Tag: jon niese

Livan Good, Freddy Not So Good

After their most recent performances, it’s nearly a given that Livan Hernandez will go north as the Mets #5 starter, while Freddy Garcia’s future will depend on whether he’s willing to begin the season in AAA.

Hernandez was sharp in his Wednesday start, and looks to be in mid-season form. His fastball is underwhelming (low 80s), but he throws strikes, gets outs, and does everything else a pitcher needs to do to win (hit, bunt, field). The Mets don’t need Livan to be an ace, they need him to take the ball every fifth day and keep the team in the game through 6-7 innings.

You have to love Livan’s attitude, as demonstrated in an SNY interview during the sixth inning of that game. He was cool as a cucumber, completely relaxed, sounding like he just came in from a day of rum drinks on the beach rather than a five-inning stint on the mound. Of course, that same personality will drive people mad if his ERA is over 7.00 and his record is 0-6 by mid-May. But I don’t think that’s going to happen.

In contrast, Freddy Garcia is not progressing quickly enough — though there were a few positive signs in his outing against the Braves. Though Garcia was again battered — 7 hits and 5 runs in two innings — his velocity was improved and his curveball continues to have good bite. The fastball was riding around 85-86, and he touched 88 several times — a significant increase from the 83-84 range of a week ago. But it remains clear that he’s going to need more time to get ready for prime time. If the Mets don’t release him, and if he accepts a minor league assignment, I believe he can work his way back to the bigs after another month to six weeks in the minors. The guy is a battler, and it appears he’ll be able to get the velocity back around the 89-90 range. If he can get it there, he can win a few games in MLB, because his curveball is already a plus pitch, his changeup is solid, and his slider can be devastating. His problem now is that all of those pitches are around the same speed, and his fastball location is too high. Another few MPH difference between the fastball and his other pitches are key to his future success.

After his dismal performances this spring, Garcia may not have a choice — it’s not like other teams will be banging down his door.

In other news, Jonathan Niese has been sent to minor-league camp. That move plus Tim Redding’s shoulder injury and Tony Armas, Jr.’s demotion would suggest that the fifth starter competition has become a two-man race — with Livan Hernandez several strides ahead.

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5 Early Warning Signs from Port St. Lucie

1. Johan’s Elbow

Make no mistake — Johan Santana has a problem with his elbow and it is going to be an issue for the entire season. Santana is a throwback, a tough guy who takes the ball, sacrifices himself for the team, and pitches through pain.

I’m a former player myself, and I can tell you firsthand that badasses such as Johan and myself go to the trainer to complain about an injury only when it’s become unbearable, and only as a last resort. The fact that Johan not only went to the Mets’ training staff to bring up an issue, but that it became public knowledge, throws up a dozen red flags.

I have two conspiracy theories. One, that Johan continues to pitch with pain, but feels he needs to earn his obnoxious contract and grin and bear it. Two, that the Mets won’t send Johan for an MRI because they’re afraid it might show damage, and they’ll have to shut him down. No Johan means no chance in hell that the Mets make the postseason, which in turn means season ticket sales grind to a screeching halt in an already depressed economy, and Citi Field doesn’t enjoy a record-breaking debut.

2. John Maine’s Shoulder … and Mechanics

Maine developed scar tissue and eventually, a cyst, on his shoulder due to a minor mechanical flaw in his deliverya flaw that can be corrected. However, neither the Mets nor Maine did anything to correct the flaw, which by the way also adversely affects his command. Unless someone wakes up and tells Maine to break his hands in the middle of his body instead of behind his right hip, we’ll watch another inconsistent season of 5-inning outings and 12-pitch at-bats.

3. JJ Putz’s Fastball

When the Mets acquired Putz, the scouting report was that this was one of the top closers in all of MLB, with a “filthy” breaking ball and 95-96 MPH heat. In his first appearance as a Met in Port St. Lucie, Putz was barely able to break 89 MPH, and reached that only a few times. He had a similarly underwhelming debut for Team USA. Now, we know it can take a while for a flamethrower to build up his strength, but the fact he’s struggling to reach 90 MPH is a major concern.

