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Step Up and Take the Fifth

Mike SteffanosWednesday, March 26, 2008
By Mike Steffanos

Someone. Anyone. Please.

In today's game vs. the Marlins Nelson Figueroa wasn't sharp. He couldn't find the strike zone with many of his pitches, and when he did they were hit hard. Figueroa becomes yet another figure in the Mets search for a fifth starter who has taken a step back this week. (By the way, Joe Smith followed Figueroa and took a step backward in his quest for a bullpen job.)

Given the certainty that El Duque isn't ready to face major league hitters, Mike Pelfrey still seems to be the frontrunner to win the job out of camp. Jorge Sosa, who has been effective this spring, also is seen as a serious contender. Perhaps the Mets even take a flier on Claudio Vargas. Youngsters Jon Niese and Bobby Parnell -- who pitched 5 strong innings against Florida today -- are long shot candidates who are likely to begin the year in AA Binghamton.

Let's play "I'm the Pitching Coach."

If I were the "decider" in this matter, I admit that I'd be hard put to make a decision. Mike Pelfrey certainly has more promise than the other candidates. Last season Pelfrey was terrific in the spring, throwing strikes with that sinker and pitching ahead in the count. This year, Mike seems to have decided not to wait until the games counted to be caught in a dreary endless loop of 3-1 counts, with predictable results. If I wanted to go with Pelfrey, I'd have to ask myself if I was comfortable giving a job to someone who hadn't earned it. It's one thing when a pitcher has a positive track record to back him up, but the "deer in the headlights" look in Pelfrey's eyes is something that we saw all too often last year. I still like this kid, but to me he needs to figure it out in the minors before I can expect him to figure it out against major league hitters.

Verdict: The midnight train to New Orleans.

Despite today's setback, Nelson Figueroa is still a candidate for this job. He's a control pitcher who needs to get ahead of batters and mix four pitches effectively, which he has done most of this spring before today. To me he looks like one of those guys who does okay until the league gets a good look at him. If Sosa gets tabbed as the fifth starter Figueroa probably has a realistic shot at the long relief job, which seems to be a better fit for what he brings to the table, anyway.

Verdict: I think he'll be starting games to open the season, but it will be in New Orleans.

Based on track record, Jorge Sosa seems a good choice to pick up a start or two to open the year, provided the Mets really believe El Duque can put it together with the new delivery and win the job. I think Sosa's 2-pitch repertoire is exposed with too many starts. I like him as the long man who can also pitch in the short role, too -- something the Mets got from Darren Oliver 2 years ago but failed to get from Aaron Sele last season.

Verdict: I think Sosa is the best choice to pick up a start or two while keeping the mound warm for El Duque, and then return to the bullpen.

Jon Niese has been great all spring until his last inning in yesterday's game. At 21 and with exactly zero innings above Class A, the Mets would have to be awfully desperate. You can see them reaching down for an emergency start if he looks good in Double-A, but the best thing that could happen to the Mets top remaining prospect is time to develop.

Verdict: They say Binghamton is lovely in April.

Bobby Parnell wasn't in the discussion before today, since he had exactly one 2-inning start with the big boys this spring. Tack on today's effort, however, and you understand why the Mets drafted this right-hander despite ERAs of 4.76, 6.82 and 8.86 in three undistinguished campaigns at Charleston Southern University. His repertoire includes a heavy sinking fastball in the 90s and a nice slider, along with an underdeveloped changeup. The Mets like that he keeps his velocity deep into games.

The 23-year-old split the year between High-A St. Lucie and AA Binghamton last season. Although he doesn't get a lot of love from scouts, he has a chance. Still, he needs to find consistency before the majors are a real option.

Verdict: Joining Niese on those long Eastern League bus rides.

Only the Mets know how much they really believe Duque has left. If they really don't believe in him, they're probably going to need to reach out beyond their organization to find a longer-term option for the rotation. The just-released Claudio Vargas is an option, of course, but I don't think he's a very good one. Still on the right side of 30, Vargas is a guy who has shown seom promise but failed to deliver in stops in Montreal, Washington, Arizona and Milwaukee. In 666 career innings, Vargas has an ERA of just under 5 and a WHIP of just under 1.5. There's a reason teams keep giving up on him.

