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Warm Weather, Hot Bats

Mike SteffanosFriday, April 20, 2007
By Mike Steffanos

Mets 11 - Marlins 3

After the Mets got off to the quick 1-0 lead in the first inning things looked dicey for a while. A single and a misplayed bunt quickly tied the game in the bottom of the first, and a groundball scored another run putting Florida up 1-0. The kid pitcher up from A-ball set the Mets down in order in the second, and then struck out Beltran with Jose Reyes on third and one out the following inning. Would the Mets strand Jose on third yet again this young season?

A walk to Alou and a double by Delgado allayed that worry, and by the time the inning was over the Mets held a commanding 7-2 lead. El Duque was almost untouchable after those first inning travails, allowing the Marlins only a hit and a walk over the following six innings. The Mets continued to pad their lead, and the game quickly became a laugher.

Last year the Marlins enjoyed their great run after the bad start thanks to being able to trot out a damn good starter every day. Injuries to Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco have ruined that formula, but even the guys who are there aren't helping all that much. Dontrelle Willis had been 3-0 going into the series opener, but Scott Olsen and Anibal Sanchez have had their ups and downs so far. Last night's starter Rick Vanden Hurk seems to be yet another young pitcher with a lot of upside if he can stay healthy, but he should have been pitching in the minors last night.

The point is that right now the Marlins are very beatable, and the Mets did what they had to do these last 2 games. I strongly suspect the Marlins will be tougher as the season goes on if they get some guys back, so winning these two games was a lot more than beating on a team that is struggling a little right now.

The Mets offense is heating up with the weather, and it will be interesting to see how they fare against tough starting pitching this weekend. I like what Moises Alou has added to the lineup this season. Not only does he balance them better against lefties, but he is an elite hitter in a way Cliff Floyd wasn't. Floyd could punish mistakes, particularly when he got on a roll, but Alou still possesses the type of bat speed that can hurt top pitching.

Although I liked the move of putting Beltran in the 2-hole last night as opposed to Valentin or Wright or Green, I still like Beltran as the number three hitter for the most part. I always felt that by leaving Beltran in the 3-hole Willie was asking Carlos to live up to his skills and the contract. It looked bad in 2005, but it looked pretty good in 2006. To me, Beltran batting third is a settled question. Still, with Lo Duca out, it wasn't a bad move.

After last night's strong performance, El Duque has 3 strong starts and one lousy one on the season. He's averaging over 6 innings a start and giving the club a good effort so far. He'll have the odd stinker, and he'll probably need some rest over the course of the season, but I like his chances of giving the Mets a really solid year in the rotation. I thought he finished up last year very strong, despite pitching more innings than he had in several years. I wrote this in March and it still reflects my thinking:

You know, I get the fact that El Duque is 41 and hasn't approached 200 innings since 2000. I don't expect him to get within spitting distance of 200 innings this year, either. What kind of shocks me, however, is that the guy doesn't get the benefit of any doubt at all. Every setback is magnified -- the arthritis in his neck, the leg cramp yesterday -- while all the positives are glossed over. While I'm not saying that we should all expect the veteran Cuban right-hander to be a Cy Young candidate, it's awfully premature to write the guy off completely.

There actually are reasons for optimism. After missing all of the 2003 season due to injury, Hernandez returned to pitch 85 innings in the second half of 2004. He got off to a great start with the White Sox in 2005 and was a huge reason why they got off to a huge lead in the AL Central that year. Then he wore down in the second half and was eventually moved to the bullpen for the playoffs. He still wound up giving the Sox 22 starts and 128 innings pitched. Last year he started 29 games for the Mets and Diamondbacks and pitched 162 innings. The Mets skipped a couple of starts in August and it resulted in a very strong September for El Duque.

What won me over to feeling optimistic for Orlando Hernandez is the trend that he has been getting stronger over the last 3 seasons. I don't understand why he isn't at least given a chance to approach what he did last year. It's seemingly accepted that he will just break down and dodder his way through an ineffective and injury-plagued season.

While there is always a chance that the 41-year-old could get hurt, I think we've been bombarded with a little too much negative based on arthritis in his neck and him injuring his calf before the playoffs. The guy could still pitch, and is truly fun to watch on those days he has it going.

Orlando Hernandez (2-1)
TOTAL (4 Games)25.010918201153.241.162-2

Box Score

About Mike: I was the original writer on this web site, actually its only writer for the first 15 months of existence. Although I am grateful for the excellent contributions of my fellow writers here, I have no plans of stepping back into strictly an editorial role. I started this thing in the first place because I love to write and I love the Mets, and blogging here keeps me somewhat sane. If you haven't had enough already, more bio info can be found here.

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