Pessimism in Port St. Lucie

With the end of March — and the end of spring training — arriving soon, optimism is not running as high as it was a month ago.

In a matter of weeks, the excitement surrounding Johan Santana has been dulled by the breakdowns of key cogs Moises Alou, Orlando Hernandez, Carlos Delgado, Brian Schneider, and Ramon Castro. The Mets find themselves scrambling for a catcher, a righthanded-hitting outfielder, and now, a fifth starter.

Yesterday, both El Duque or Mike Pelfrey pitched in the same game, with assumption that one or both would show he was ready to take the #5 spot in the rotation. If Hernandez looked healthy, he’d likely be the winner. If not, and Pelfrey continued his string of impressive appearances, then big Mike would be a fine backup plan. In other words, the game against the Cardinals would presumably give the Mets enough information to lean toward keeping one pitcher over the other.

Instead of providing answers, however, the game brought more questions.

El Duque, sporting a new, briefer leg kick, looked uncomfortable … and then he looked awful. He was tentative, his accuracy was off, and his velocity nonexistent. Hernandez resembled a batting practice pitcher tossing on his first day of work — and without a protective screen. He looked foolish even when he wasn’t embarrassing himself in his deliveries to the plate — at one point, he balked because he began a pickoff throw to first, only to find Carlos Delgado playing behind the runner. You can’t blame Delgado, though — it was opposing pitcher Todd Wellemeyer on base. At this point, it is crystal clear that El Duque is nowhere near ready for the regular season.

Unfortunately, Mike Pelfrey didn’t look any better — though he did have his health.

Pelfrey allowed 13 hits, one walk, and 8 runs in 4 1/3 innings of work. On the one hand, he had to throw a lot of strikes to give up that many hits. And while it’s true many of the Cardinals’ hits were ground balls that found holes, overall the Cards were simply comfortable in the batter’s box, hacking away without fear. That’s what happens when a pitcher throws one speed — the hitters relax, sit back, time the fastball, and tee off on it.

As usual, Pelfrey’s first two innings were strong — but once the batters got used to seeing his fastball, it was all over for Mike. He quickly lost his confidence, started picking at the corners, and eventually got hammered. This routine is all-too-familiar. There’s no doubt that Pelfrey has a Major League fastball, but he doesn’t have anything else. Until he develops either a change-up or a curve — or advances that rinky dink slider — success in MLB will be difficult.

On a positive note, Fernando Tatis smells a roster spot … and might just steal one. He had two doubles in three times at bat, while stationed in left field. FYI, Tatis was originally signed by Omar Minaya while Minaya was a scout with the Texas Rangers in the early 1990s.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. RockStar78 March 24, 2008 at 8:24 am
    I really thought Pelfrey would have put it together by now. It seems like ever since spring training last year when they decreased his velocity and tried to make him into more of a pitch to contact, Chien Ming Wang-type of groundball pitcher, things have gone downhill. Before spring training 2007, he did great in the minors, struck out more than a batter per inning, and had an ERA under 3. Since the “tinkering”, his AAA ERA last year was over a 4, and the strikeouts have dropped considerably. I’m wondering if the tinkering was a mistake and they should have let him just throw gas and be a strikeout pitcher like he always was.
  2. sincekindergarten March 24, 2008 at 4:27 pm
    Maybe. But, The Jacket and Willie can’t go back in time and change that, can they?

    I think that Jon Niese is the answer, myself. Yeah, he’s young, but he’s an unknown, and he throws a curveball as one of his main pitches. Add the fact that he’s a LHP to the mix, and you have a 10-12 game winner at Shea.

  3. isuzudude March 24, 2008 at 9:29 pm
    I only wish that same philosophy worked for Bill Pulsipher, Jason Vargas, Dave Williams, Kaz Ishii, Mike Bacsik, Bobby M Jones, Bruce Chen, etc, etc
  4. joe March 24, 2008 at 9:42 pm
    Niese has a future, but not sure if he’s ready. He did look good in PSL this spring, but eventually the league would make an adjustment to him, and I’m not sure he’s yet prepared to make the counter – adjustment.

    The Pelfrey thing is becoming a large problem. Yes, there is the idea that they directed him to pitch to contact, but I don’t think that was nearly as detrimental as taking away his curveball, making his changeup a third pitch, and having him focus on the slider as his second pitch. The kid needs to change speeds if he’s going to be a starter. At this point, he has to either start throwing the change or the curve as his #2 pitch, or move into a relief role.

  5. sincekindergarten March 25, 2008 at 4:40 am
    ID, while your point is a very good one, it encourages pessimism about the entire farm system. Eventually, the blind squirrel is going to find a nut.
  6. isuzudude March 25, 2008 at 7:30 am
    I didn’t mean to infer that the Mets farm system cannot produce a successful major league pitcher. I just think 10-12 wins as a rookie for Niese is a bit much. If I’m to blame for spreading pessimism, then perhaps you are guilty of spreading false hope.
  7. Micalpalyn March 25, 2008 at 9:43 am
    The thing with Niese is he has matured in age and mentality. Also I saw some commentary about an increased awareness to workout/nutritional discipline. He seems focused AND healthy.

    My comparison: Adam Loewen.