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.