By Mike Steffanos
The debate goes on after Billy Wagner's shocking implosion against the Yankees yesterday. While Randolph's decision to bring Wagner into a 4-0 game after pitching the night before was not indefensible (although I didn't agree with it), I personally felt his stubbornness in staying with Wagner reflected a lack of feel for the game. In a response to a comment later on, I pointed out that managers like Jim Leyland would read that their closer didn't have it and give someone else a shot at the game. I've always felt the really good managers distinguish themselves by going against baseball logic when circumstances dictate. Willie appears to go with his gut at times, but at other times he's just straight down the middle.
Still, don't excuse my criticism of Randolph as excusing Wagner's performance. Although I believe there is something to what we are reading about Wagner's finger injury, I believe that his head was at fault yesterday, too. I don't want to hear about adrenalin and not being ready to pitch, as my adrenalin levels shot up watching Wagner implode. When Wagner hints to the papers that he has trouble getting into the right frame of mind in a game that's not close enough, I'm not sympathetic.
I honestly believe there is more to the physical problem with the finger than Wagner is letting on, and that's going to require Willie to baby his closer to some extent in the manner that they are already doing with Pedro. The Mets are lucky to have Sanchez and Heilman as two other guys with the potential to close games. The bullpen is the strength of this team, and yesterday's Wagner meltdown has at least for now changed my mind about moving Heilman into the rotation. For the foreseeable future I would absolutely avoid pitching Wagner in back-to-back games, and would not allow him to pitch more than one inning.
I know some would see this as coddling a highly-paid player. It may be that we will all regret the Mets decision to invest so much money into Wagner. But it is what it is -- Wagner is here, he's struggling and the team and Willie need to figure out how to maximize his production. That's another thing that good managers do, they find a way to maximize the success of the players they have to work with. It probably wouldn't hurt if Willie and Wagner had a talk and got on the same page as far as how to best use this huge investment, in fact it would be almost unforgivable on everyone's part if they don't.
The Mets have had a loser mentality for too long. For as much as the press likes to put the Mets' failures down to some sort of evil karma, the biggest problem over the years when the team hasn't been just plain awful is that there is a lack of a can-do attitude in this organization. Instead of wringing our hands over our high-priced closer who seems to be fragile of both mind and body, let's figure out how to get whatever we can out of him. Let's try to maximize the Sandman that we saw Friday night and minimize what we saw yesterday. The 2006 Mets have a lot to overcome. Previous promising Mets teams have usually allowed their difficulties to bury them. How about a different outcome this year?
Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin : Pelfrey Awful
Brian Moritz reports that Mike Pelfrey, who looked very much like he might be pitching in Shea next week, will instead be remaining in Binghamton for a while. Pelfrey lasted only two-thirds of an inning and 39 pitches as he echoed Billy Wagner's performance Saturday by walking in a pair of runs. Moritz quotes Pelfrey on his performance:
The last couple starts, it seems like my control has eluded me, and that's always been one of my strengths. I need to find it.
I wonder if all of the hype and speculation that he was auditioning for the majors might have been a little too much for the kid to handle. Hopefully that will die down, and the spotlight glare fades for a while, and Pelfrey can go back to doing what a first-year minor-league pitcher should be doing -- learning to pitch.
NY Baseball Central: Alay Soler
Mike McGann opines on why Cuban defector Alay Soler, who the Mets have called up to take over Jose Lima's rotation spot, is a better choice than Mike Pelfrey for the near future:
Despite [Pelfrey's] 96-MPH fastball, he's not quite there yet. While his fastball bites hard, he can't always locate it for strikes and his other pitches haven't improved a lot. Hitters in the Eastern League have figured out to lay off the fastball if its out of the strike zone. Pelfrey will adjust and he will get better -- that's part of the process of pitching in the minor leagues, something he's done for less than a year. It's not something you do on the mound at Shea Stadium in front of 40,000 people with first place on the line.
McGann goes on to point out how Soler's experiences pitching in Cuba, and all that he has been through since he has defected, have given him a maturity level that will help him to make the adjustments he will need to try to compete against major leaguers.
Surfing the Mets: Minor League Report
Adam Rubin provides his weekly update on the goings on in the Mets system.