By Mike Steffanos
... Looking like El Duque, provided he still feels good tomorrow. Going back to a high leg kick, but with the modification of keeping his right foot flat on the ground, Hernandez pitched 5 successful innings against the Orioles. He allowed a run on 4 hits, striking out 2 and walking one. Pelfrey allowed 3 runs on 6 hits and 3 walks in 3.2 IP, striking out 2. He took the loss in the bottom of the ninth, allowing the Orioles 3 runs in a walk off win. By all accounts some of the hits that beat him were rather soft, but El Duque obviously had the stronger performance.
We really won't know about Duque until we see him against a real team in a real game. Reports on his velocity were mixed, and this was the last game for the O's before breaking camp. Still, credit where credit is due -- not too many folks expected the veteran Cuban to pitch as well as he did this afternoon.
Personally, I would love to see El Duque find enough left in that vintage arm to start the season as the fifth starter. Nothing I've seen with Pelfrey this spring tells me that he wouldn't benefit from some more development time. Even fans who like El Duque, as I do, understand he's not making 30 starts for this team. In a perfect world, Pelfrey finds the determination to believe in his stuff and throw strikes, because we're going to need him this year for sure.
Of course, two things would make this moot -- one, if going back to the higher leg kick takes a physical toll on Duque, or two, if he still is unable to find enough velocity to get major league hitters out when the games count.
However it turns out, I have to give some props to Hernandez for once again rising from the ashes. It's too bad that so many writers, bloggers and fans seem to see him as some sort of punch line for the same old tired jokes. However it winds up for him this season, he's an amazing athlete at an age when most of us are so far past our prime. In the two seasons he's been a Met, I've come to enjoy the beauty and grace of that unique delivery. I've enjoyed watching him outsmart and frustrate hitters that are half his age. He also is an excellent fielder, a good hitter and a surprisingly effective base runner.
Did Omar Minaya make the right move by placing so much faith in this forty-something hurler? I don't know. But there are guys all around the league who are much younger and made a lot more money than Hernandez that have given their clubs much less in return. On a team that disappointed so often with their effort last season there was no fiercer competitor than El Duque. Make the same old tired jokes about him if you must, but respect what he has done.
For much of last season he was the Mets best pitcher. If he can give us some quality starts as a fifth starter this year and make it through even half the season, he'd be a secret weapon for this team.