By Mike Steffanos
I watched a couple of innings of Livan Hernandez' start today, and DVR'ed the rest to watch later. I came away from it convinced of two things: one, that Hernandez has a huge lead in the fifth starter derby, and two, on a good day I can still bring my "fastball" a couple of mph faster than El Duque's kid brother.
Still, Hernandez keeps pitching well, and none of the other candidates really can say the same.
As for Garcia, after another rough outing there is speculation that the Mets might cut him loose soon. I don't know about that, since he's on a minor league contract with incentives, but whether Garcia stays with the team will probably depend on his willingness to start the season in the minors. He just doesn't look like he has the arm strength to get by right now.
From the Mets point of view, I imagine keeping Garcia would depend on how much money is guaranteed. My understanding is that the bonuses don't kick in unless they add him to the 40-man roster, which they would have no reason to do unless he won a major league job.
If the Mets don't see Garcia taking a minor league assignment, then perhaps there would be a feeling that those spring training innings would be better used by someone they need a better look at. We'll see how it plays out.
Back to Livan, as previously mentioned he's not popping the glove with his fastball, either. I've come to the conclusion that the SNY Radar Gun reads a little low, but even given that he's pitching in the low to mid 80s with the fastball. He's spotting it well, and using all of his pitches, but I'm skeptical of long-term success.
I remember a while back that someone -- it might have been Ron Darling -- pointed out that Hernandez' speed is out of the comfort zone of major league hitters who are used to seeing faster pitches. On the other hand, once they do adjust a pitcher really needs to be precise to get by with that kind of fastball. Think Tom Glavine and Steve Trachsel later in their careers.
When teams are willing to be patient against a guy like this and force him to throw strikes, or if he gets an umpire that's not giving him much leeway, it's tough for a pitcher like Hernandez to pitch effectively. If he's not effective, he's not going to eat innings.
On the other hand, since all the other Mets pitchers sit in the 90s with their fastballs you could argue that Hernandez gives them another look. That could work. If Hernandez struggles in the early going you could hope that Redding would be ready sometime in April, too.
Jon Niese is promising, but I think he needs to go to the minors and work on his command. Niese had one great game with the Mets last year when his curveball was working and he was spotting his other pitches well, but struggled in a couple of others where he wasn't getting the curveball over and locating the fastball. I think he still has something to learn before he is serious contender for a big league rotation spot.
In other words, it's really looking like Hernandez, and no one else is pushing him all that hard. Of course, there are still 2 1/2 weeks until opening day, but it's hard to see where that push might come from. If Livan continues to pitch solid he's likely to win that job.