Mets closer Bobby Parnell blew his first save opportunity this season on Monday, and it may be a while before he gets another. Complaining of tightness in his pitching elbow, Parnell, who had exhibited decreased velocity all spring, was given an MRI that found a partially torn medial collateral ligament in the joint. Parnell was given a platelet-rich plasma injection and will be placed on the disabled list, where he'll rest for two weeks before the team determines whether or not he will require surgery. If he does, he could lose the majority of the season.
Parnell's injury will make veteran Jose Valverde the Mets' closer, at least for the time being. The 36-year-old Valverde accumulated 277 saves for the Diamondbacks, Astros, and Tigers from 2003 to 2012, but suffered a rapid fall from grace in late 2012, just a year after converting all 52 of his save opportunities for the Tigers in the regular and postseasons. Valverde converted 35 of 40 saves for Detroit in 2012, but lost his job after giving up seven runs over two consecutive appearances that postseason, making just one more appearance for the Tigers after Game 1 of the American League Championship Series despite Detroit playing seven more games that October.
A free agent that winter, Valverde went unsigned until the Tigers, their plans to install rookie Bruce Rondon in the role having failed, signed him to a minor league deal in early April. Valverde reclaimed his title as Tigers closer in late April of that year and converted his first three save chances, but then blew three of his next nine, was outrighted off the roster after an ugly outing against the Orioles in mid-June, released in early August, and remained unsigned for the remainder of the season. This winter, the Mets took a flier on Valverde on a minor league deal and broke camp with him as their primary set-up man, a role he filled ably on Monday by retiring all four batters he faced, striking out three. Now he's their closer. Just how long Valverde lasts in the role remains to be seen, but one thing working in Valverde's favor is the lack of strong alternatives on the Mets' roster or in their system. One compelling option might be Vic Black, the fireballer who was acquired in the Marlon Byrd trade last August and made 15 appearances for the Mets down the stretch. Black, who will be 26 in May, had a lousy spring and was optioned to Triple-A, but a strong start to the regular season could put him back in the conversation for late-inning opportunities in New York. Another dark horse candidate is 26-year-old Jeff Walters, who saved 38 games in Double-A last year and will pitch along-side Black in Triple-A Las Vegas to start the season. In terms of veteran options, the Mets also have Kyle Farnsworth, who is being called up for Wednesday's game, and Kevin Gregg remains a free agent. But the Mets are better off finding out what their younger arms can offer than running out a string of has-beens in the hope of winning a couple of extra games in what was likely to be another also-ran season even before Parnell's injury.