4. The Back End of the Rotation

Normally we wouldn’t worry too much about the #5 spot in the rotation. However, we’re looking at the possibility of chronic elbow issues from the ace, and inconsistency from #4 man John Maine — which means the back end needs to pick up the slack. So far, Freddy Garcia has looked awful, Livan Hernandez even worse, and Tim Redding has yet to take the mound due to a shoulder injury. The next men on the totem pole — Jon Niese and Bobby Parnell — are at best average prospects and have less than 20 big league innings of experience between them.

5. Jerry Manuel’s Mouth

The honeymoon is nearly over. Manuel has reigned as a media darling ever since taking over the Mets last June. However, comments and cajoling that previously were presented as “zen-like”, charming, and “a breath of fresh air” are starting — though ever so quietly — to be questioned. Manuel has always been known as engaging with the media — much to the chagrin of his players. His loose lips helped sink the ship in Chicago, as his constant calling out of players eventually created a tense and resentful clubhouse.

A similar pattern began in the initial days at Port St. Lucie, when Manuel told reporters that Daniel Murphy was a “better hitter” than Ryan Church. Even if that statement were true, it’s not the type of thing you go around boasting about. Only a week later, NY Post writer Bart Hubbuch compiled a long list of Manuel’s missteps with the media (interestingly, the post was generally ignored by the rest of the media and most Mets blogs). It’s not even mid-March yet, and Manuel’s already marred his managerial tenure with his mouth.

Go ahead, paint me the negative Nelly. But the above five issues could be pebbles in one shoe of the Mets, leaving them hobbling around on one foot through the 2009 season.

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Mets Consider Ben Sheets, Andy Pettitte

According to David Lennon of Newsday, the Mets are considering Ben Sheets and Andy Pettitte to fill out their starting rotation.

Per Lennon:

For his part, Minaya has played it cool, suggesting that he has other options if Perez falls through. Two of the most intriguing names still available are Ben Sheets and Andy Pettitte, with the Mets only recently showing interest in the former Brewers ace. A person familiar with the situation said yesterday that Sheets is now being discussed, but it’s unclear what the parameters of such a deal would be.

In other words, Sheets and Pettite are fallback options in the event Oliver Perez can’t be signed. Why? Why not sign Sheets or Pettitte IN ADDITION TO continuing negotiations with Perez? Why do the Mets seem focused on having “just enough” when every other playoff-bound team is stockpiling starting pitchers? (The Cubs, for example, just added LHP Garrett Olson to their stable of arms.)

First off, I’m not putting any stock into the Andy Pettitte talk. Sure, I’d love to see him in a Mets uniform, but it smells to me to be a negotiation ploy on Pettitte’s part — not unlike Jorge Posada’s insincere overtures of a year ago. With talk of the Yankees dropping their $10M offer, Pettitte is desperate for leverage, and the possibility of becoming a Met is too much for the Bronx faithful to bear. Fleeing for a faraway location such as Houston or LA is not as devastating as seeing Pettitte in a Mets cap on the back page of the tabloids every fifth day — the Yankees would overpay for no reason other than to appease their fan base.

That the Mets are considering Sheets is great news, as he has big-game skills (whether he can execute in big games, unfortunately, is another story). But, Sheets is certainly not the type of pitcher that the Mets can rely on to make 30+ starts and provide 190-200 innings. He’s an ideal gamble to fill out the back end — much the way the Red Sox are counting on Brad Penny. If they sign Sheets, the Mets are still short one pitcher for the front end. There are too many existing question marks — the health of Johan Santana and John Maine, the readiness of Jon Niese or Bobby Parnell — to bring in another question mark to fill a hole.

Again, I love the idea of Sheets — so long as the Mets don’t stop there. Bring in Sheets, AND Perez, AND Freddy Garcia or Pedro Martinez too. To make the postseason, a team needs both quantity and quality comprising the starting rotation pool.

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