By Mike Steffanos
By all accounts, Freddy Garcia had his best outing of the spring so far and still hasn't improved his chances of locking down a fifth starter's job that many thought was his to lose coming into camp. Garcia allowed the Tigers 2 runs in 2 1/3 innings, with one of those coming on a long home run by Adam Everett. When today's answer to Mario Mendoza goes tape measure on you that is not indicative of an impressive performance. Also, from what I read, it appears that Garcia's fastball is still on the wrong side of 85 mph.
I'm not sure what to make of Tim Redding's two horrendous outings so far. He has certainly struggled, but he has enough of a track record to still have hope that he can pull it together. On the other hand, maybe he just won't be ready when the season starts.
Right now, the frontrunner for number 5 in the rotation seems to be Livan Hernandez, mainly based on the fact that he has stunk out the joint less than anyone else so far. The WBC-delayed opening day is still 3 1/2 weeks away, though, and a lot can change in that amount of time. Someone could step up, but I have seen nothing from Garcia to feel any sense that he will factor into a final decision.
My gut feeling is that no matter how many glowing recommendations Pedro Martinez gets from people who saw him pitch in the WBC, the Mets will not try to sign Pedro as their fifth starter. The only likely way I could see the Mets going with Pedro at this point would be if one of the first four went down and looked to be out for a while, then they might roll the dice with Pedro.
His chances of signing with anyone were also hurt that the Dominican team didn't make it past the first round and face a good-hitting team. Whatever else you can say about the Dutch, they were not an offensive threat.
The only other way I see Pedro coming back would be if he lowered the amount of guaranteed money he was looking for and the spring continued with no fifth starter candidate pitching well. Then again, in that scenario they might just decide to roll the dice with the kid -- Niese -- and hope that Redding comes along.
As for the bullpen, the only clear-cut decisions are that Francisco Rodriguez, J. J. Putz, Sean Green and Pedro Feliciano will travel north will the club as long as they are healthy.
At one point I would have also been certain that one from the group of Redding, Garcia and Hernandez would make the squad as the long man. Frankly, I'm not sure that whoever doesn't win the fifth starter's job would even warrant a spot in the bullpen given the early performances. I still think Redding is the likeliest to do that if Hernandez or Niese wins the rotation battle, but no sure thing if he doesn't pick it up.
Somewhat long shot candidates for long man would be Niese (but I think they'd rather have him start in Triple-A), Casey Fossum, Nelson Figueroa (but he'll need to get back from the WBC soon enough to win the job), Matt DeSalvo (who has looked okay), and Brian Stokes (used mainly as a short man last season but has some experience as a starter).
One last long shot might be Bobby Parnell, who has looked good in short relief so far and might just win a bullpen job as a sixth or seventh inning guy out of camp. The scenario where Parnell -- who has pitched as a starter in his minor league career -- might end up as a long man would be if there were questions about his control for short relief, long relief would be a way of easing him into the major league bullpen.
Assuming the Mets do find someone for the long relief job, that would leave two slots in a likely 7-man bullpen. Parnell and Stokes would seem to be the front runners for one of those jobs, with the other most likely to go to a second lefty.
I'm not sure that any of the lefties in camp have really seized a leg up for that job, though. Fossum has been okay, nothing more. Valerio De Los Santos throws hard enough but has a track record of walking too many guys, as does Ron Villone. It still wouldn't shock me if the Mets made a late play for Will Ohman or Joe Beimel, particularly if no one really separates himself from the pack.
My personal opinion, for what it's worth, is that neither of the two rule 5 guys, Darren O'Day and Rocky Cherry, are going to stick.
Here's your totally speculative latest guess for the chosen 7: Rodriguez, Putz, Green, Feliciano, Stokes, Parnell and Villone. I'm guessing Redding won't be ready opening day and that Hernandez will open the season as the fifth starter.