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.

Mar 25

March 25.10: Wrapping up the Day.

Despite giving up two homers, there was questionable progress made by John Maine in today’s loss to St. Louis. The two homers were the only runs he allowed in five innings. Maine also walked two. Not sterling by any stretch, but better by comparison to how we’ve seen him this spring.

The Cardinals had chances, but for the most part Maine pitched out of trouble, which is a positive sign. But, he was lucky the homers – on by Albert Pujols – came with the bases empty. It hasn’t always been that way.

Maine was one inning and run less than what passes for a quality start these days. Three runs in six innings hardly represents quality, but does by today’s watered down standards. Tom Seaver would call in unacceptable.

The Mets need more from Maine, both at this stage in spring training and during his career. I’d take the two runs every time out, but the Mets need more than five innings considering his pitch count of 88. That many pitches must take him through seven innings.

Five innings won’t make it.

CARTER IMPRESSES: Omar Minaya, speaking during today’s telecast, said Chris Carter is making an impression regarding the final position spot on the roster.

“He’s a left-handed hitter with power,’’ Minaya said.

Carter flied out as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning, but is batting .421 with five extra-base hits.

Also in contention for that spot are Mike Jacobs and Frank Catalanotto, neither of whom are hitting over .200.

REYES WORKS OUT: Jose Reyes worked out again today and said there were no problems.

“Today went much better,’’ Reyes told reporters. “I was a little bit sore, but it was good so far, I’ll continue to do more and hopefully I’ll be on the field as soon as possible.’’

The will take it slow with Reyes. Pushing him at this time would only risk injury to his leg and would be foolish.

Mar 25

March 25.10: Niese fifth starter favorite.

It is by no means a given, but Jon Niese has emerged as the frontrunner to be the team’s fifth starter. Jerry Manuel said yesterday Niese has the inside track over Fernando Nieve, Nelson Figueroa and Hisanori Takahashi.

At one point this spring, I thought Takahashi was the favorite, but moved off that because he didn’t have enough innings to be sufficiently stretched out. The path of least resistance would have been to option Niese because he has options remaining, but he has pitched well enough to warrant a chance and there are other variables.

Most specifically, the sad state of the Mets’ bullpen. Niese couldn’t help out in the pen, but both Nieve as a long man and Takahashi as a left-hander fill two roles. Odd man out, as expected, is Figueroa.

Figueroa will pass through waivers then re-sign with the Mets and be pitching around June. Personally, I hope somebody claims him and he gets a chance to pitch.

Mar 24

March 24.10: Wrapping up the Day.

Jose Reyes returned to camp today, but couldn’t guarantee he’d be ready for Opening Day. And, Reyes said his leg won’t enable him to go all out anytime soon, so he’s got to take it easy.

Jerry Manuel said he doesn’t expect Reyes to be playing by this weekend, telling reporters: “I couldn’t give you a timetable, but it sure is good to have him back.’’

Reyes didn’t run at full speed, but participated in workouts and said he expects to feel sore tomorrow. Reyes said doctors told him he had a virus that elevated his levels and he has diet restrictions, such as not being able to eat seafood.

* Johan Santana gave up two runs on eight hits and one walk in 5 2/3 innings.

* Doc Gooden was arrested Tuesday morning for driving under the influence. Is he ever going to get it together?

* It appears the fifth starter job is Jon Niese’s to lose with Fernando Nieve and Hisanori Takahashi trying to earn spots in the bullpen.

* Several reports have the Mets trying to deal outfielder Gary Matthews for pitching. But, considering where Matthews is in his career, what could he bring in return?

Mar 24

March 24.10: It’s Murphy’s time.

You can read a couple of things into the Ike Davis demotion relating to Daniel Murphy.

One, there’s talk-show speculation Murphy was pressured by Davis’ presence and the possibility of him losing the position. Second, that the Mets still have faith in Murphy.

It’s the latter.

Jerry Manuel said Murphy is his first baseman, and it actually looks like that’s going to happen. For how long is another question.

With Murphy hitting below the Mendoza line this spring, and him not having much power to begin with, first base could be a black hole offensively for the team.
Murphy, at this stage of his career, is not a power hitter, but that’s not to say he can’t develop more power.

All along we’ve heard how the Mets rush some players and don’t have patience with others. Murphy has gone through a lot, enough to earn the Mets’ patience for now.

With David Wright ahead of him, Murphy, a natural third baseman was moved to another black hole, left field, at the end of the 2008 season.
He showed enough to where he was the starting left fielder last season, but it didn’t take. The Mets once considered him as a possible second baseman, but saddled with Luis Castillo’s contract, that didn’t work either.

So, it was on to first base a couple of months into last year, where Murphy played surprisingly well considering. The only problem is he doesn’t hit for the prototypical power of a first baseman.

But, he’s only 24 with one full season on his resume. But, after he settled in at first, he become more comfortable at the plate, made some adjustments, and hit .282. He also hit 38 doubles, which is an indication of some pop, and led the team with 12 homers.

Who knows? Maybe he’ll develop into a .300 hitter and hit 20 to 25 homers. It could happen.

But, if the season hinges on Murphy hitting for power, then the Mets are in big trouble anyway. Theoretically, they’ll get power from Wright, Carlos Beltran, Jason Bay and Jeff Francoeur. All should hit close to 30 homers.

If Murphy doesn’t, then so what?

Let’s take a look at this team. There are questions in the bullpen and the rotation has been horrid this spring. The Mets need a bounce-back year from Wright, and Beltran, and possibly Jose Reyes will open the season on the disabled list.

So, Murphy not hitting more than 20 homers seems to be low on the priority list.