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.