Get Yer Mota Running
And head him out to the highway, please.
I can completely understand why Willie Randolph has been testing Guillermo Mota the last few weeks — after all, the guy has the best stuff (other than Wagner) in the bullpen. Very few pitchers can throw a moving 95-MPH fastball, command a nasty changeup, and also have a decent slider in their back pocket. Unfortunately, Mota is a head case, a pitcher with major confidence issues. In many ways, he’s not unlike Oliver Perez — if things are going well, Mota can be dominating. Hit with a few bad breaks, a bit of adversity, and focus goes out the window, pitches are left up over the plate, and balls are flying over fences.
In fact, I also understand why Willie put Mota out there with a tie game against the Phillies — it was a move of desperation. Willie gambled that Mota would magically find his mojo against the Phillies, and be able to ride that high through the end of the season. But in the end the move did more harm than good.
With Mota’s stuff and potential to dominate, Willie had to keep pushing Mota out there and hope he could string together a few good outings to get his confidence back up. Unfortunately, Mota has failed miserably time and time again, and the spots Randolph chose to test him were questionable. There’s the “tough guy” school of thought which says a man must prove his mettle by overcoming the most difficult challenges. However, everyone is built differently, and not every reliever is going to respond to such handling. Mota has been struggling since the day he returned from his 60-game suspension, and has been known to be emotionally fragile. No doubt the steroid cloud around him has affected him mentally in one way or another — for example, he may feel like he needs to juice to be effective; or, he may feel like he has to prove to people that he doesn’t need to cheat. Even without the steroid issue, Mota has had confidence issues based on his poor performance. Further, the hometown fans boo him unmercifully before he throws a pitch. He’s a professional, so you can say that shouldn’t affect him, but the fact is, it does. Observing at his body language and the scared look on his face, it’s clear that Mota is upset with the booing and is devoid of confidence. This time last year, Mota looked mean and full of energy; now, he looks terrified and waiting for a way out.
Again, you can say what you want — i.e., he’s getting paid $2M, he’s a pro, etc. — but that’s not what we’re arguing here. The point is, Mota is the Mets property whether you like it or not, and he’s a high-maintenance, highly skilled pitcher with the emotional fragility of an egg. He doesn’t respond to being thrown to the wolves, and most of us saw that way back in July. In September, Willie Randolph could have — and should have — eased him back into a groove. Treat him with kid gloves, give him ONE inning here and there in non-pressure situations. Let him slowly realize that he can get big-league batters out. Instead, Willie injects him into the middle of an inning with the bases loaded, or throws him into a tie ballgame, or pushes him a second inning after pitching a successful one. Some personality types — Billy Wagner, for one — might respond well to such handling. Not everyone does. If Mota did have that kind of personality, he’d be closing for someone else right now (another bright red flag for anyone who’s followed Mota’s career — he has the stuff of a closer, but never could handle the role). The definition of “managing” is to make the most of what you’re dealt with — you can’t play a five of clubs like it’s an ace of spades. For the most part, Willie does this well — with position players. But with the pitching staff, and specifically with Guillermo Mota, he has failed miserably.
At this point, trying to build Mota back up and making the best use of his god-given, superior skills is a lost cause. New York fans can be brutal, and he’s feeling the full brunt of their nastiness (much to the happiness of Scott Schoeneweis). With Mota’s checkered past with performance-enhancing drugs, there will be no feel-good standing ovation of support such as was given Carlos Delgado. Randolph can try to wean him back while on the road, but there’s really no time at this point in the season for Mota to get his confidence back. There are 14 games left, mostly against the Marlins and Nationals. Mota has pitched poorly in 11 of his last 18 appearances, and has an ERA around six. Striking out Nook Logan or Todd Linden in meaningless games against last-place teams won’t be enough to get Guillermo confident he can perform in the postseason.
So now the Mets are in a quandary. Outside of Aaron Heilman — who himself is not without questions — there is no one to count on to bridge the gap to Billy Wagner. Jorge Sosa looked like the answer for a short while, but his hocus-pocus act as a reliever faded more quickly than his startling success as a starter. Let’s face it, Sosa is the righthanded version of Sparky Lyle — a 95% slider pitcher — but his slider isn’t as good as Sparky’s was. If his slider isn’t biting hard, and/or batters aren’t chasing it, it’s only a matter of time before a ball finds the fence. We’d really like to believe Pedro Feliciano is dependable, but he’s been up and down. I won’t even allow The Show or Aaron Sele into the equation.
There are two weeks left in the regular season to find at least one, hopefully two, relievers for the postseason. Joe Smith needs to be tested. Philip Humber needs to be tested. Mike Pelfrey needs to be tested — though that’s going to be difficult if the Mets insist on a six-man rotation here on out. Maybe you promote another arm or two from the minors to see what you have. Maybe John Maine tries out the bullpen for a week. But the Guillermo Mota exam period has ended. It’s time to move on, and find a new solution, before time runs out.