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Who Will Be the Fifth Starter Now?

Mike SteffanosThursday, April 27, 2006
By Mike Steffanos

Brian Bannister feels that his hamstring injury is a only bad cramp and that he won't miss his next start. Unfortunately, I don't think anyone that saw him pull that hammy yesterday maintains anything close to that level of optimism. We'll have some answers today when the results of Bannister's MRI come back, but it seems safe to assume that he will go on the 15-day DL and miss at least 3 or 4 starts. Since, after tomorrow, the Mets don't have a day off until May 8, the schedule isn't going to bail them out. A decision is going to have to be made on who might make a few starts for the Mets.

Unless Bannister's injury turns out to be much worse than it looked, we're not likely to see Aaron Heilman as a starting pitcher. The consensus among Mets watchers is the team won't mess with the bullpen by changing Heilman's role unless it would be for the long term. It's hard to argue against that, although there are many that would like to see Heilman stay in the rotation and have Brian Bannister replace Victor Zambrano when he comes back. Although I've defended Zambrano in this space for a long time, I have to confess that I'm getting tired of waiting for him to look like a consistent bottom of the rotation starting pitcher. Still, I think the Mets are so good with both Sanchez and Heilman in setup roles for Billy Wagner, I'd like to see it work out for being able to keep Aaron in the bullpen. In any case, you'd like to explore other options first.

We'll leave Zambrano out of the discussion for now. We hope he can turn it around and just be a decent pitcher for the remainder of the season. I don't believe the Mets should be Kaz Ishii stubborn with him, but it's not unreasonable to give him 2 or 3 more starts to see if he can turn it around, especially since we're already looking for a temporary replacement for Bannister.

The larger question right now is who will cover the (hopefully) 3 or 4 starts Bannister will miss. The one man on the current roster that can possibly do the job is Darren Oliver, who spent most of his career as a starter. He's doing a pretty good job as a lefty/long reliever out of the bullpen, but scares me somewhat as a possible starter. Oliver was out of the game completely last season, and bad for years before that. I think you're going to expose him if he does more than pick up a spot or emergency start here and there. The positive if you use Oliver is that it opens up a bullpen slot for Heath Bell, who deserves a chance. No guarantee, of course, that Heath would get the call up.

Zach Day, who Omar likes, was snagged off the waiver wire by the Nationals, his former team, so forget about him. The Mets will have to look to Norfolk for a starting pitcher, and the candidates there are Jose Lima, Jeremi Gonzalez, John Maine, and Yusaku Iriki. Lima and Gonzalez are the veterans, and Lima is known to be a favorite of Omar Minaya. Neither one is pitching very well in Norfolk, and neither is on the 40-man roster. Omar would have to remove a player that is currently on the 40-man and expose him to waivers. If Bannister isn't out that long, as expected, that would argue against such a move. Iriki has been pitching much better, but he was taken off the 40-man when the Mets brought up Pedro Feliciano, so he would force the same sort of move.

That pretty much leaves John Maine, the prospect acquired along with Julio in the Benson deal, who is on the 40-man roster. Maine has been pitching better than the other 3 in Norfolk, with no wins to show for it until a great performance last night that earned him a mention in Baseball America's Daily Dish column today:

Maine Impressive In First Win As Met

Mets righthander John Maine has given up just one run in three of his four starts for Triple-A Norfolk this year, but until yesterday had little to show for it. He notched his first win last night, halting Scranton's win streak at 10 games and lowering his ERA to 2.63 in the process. Maine, 24, relied on fastball command to strike out nine and walk one Red Barons batters.

"I don't have great off-speed stuff, so I've got to locate my fastball," Maine told The (Scranton) Times-Tribune. "If I locate my fastball, win or lose, I'll more than likely keep it close and give us a chance."

The negative about Maine is in that quote. He has never developed useful complementary pitches to go along with his fastball. Combined with some issues with his mechanics, this hurt him badly in his first shot at the majors last year in Baltimore. Maine had been at the top of a lot of prospect lists in his minor league career until experiencing some struggles at the Triple-A level and with the Orioles. I know the Mets would like to leave him in Norfolk to smooth his mechanics and work on a breaking pitch and changeup. Still, he might be the best option for the team in the short run.

Newsday: Rotation Adjustments
David Lennon reports that the Mets have reconsidered, and will indeed bump Victor Zambrano back from his start this weekend, allowing Trachsel to pitch against the Braves.

Lennon also reports that Brian Bannister will receive an MRI today in Atlanta to determine the extent of the hamstring injury. Lennon quotes Bannister that the injury doesn't seem too bad:

I felt like I was dragging a big weight behind me because I was dragging that leg along. I knew it wasn't bad because I was still walking and running on it. If it was torn, you're going down, so I knew it wasn't bad. It was very painful and I'm just glad I made it home.

Of course bad is a relative thing. You could tell that was no tweak when it happened. Hamstrings are slow healers, and if he misses enough time he'll lose conditioning and have to do some rehab to get back to start games. I've had a lot of experience with hamstrings, and would be very happily surprised if Bannister was ready to pitch again right after he's eligible to come off the 15-day list. Still, a badly torn hamstring could have caused him to miss a substantial part of the season. Count your blessings.

Bergen Record: No Apology
Steve Popper relates how, after yesterday's game, David Wright tried to apologize to Billy Wagner for the error that allowed Bonds to come up in the ninth inning. Wagner told Wright not to ever apologize again. Popper quotes Wagner:

I don't like that. Don't apologize to me. If you're trying to make errors, then you should apologize. If you're not, then don't apologize. I ain't apologizing for giving up a home run.

He's too good. He never has to apologize. He plays hard. He does his job. You know what? He's made many a play for me already this year. I don't need to question him. So what he makes an error? I've got to make a pitch.

I love this attitude. I think this is a kind of toughness that the Mets have been lacking.

New York Times: Game Recap
Ben Shpigel recounts yesterday's game.

NorfolkTides.com: Maine Man
John Maine, had a great performance for the Mets Triple-A Norfolk team last night. Despite a 1-3 record, Maine has been pitching very well, and is certainly a candidate to pick up Brian Bannister if the youngster goes on the DL.

New York Times: New stadium isn't quite a done deal
Richard Sandomir reports how the IRS can still toss a monkey wrench into the stadium deal.

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