By Mike Steffanos
The pain was transparently obvious on Jeremi Gonzalez' face after Ryan Howard beat him for the second home run in the first inning yesterday. A promising start against the Brewers, a terrible one against the Yankees where he took the hill with the flu bug, and now this -- first inning batting practice against the team's closest rival. Gonzalez knew what was at stake going into the game, and had to feel it all slipping away from him at that point. That he managed to battle his way through six full innings while not giving up any more runs spoke as much to luck as to skill, but it also said something about what was inside this 31-year-old Venezuelan right-hander.
There was a time, in 1997 and 1998, when Gonzalez was a rising star in his early twenties for the Cubs. He went 18-16 in 43 starts for the Cubs those 2 years, but got bitten by the injury bug that kept him out of the majors until 2003 with Tampa Bay. He only pitched 8 games combined at the A, AA, and AAA levels in 1999. 5 games was all he could manage the following season, and in 2001 he didn't play at all. In 2002 he pitched 46 games, all but 5 as a reliever, for Triple-A Oklahoma. In 2003, a hot start with the Devil Ray's Triple-A club earned him a promotion back to the big leagues.
For Tampa Bay in 2003, Gonzalez had a very strong season for a bad club, starting 25 games and going 6-11 with an outstanding 3.91 ERA. In the AL east, that's some damned fine pitching. Unfortunately for Gonzalez, he struggled to a 6.97 ERA the following season, and spent more time in Triple-A Durham than he did in Tampa. 2005 saw him split the season between middle relief for the Red Sox and pitching for their Triple-A team in Pawtucket. Again, his major-league numbers left a lot to be desired. This year, he failed to make the Mets out of spring training, but pitched well enough in Norfolk to get a 3-game audition with the Mets, which ultimately found him wanting.
Now he is designated for assignment, which means that, if he passes through waivers, it's back to Triple-A to see if he can jump start that dream one more time. He'll be rejoining Jose Lima, another used-up veteran in the twilight of his career. Don't get me wrong here; it's absolutely the right decision to send down Gonzalez. Soler has way better stuff, and way more upside. Gonzalez is a guy that throws too many straight fastballs and doesn't have the complementary pitches to keep batters from sitting on them. Actually, I was hoping that he would come up short, because I felt that the team had a better chance without him.
But when I saw that look on his face of pain and disappointment after Howard's home run, it helped me to remember for a minute that baseball -- for all of its beauty -- is a cruel game, that sh*ts on real people and their very real dreams. Gonzalez battled through 6 tough innings yesterday. He was trying desperately to keep his dream going, only to get word after the game that, once again, he had come up a little short.
ESPN Insider (subscription): El Duque
On his blog at ESPN.com, Buster Olney offers a take on Orlando Hernandez that I tend to agree with:
And I like this trade for the Mets if they find a way to not have to rely on El Duque. He is actually 40 years old going on 41 in October (not 36, as the press guides would have you believe), and so far this year, he has thrown 45.2 innings in nine starts. Five innings per start. If that average holds, then Hernandez will leave 12 outs on the table for the Mets' bullpen, which has borne an incredible workload this year, between all the extra-inning games and the struggles of the No. 4 and No. 5 starters. Going into Wednesday's afternoon action, four Mets relievers ranked among the top 15 in all of baseball for total pitches thrown -- and now one of them, Julio, has been traded.
The Mets need to think of Hernandez as their No. 5 starter and be prepared for the strong possibility he will get hurt. They need to develop other options at No. 4 and No. 5. If Alay Soler throws the way he did last night, they'll be fine -- after walking the bases loaded in the first inning, with 15 of his first 22 pitches thrown for balls, he threw 54 of his last 80 pitches for strikes and looked good.
I was laughing when reporters were asking Minaya if El Duque fits into the team's plans beyond this year. While I think it was a solid pickup, it's silly to place too much hope on a 40-year-old pitcher who wears down every year. If he can stabilize the rotation for now and mentor Soler a little, that's really all that is fair to ask of him.
Baseball America: A first rounder after all
In this week's Ask BA column, Jim Callis answers a question about a promising young pitcher the Mets drafted last year:
Q: I am just curious if you've heard anything on possible movement by the Mets to sign draft-and-follow righthander Pedro Beato of St. Petersburg (Fla.) JC. As New York doesn't have a first-round pick, I would hope they would be willing to pay seven-figure bonus that Beato now figures to garner in light of his tools. Any idea if the Mets will or will not sign this guy?
I talked to someone with another team today who said he had heard that the Mets and Beato were getting closer to a deal. The expectation from other teams is that New York will sign him, especially considering that he's a first-round talent in a year in which it doesn't have a first-round pick. It's not like money is much of an object to the Mets, anyway.
We ranked Beato as the No. 13 prospect on our Top 200 and he'd likely go in the second half of the first round if he re-entered the draft. He had Tommy John surgery during his junior season at Brooklyn's Xavieran High, and the Mets took him in the 17th round last year as a draft-and-follow.
That proved to be an astute decision, as he has shown three plus pitches at times this spring. Beato has a hard sinker that sits around 90 mph and touches 96. He also has a sharp 84-85 mph slider and a promising changeup. He has a strong build at 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds, and his biggest need is to improve his mechanics and, by extension, his command. At age 19, he has plenty of time to figure that out.
The Mets lost their #1 pick in the amateur draft this year when they signed Billy Wagner, so it would make sense for them to give this kid first round money, as that's where he's expected to go if they don't sign him before the draft.
David Lennon offers another look at how Tom Glavine allowed the Mets to restructure his contract to enable them to make an acquisition, if needed. Lennon quotes Glavine:
If they're telling me it gives them some flexibility to be able to go out and add some players at some point in time to make our team better, then heck, yeah, I'm all for it. That's good for us, it's good for me, and the better chance we give ourselves of winning, that's a win-win for everybody.
You can pretty much assume at the start of the season, if you're in contention, coming into the trading deadline, no matter how good you are, there's something you can add to get better.
NY Baseball Central: First Quarter Grades
Mike McGann offers up his grades at the quarter pole for the Mets.
Mets Geek: Strong 'pen
Matt Gelb has an interesting look at the bullpen.
Mets Geek: Humber Update
Michael Oliver reports on 2004 first-round pick Phil Humber, who is returning from Tommy John Surgey this summer.
...getting paid to watch: Take on the trades
Bob Sikes compares the actions of Omar Minaya with Joe McIlvaine's approach in the late '80s.