. Pelzman finds Paul Lo Duca willing to say out loud what most are probably thinking:

It's a big series to start the year and let them know we're for real. The Braves are still the team to beat. You want to come out and play hard and you want to let them know that we're not going to go anywhere. ... These are a key three games here.

I understand, and for the most part agree with, the need not to put too much emphasis on one April series. Still, it's fun that Lo Duca is the type of guy to embrace the significance of these upcoming 3 games.

Newark Star-Ledger: Beltran on the Hamstring
Bridget Wentworth quotes the Mets centerfielder that he is going to be cautious with his minor leg injury, learning from the mistakes he made last year:

I don't feel 100 percent. When I hurt my quad I tried to play through it, and it didn't really help me. For me to come back and play again, I don't want to feel anything. I don't want to go out there until I'm 100 percent.

(The doctor) says it's nothing major, but at the same time he's saying to be smart, don't make this something major. You try to go out there and play, you might aggravate it. It's better to get treatment and make sure you feel good to go.

New York Post: Trying to Regain Control
Jay Greenberg quotes Brian Bannister on the uncharacteristic control problems he's been experiencing in his short major league career:

More people are watching, it's just more important out there. You try not to think about that but you do a little bit, something a new guy has to get over.

Being from Arizona, I'm also dealing with cold that I haven't before. Pitches were up because I was losing them at the last second. I have to develop a routine like Ben Sheets to get moisture on the ball to get it down.

But my approach has always been I will walk in a run rather than give up a double or a home run. When you get into situations hitters feel a lot of pressure. You know they are in attack mode and the strike zone expands. Pitches that had been barely missing, they began swinging at today. You make quality pitches, their aggressiveness will help you out.

The strike zone is more vertical here, too, another adjustment. So I know have to throw more on the plate and trust scouting reports instead of trying to make perfect pitches.

For all of that, Bannister realizes he needs to leave the wildness and the Houdini act behind him:

I'm out there so long, I'm bored with myself. You want to be at 70 pitches in the seventh inning not the fifth. It's a lot more fun for the fans and a lot easier on your arm and bullpen.

Fox Sports: Guess Omar Did Something Right, After All
Ken Rosenthal, who spent a lot of the winter and spring taking little potshots at Omar Minaya, pens a column that actually has some nice things to say about the Mets. He cites 4 less-than-obvious reasons for the Mets early success. I agree with 1-3 (Brian Bannister's pitching, Xavier Nady's hitting, and Anderson Hernandez' defense), but picking the ability to trade Lastings Milledge for a starting pitcher in July was kind of weird. Maybe the Mets have to make that move, but I hope not.

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