Baseball

September 16, 2007

Throwing Deep
There's no reason for any pitching and moaning among the Mets, who have a new abundance of capable starters

DURING management's busy (if largely unrewarded) off-season and well into the summer, some Mets thought they were going to be short one starting pitcher, maybe two. But now, a few weeks before the start of the postseason, NL East--leading New York has the opposite—and much more enviable—problem: one too many starting pitchers. Maybe two.

Look around, and you'll be hard-pressed to find a rotation with less drop-off from its front end to its back. Through Sunday, Mets starters were fifth in the majors in quality starts (79), fourth in wins (61) and second in batting average against (.249). With the return of Pedro Martinez from rotator cuff surgery, at least one of five worthy starters will be relegated to the bullpen come the playoffs. "Somebody [good] is going to be left out," says lefthander Tom Glavine, the staff's nominal ace. "It's a nice situation to be in."

The New York brass isn't saying publicly who'll go to the bullpen, but team sources say that if all five starters are healthy in October, Glavine, Orlando Hernandez and Martinez will likely fill three spots. That leaves lefty Oliver Perez, the Mets' most effective pitcher last October—not to mention the hurler whose power stuff translates so well to the postseason—or righthander John Maine, their top pitcher in the first half of this year, to fight for the remaining starting role.

What's remarkable is how closely the performances of Glavine (13--6, 3.95 ERA at week's end), Perez (13--9, 3.46), Maine (14--9, 3.80) and Hernandez (9--4, 3.32) have tracked. Furthermore, among the remaining contenders, no rotation, with the possible exception of the Cubs' (Ted Lilly and Rich Hill) has two healthy, dependable lefties.

Then there is Martinez, who threw five scoreless innings against the Astros on Sunday in a 4--1 New York win. His velocity has typically been in the 84- to 86-mph range during his two starts, topping out around 90, but his command, especially of his changeup and—against Houston, at least—of his curveball has been encouraging. Still, says manager Willie Randolph, "he isn't out of the woods yet."

If Pedro continues to make progress, the Mets have three elite October starters in Hernandez (9--3 in the postseason with a 2.55 ERA and only 77 hits allowed in 106 innings), Martinez (6--2, 63 hits in 79 1/3 innings) and Glavine (3.30 ERA). That's a far cry from spring training, when, says Glavine, "I thought we could use one more arm, a younger guy we could count on to be the ace."

Turns out, however, that G.M. Omar Minaya had already made the deals to fortify the team's seeming weakness. During the previous off-season he had sent righty Kris Benson to the Orioles for Maine and reliever Jorge Julio. That trade became doubly fruitful when the Mets flipped Julio four months later to the Diamondbacks for Hernandez, whom Minaya calls "our most consistent pitcher this year." Perez came from the Pirates in a July 2006 deal for outfielder Xavier Nady. In an age when young power arms are prized—lefty ones especially—the acquisition of Perez was one of the game's great recent heists.

A case, once again, of the rich getting richer.

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Touching 'Em All

One name that's been linked to the soon-to-be-vacant Royals managing job is Buck Martinez, a longtime K.C. catcher who last managed Team USA in the 2006 WBC.... Although one assistant G.M. said that he considered the newly vacant Pirates G.M. job to be "poison," some promising names are surfacing as potential replacements for Dave Littlefield. Two strong candidates would be highly regarded Indians assistant G.M. Chris Antonetti and Brewers scouting director Jack Zduriencik, whose recent drafts—which have included Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun—have helped make Milwaukee a contender.

PHOTOCHUCK SOLOMON (MARTINEZ)STACKED There's little drop-off in the Mets' rotation of (clockwise from left) Martinez, Glavine, Perez, Maine and Hernandez. PHOTORICH KANE/ICON SMI (MAINE)[See caption above] THREE PHOTOSJOHN IACONO[See caption above]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)