Scott Rice and Jack Leathersich have been demoted to minor league camp, leaving Dario Alvarez and Sean Gilmartin as the lone lefties in the Mets bullpen. There’s fair argument that neither Alvarez nor Gilmartin will make the Opening Day roster, either. If that’s the case, what southpaw or southpaws will be in the Mets bullpen when the real games begin?
The Mets have won 4 straight to start the season, so maybe now isn’t time to make changes. But apart from all of their flaws on paper, this team should be able to hit. However, their lineup has an obvious problem (besides Jason Bay). It’s too left-handed.
Last night, manager Terry Collins put together a batting order that featured 5 left-handed batters, 3 in consecutive order – Lucas Duda, Josh Thole, and Kirk Nieuwenhuis. Nieuwenhuis, of course, replaced switch-hitter Andres Torres in center field, who injured his calf on Opening Day, and does not appear close to returning, according to Mets radio man Howie Rose. The addition of Kirk makes this team even more left-handed.
In response to the stack of southpaws, Nationals manager (and former Mets great) Davey Johnson brought in LHP Tom Gorzelanny in the 6th inning to replace right-handed starter Edwin Jackson. Gorzelanny shut down the Mets for 2.2 innings, allowing only 2 hits. When Collins pinch hit Scott Hairston for Nieuwenhuis late in the game, Johnson finally brought in his right hander, Henry Rodriguez (who would eventually get the loss).
Rest assured, teams will be tossing southpaws against the Mets all year. So here’s a proposed lineup change that would help to break up the lefties, and make opponents less able to match up their LOOGY against them:
2B Daniel Murphy – He doesn’t walk much, but had a .362 OBP last year. Not an ideal leadoff hitter, but the best they have in this version of the lineup.
SS Ruben Tejada – He handles the bat well and can run.
1B Ike Davis – He’s off to a slow start, but should rebound, unless this Valley Fever situation is worse than we thought. Bonus: he’ll see much better pitches batting in front of Wright than he ever will batting in front of Bay.
3B David Wright – The ideal 3rd hitter needs to drop to cleanup in this scenario.
RF Lucas Duda – Good power, good patience.
LF Jason Bay – He has to bat somewhere.
C Josh Thole – Off to a good start with the bat – may be turning into the contact hitter the Mets hope.
CF Kirk Nieuwenhuis – Also an option to bat leadoff – strikes out too much, but did have a .400 + OBP in 221 ABs in AA last year.
In this scenario, the only back-to-back lefties are Thole and Nieuwenhuis. Kirk can be replaced by Hairston in the late innings if they face a tough lefty reliever.
The lineup still includes 5 LHBs, but with this lineup, the Mets should be a little less vulnerable against left-handed pitching.
Over the winter, the Mets succeeded in overhauling their bullpen. Whether the change of faces will make a difference remains to be seen, but nearly every reliever on the team this time last year has been replaced.
Every one, that is, except for Pedro Feliciano, the Mets’ lone lefty.
Once piece missing from the overhaul, though, was the acquisition of a second lefty, or Lefthanded One Out Guy (LOOGY), to help out Feliciano. An extra lefty is especially necessary in the NL East, where the Braves and Phillies both send up dangerous lefthanded hitters.
Thus far, the Mets have auditioned Jon Switzer, Ron Villone, Casey Fossum, Valerio De Los Santos, Heriberto Rueles, and Tom Martin. Today they begin the tryout of 40-year-old Japanese hurler Ken Takahashi — presumably as a test for the upcoming weekend series against the lefty-heavy Phils. The Mets are desperate to find a somewhat reliable lefthanded option to team with their incumbent LOOGY.
But there’s a small problem: Pedro Feliciano is a shaky option himself.
Over his career, Feliciano has done a good job of retiring the Phillies’ top LH hitters — Ryan Howard has a .190 AVG against him and Chase Utley has hit .174. Feliciano has also done fairly well against switch-hitters Shane Victorino (.071) and Jimmy Rollins (.278). But, the rest of the current Phillies who have faced him before are hitting .500.
That’s not a huge deal, though, since there are a lot of “1-for-2s” there. A larger sample size may change those numbers drastically for the better.
What IS a huge deal is that the 2008 Phillies team hit .370 (10-for-33) against Feliciano, with a 1.040 OPS. Also alarming is the fact that in 2008, the first batter facing Feliciano hit .311 with a .400 OBP. That’s not good news for someone who often comes into a game with runners on base.
Unfortunately, things don’t get better for Feliciano when he starts an inning. Leadoff hitters were 13-for-33 (.333) with a .395 OBP and a .959 OPS.
Thus far this year, Feliciano is doing pretty well, with 10 Ks in 7 innings, and holding opposing batters to a .222 batting average (lefties: .176, righties: .300). He had a similarly strong start last year, posting a 0.97 ERA and 9 Ks in 9 IP in April. After that, though, his performance was inconsistent.
So while some believe the Mets need a secondary lefty for the bullpen, the reality may be that they need a primary lefty.