Verdict: Pass.

As stated above, if it was my call to make I'd go with Sosa in the short-term, hoping El Duque has a little magic left and Mike Pelfrey can figure it out in New Orleans. I suspect that the Mets will go with Pelfrey, however, unless he really stinks out the joint in his last spring appearance Friday.

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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Comments (10)

My vote goes to Sosa, if his arm is stretched out enough. He showed that he can do well with spot starts and he can then be placed back in to the long man role. Figueroa is an unknown that hasn't pitched at the ML level for awhile. Pelfrey needs to let the dogs out and start throwing strikes

I agree with Sosa... give him a shot, if it works out, keep him starting... if not, move him back to the 'pen. He'll be motivated to throw hard if he wants to stick around.

Sosa is a viable option, but I have to agree with the masses. If he starts over a long period of time, he is exposed and becomes less effective as a two pitch pitcher. 3 or 4 starts and El-Duque is ready, I believe the Mets will be fine. I do like the fact the first four slots of the rotation on any day can produce wins. It is the consistancy that is the key. Quality starts, and pushing into the 6th, 7th maybe even 8th innings on occasion will help to balance out the workload in the pen, which will be more effective to not be drained early on. I would like the Mets to sign Garcia and let him take his time in New Orleans when he is ready to pitch. I don't like to speak things up but can they really rely on EL-Duque the whole season. Garcia would be a nice insurance policy, if not, Pelfrey, Niese, maybe even sign Claudio Vargas too. Never have enough arms you know.

Call me a dumb old fart (I know you will) for this modest proposal.

We have, IMHO, the best 1-4 in baseball. Remember back in the day, when a pitching rotation was four deep instead of five? Why not go back to that day? A strict pitch count, a five inning limit (maybe six if the starter is cruising), and an array of different styles out of the bullpen for innings 6 through 9.

As it is, in recent years, our bullpen has been eating up far more innings than most teams, and a six-inning outing with a Mets lead has become a quality start in our eyes.

Down side: more wear and tear on our older arms. BUT...why not save those older arms for the games instead of assigning them a day in between starts to throw?
Up side: All four starters get as many as forty chances to earn a win.

I'm waiting for the onslaught of "you idiot" comments, and they may be right. I may be crazy. But it just might be a lunatic idea we're looking for.

My final thought: when exactly did starting rotations go from 4 to 5? Does anyone have a "jump the shark" moment for this phenomenon?

I don't remember when the rotations went from 4 to 5 pitchers. I too wondered why do we need 5 starters. I understand the current thinking that you don't want to overwork the expensive arms. Why can't ther be a shared start? Designated starters go 5 and only 5 and then bring in another pitcher to pitch 3 or 4. Then you don't have a long man in the pen waiting for someone to get hurt or get shelled.
Then you could have two pitchers (RH or LH) that can be stretched for the occasional start when one of the regulars is out.
Might be something Tony LaRussa would try.

Guys, I remember when starters would routinely pitch 250-300 innings, and most of them would be finished by the time they were in their early 30s. Do you really want that to happen to Santana? For better or worse, the 5-man rotation is here to stay.

Robert Parnell. Remember that name. He will finally get his chance once willie's gone. Lets stick with sosa. he will go deep into games giving our pen rest. come on, this is a joke. Sosa is not the answer. we all seen that last year. Pelfrey is only given us brief flashes of what could be. Remember the last game? He was trying to win the job. Of course willie didn't help leaving him in there. What a confidence booster! Really, give Parnell the ball and see what he has.......

William - I think Parnell needs at least another full year in the minors, anyway. He is intriguing, though.

Mike, I really didn't give Hernandez a second thought after his dreadful performance before yesterdays game. leave it to the old master to kick a little higher and plant at a different angle and come off with a performance like he did. just goes to show you that your followers aren't always right on. maybe this was just a "one time" outing but he proved me wrong and if it helps our guys, I hope that was I continue to be haunted by this one. LETS GO METSIES!!!!!

He is amazing, that's for sure. I hope he can get enough velocity back to pitch well for us.

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