Spring Training: Game 9 Notes
Orlando Hernandez made his first preseason appearance since being diagnosed with arthritis, and he looked so-so. Nothing to be concerned about, as his performance was similar to what he showed once every three or four starts in 2006. At times, he is magnificent. Other times, he is a little better than ordinary. And once in a while, he’s nearly awful. This is why counting on El Duque to be a front-end starter is frightening. While there is no question we want him in October, having to endure his rollercoaster performance in the regular season can be maddening. At this point in his career, he’s a #4 or #5 — the best we can expect is a 13-12 season, which is a far cry from a #2 starter on a playoff team.
Getting back to his spring training debut, El Duque looked to be in good shape, and offered his usual assortment of pitches at a thousand different speeds. His curveballs — both normal and slow — had good vertical bite, and he hit 87-88 a few times on the radar gun. The only thing of concern was his tendency to stay too upright on his pitches — possibly due to the neck issue. Though Hernandez doesn’t get too low on his release normally, he also doesn’t throw from the straight-up motion he was exhibiting in the game. On the few occasions he bent his back and got his head down and forward (almost always on curveballs), he made good pitches to good spots low in the zone. The rest of the time, he was hitting the upper half of the strike zone — not good.
On the other hand, Mike Pelfrey was living in the bottom half of the strike zone, continuing to throw hard sinkers for strikes. Still, he was not changing speeds much, and as a result was eventually hit hard. In the end, the numbers looked good, and he had good command. If he ever gets his changeup and slider going, the Mets could have another Brandon Webb.
Jason Vargas continued to impress. He’s a tough little bulldog, reminding me a bit of John Franco as far as the way he carries himself and challenges hitters. Though his fastball can sometimes run too straight, he nonetheless pounds the strike zone and insists that he get beat by getting hit. Almost always working ahead in the count, he mixes in an above-average change-up and fair breaking pitch. He also shows good athleticism and a tenacious, confident attitude. He’s a darkhorse to make the team, but if he keeps throwing fearless strikes, it will be difficult to send him south.
Joe Smith continues to look nasty. He may just sneak into the bullpen.
Ben Johnson also continues to impress. Before, he looked to be a tireless hustler in all phases of the game, with the potential to have some pop. In this latest game, the hustling continued and the potential became reality, as he jerked a three-run homer into the left-field stands. Less than five minutes later, Johnson made a great running catch on a dying quail off the bat of Roger Cedeno. Even without the homer, I’m liking Johnson, and hope he makes the team.
Willie Randolph sent Duaner Sanchez home for being late — his tardiness had become something of a habit over the last few days. We hope this is an issue that can be forgotten, but anyone who was around in the mid- to late-1980s may remember seemingly unimportant reports of Dwight Gooden arriving late to practice and games. Naturally, we’ll assume that Sanchez’s excuse for being late is due to laziness rather than drugs. Unfortunately, there’s that tiny strand of panic forcing awful thoughts into our heads. And assuming it is laziness, kudos to Willie for nipping the issue in the bud and setting Sanchez straight. There are plenty of quality arms fighting for spots (Burgos, Smith, Adkins) in the bullpen, and if Duaner isn’t taking his rehab seriously, there’s someone ready to steal his roster spot. Let’s hope Dirty does an about-face ASAP.
Shawn Green finally got his first hit, thank goodness. While standing on first base, it looked like the weight of the world had slid off his shoulders. (In fact, he was so giddy he stole second base.) Still, during most of the pitches he saw, he looked indecisive and tentative. Cause for concern? I don’t think so. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that his look of discomfort is due to the fact that he is conscious of making a mechanical change in his swing. Thinking and hitting don’t mix, at least when it comes to mechanics. Hopefully, Green will continue to work hard on fixing his swing in the batting cage, and eventually the change will become unconscious effort in the game. I know that at least 60% of Mets fans are screaming for Milledge to start in RF, and another 35% think Endy Chavez should be starting, but the 5% of us pulling for Green know that, when “right”, Shawn Green can be a monster hitter — the kind that can carry a team. Yes, there’s a good chance that Green’s age has more to do with his demise than a simple mechanical flaw. But, if it really is a glitch, and the glitch can be fixed, the Mets will have the best #7 hitter in baseball history. Granted, in 2002 Jeromy Burnitz was destined to be the greatest #6 hitter ever, and we all know how that turned out.
Chip Ambres was part of the first round of cuts yesterday, which to me was slightly surprising. While Ambres is no star, he was a starting centerfielder in the Major Leagues for a two-month span as recently as 2005. He can play all three outfield positions, has good speed, great attitude, and is a good contact hitter — all assets that would make him an ideal pinch hitter and late-inning defensive replacement. Certainly, he’d be more helpful to the team than, say, Ruben Sierra — who can’t run nor field, yet is getting plenty of opportunities this spring. Ambres’ odds of making the team were huge, but I hoped he’d get a longer look. At this point, it appears he’ll be AAA filler, a good “organizational guy” who is destined for a career as a coach / manager.
Clint Nageotte was also among the first casualties. Too bad, as he looked fairly impressive in his first preseason appearance. We may see him at some point in the season, when / if injuries hit the staff.