Mar 30

March 30.10: Not feeling it.

The phone rang last night around 9:15, and it was a friend who wanted to share some good news. As is the case when we talk the conversation quickly turned to the Mets.

“You know JD,” he said. “Normally, I’d be excited this time of year. Opening Day is a week away, but for some reason I’m not feeling it this year. It’s hard to get excited about this team.”

The greatest concern on his mind was the pitching, which has not been good. All the worries about the Key Three – Pelfrey, Maine and Perez – are still there, hanging over the team like the rain this morning.

They just won’t go away.

“For the last three years they’ve been saying how they need a No. 2 starter,” my friend said. “So, what do they do? They spend it all on a left fielder.”

We can debate whether what was out there is better than what the Mets currently have, but for now, we have to consider there had to have been at least one guy who could help.

I don’t know. Maybe the buzz will hit my friend and he’ll feel it next week. Maybe they’ll get off to a fast start and get us all excited.

But for now, there are more than several issues that have dampened the mood.

Mar 29

March 29.10: Pelfrey should open season in the minors.

Let’s face it, Mike Pelfrey has had a miserable spring, one which doesn’t warrant going north with the team. He’s given up eight homers this spring, and 12 runs over his last two starts.

Pelfrey speaks knowingly of the need for him to pitch well, but spits the bit most every time out this spring. Neither John Maine nor Oliver Perez have pitched well, either, but Pelfrey has been combustible.

It would be very simple for Nelson Figueroa to start the season in the rotation with Bobby Parnell being added to the bullpen until Pelfrey works out his problems.

It is imperative for a lot of reasons that the Mets get off to a fast start, but right now I see Pelfrey putting the breaks on getting out of the gate.

Mar 28

March 28.10: Pelfrey a concern.

Of all the Mets, for me it is a toss up between Mike Pelfrey and John Maine as to whom I am most concerned about heading into the season. Oliver Perez? Not so much, as I know he’ll be inconsistent and spotty. I’m done scratching my head over Perez.

But Pelfrey and Maine – the former starts today – promise to have an upside and there have been flashes. Pelfrey’s problems have been, 1) a failure to master his secondary pitches, 2) an inability to limit the damage in an inning, and 3) a tendency to lose focus.

It all adds up to not knowing what to expect when he takes the mound.

But, at least he knows it when he speaks of the primary issue surrounding this team.

“I’ve come in from day one saying that the whole season is going to depend on us three,” Pelfrey said of himself, Maine and Perez. “And it’s true. No matter what team it is, pitching wins championships.
“Johan Santana is going to be Johan Santana. The guys vying for the fifth spot are going to be great fifth starters. The rest is on us three.”

It is only spring training, but their performance so far has done little to alleviate concern. The questions and inconsistency remains.

Mar 27

March 27.10: Takahashi starts today; looking at the pen.

When the Mets signed Hisanori Takahashi after his ten years with the Yomiuri Giants, there was little doubt he’d be on their staff, most likely as a starter.

After a strong start Jerry Manuel said there would be a spot for him, but with prospect Jon Niese recovered from a hamstring injury and performing well, the Mets are looking are at using him out of the bullpen, giving them a second lefty to Pedro Feliciano.

Pencil Takahashi into the bullpen, even though he’ll start today.

“Takahashi is fun,” pitching coach Dan Warthen said earlier this spring. “He very seldom hits the middle of the plate. He changes speeds. He recognizes swings, works both sides of the plate extremely well.’’

Takahashi’s ball cuts and sinks, giving the Mets an option to come in and get the double play, something they’ve lacked since Chad Bradford in 2006.

The dynamics of the make-up of a pitching staff are interesting. Niese puts Takahashi in the pen, and Kelvim Escobar’s injury led to several scenarios. Escobar was to be the eighth inning set-up reliever, but that could go to Takahashi now. It could go to Fernando Nieve or to somebody else. It won’t got to Pedro Feliciano.

The Mets will carry seven relievers with only closer Francisco Rodriguez and situational lefty Feliciano givens with defined roles.

Ryota Igarashi and Kiko Calero have been impressive, and that leaves one spot unaccounted for.

For much of the spring we heard it could be Jenrry Mejia, but it seems he’s ticketed to the minor leagues.

Who gets the final spot?

Do they relent with Mejia, or give it to Bobby Parnell, Sean Green or Nelson Figueroa?

The path of least resistance would be Figueroa for the following reasons: 1) if Mejia won’t be the eighth-inning guy he’s better off getting consistent work in the minors, 2) Mejia, Green and Parnell all have options remaining, and 3) with the Mets’ rotation suspect there would appear to be opportunities for an innings-eating long-man.

That’s Figueroa.

“We know that he’s capable of throwing three innings a day and then come back if somebody’s losing it and throwing again,’’ Manuel said. “He has shown us that he can handle the big leagues. Whatever role we decide for him, he throws strikes. He’ll be fine.’’

Prior to yesterday’s disastrous start Figueroa had pitched well, and his demeanor and talents are better suited for the mop-up role. The irony of it is that Figueroa isn’t good enough to make the rotation, but the questions in the rotation might give him a chance to stick.

Mar 26

March 26.10: Figueroa’s story won’t change.

As compelling as the underdog story is, there’s a reason for why he is. Just as Cornell lost last night to Kentucky because of depth of talent, that is also the limitation of Nelson Figueroa’s feel-good story.

There’s a reason why Figueroa has bounced around all these years: His talent it that of the sixth man in a five-man rotation. Every once in awhile he shows a glimmer, but overall the more he pitches the more his flaws are exposed.

Figueroa pitches today not so much as an effort to get Jerry Manuel to change his mind about the fifth spot in the rotation but as he does to audition for somebody else.

Figueroa, 35, who refers as himself as an “insurance policy,’’ has been around long enough to know the score.

“I’m in a position where I’m going out there and throwing for 29 other teams right now,’’ Figueroa said. “Being the insurance policy has its benefits. But at the same time, it’s a frustrating situation. I feel like if I’m given the opportunity to be more than that, I can be.’’

But, it won’t happen with the Mets because there’s always a faster gun, somebody who is younger, who throws harder, who is more a natural.

Actually, Figueroa got an extended look last year because of the Mets’ decimated rotation and went 3-8 with a 4.09 ERA. That included losing five consecutive decisions in September,

Figueroa’s heart, grit and determination is the essence of what sport should be, but it isn’t the reality in today’s game, which is driven by the need to win immediately. Maybe in a town with less pressure, Figueroa might get a chance.

But it would be the same story with the Mets, him passing through waivers, going back to Triple-A Buffalo, and waiting for the call generated by the inevitable injury or calamity in the rotation.

Still, pitching minor league baseball for what Figueroa would make is a better job than most of us will have, earning him $119,500 if he spends the full season in the minors.

It just isn’t the job he wants.