By Mike Steffanos
A few days ago I highlighted how Steve Trachsel had pitched through his personal 4-game winning streak. Given Orlando Hernandez' recent implosion in Toronto, and Alay Soler's ordeal last night at Fenway Park, I was curious to take a look back at how all 3 pitchers in the bottom of the rotation have fared against some difficult opponents during the month of June. We begin with Steve Trachsel, who even with his terrific game against the Giants included from early in the month still has had a difficult month. He's had two very good games against San Francisco (who he owns) and Cincinnati, and really bad games against Arizona, Philadelphia and Toronto.
Many of us have been hoping for Trachsel to overcome last year's back injury, step up and give the Mets a consistent chance of winning when he takes the ball. I'm starting to wonder if we're just dreaming. Sure, Trachsel has pitched to a better ERA in June, 4.30 compared to 5.46 for May, but the signs aren't promising. He pitched well against the Giants because he has this weird ownership of that team. He could probably come out of retirement and pitch a strong game against them. He pitched well against the Reds because they are the type of over-aggressive lineup Trachsel can still work well against. The other teams were more patient, forcing Trachsel to throw a lot of pitches and beating him up every time he makes a mistake.
He's leaving a lot of pitches up, hence the 6 home runs for the month. He's walking a batter every other inning, which a contact pitcher can simply not get away with. The team is 4-1 in games he's pitched this month, but only because they've scored a lot of runs. Trachsel has not achieved any level of consistency with 15 starts under his belt, mixing a handful of good games with a majority that ranged from fairly bad to outright terrible. Despite the recent struggles of the Cuban Connection, I see Trachsel as the weakest link in the rotation right now. Compound that with the fact that he doesn't go deep enough into ball games and taxes the bullpen.
Meanwhile, Orlando Hernandez has put together a somewhat Schizophrenic month himself. He was outstanding in a complete game victory over his old team, and equally good in a tough loss to the Reds. He was really bad against the Giants and just plain awful against the Blue Jays.
Like Trachsel, El Duque is 15 starts into the season, combined in Arizona and New York. In 6 starts with the Mets he's managed a 5.40 ERA despite those 2 very solid efforts. You're never quite sure which El Duque is going to show up -- the one that can still dominate with his control and his smarts, or the one that will struggle painfully through a short outing. Still, his strikeout and walk numbers far outshine Trachsel, and even with the debacle in the dome last time out El Duque's other numbers are right there. Bottom line is that, as a Mets fan, I feel at least a little more confidence in Hernandez than Trachsel right now.
Alay Soler seemed to make a lot of progress in his first three starts this month, throwing strikes and pitching ahead of batters. In his last 2 against the Reds and the Sox last night he clearly regressed to being that young pitcher that was afraid to throw strikes.
What is equally disturbing about Soler is that, after going 7, 9 and 6 innings deep into his first three games, he hasn't made it past the fifth inning his last 2 starts, yet he was well above 100 pitches in both games. His curveball hasn't been sharp, and he hasn't shown the ability to pitch well without an effective curve. So which is the real Alay Soler -- the one who pitched the first 3 games so successfully, or the stiff we saw in those last 2 outings? I still hold out more hope for him than either of the other two, because he's younger and has better stuff. Keep in mind that he hasn't pitched much in the last 2 years and his entire major league career spans the 42 innings he has pitched this season. He gets some benefit of the doubt, but we simply have to see some progress from him with his pitch count and some ability to survive when he doesn't have great stuff.
In a very difficult schedule month, the Mets have gone 8-7 in the 15 starts from the bottom of their rotation. By my reckoning, though, they've only pitched well in 7 of those games. The 3, especially Trachsel, have ridden some hot bats to even break even. In the last 6 outings combined they are 2-4, averaging less than 5 innings per start. They have overtaxed the bullpen and have cast serious doubts as to whether any of them are the answer. I think it's fairly safe to say that at least one will be out of the rotation by August, and what will be interesting now will be to see who steps up and who falls back.
This posting is being discussed in the MetsMerized Mets Talk Forum.
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Baseball Prospectus ($): Jose Reyes
In today's Prospectus Notebook, Jason Grady has some nice things to say about Jose Reyes, including this remarkably refreshing paragraph:
Reyes has been in the league for four years, so it's easy to forget that he's still just 23 and capable of further, equally significant improvement. This is especially true since he was rushed and injured; in the meantime, fans waited impatiently for stardom and analysts continually questioned his placement in the lineup. With all the talk of unachieved potential, it's easy to overlook Reyes' steady, if slow, improvement over those years. He's tightened up his defense considerably and his leg injuries, which were verging on chronic and threatened to end his career, are well behind him. Now, he seems to be whittling away his last major weakness.
If other stat-head pundits had kept this in mind, I'd have not had a problem with any of them. Results are important, but so is context. What was really weird was the way some of those stiffs seemed to have a weird personal thing against Reyes -- as if the acclaim he was receiving despite struggling to master the game personally offended them.