May 23

May 23.10: Maine admits to arm problems; Manuel vindicated.

Is it lying or semantics?

Pitching coach Dan Warthen called John Maine a “habitual liar,’’ two words that could destroy most any working relationship. It remains to be seen whether it will ruin this one, even though Warthen and manager Jerry Manuel have been vindicated for pulling Maine after five pitches last week in Washington.

Warthen’s intent was innocent enough although his choice of words was poor. Warthen meant it in that Maine never admits to his arm feeling poorly.

Even now, when Maine finally admitted something is not right with his shoulder he couched his words.

“There’s a little bit of pain, but what pitcher doesn’t have pain?’’ Maine said. “It’s the nature of pitching. It wasn’t going to stop me from going out there every five days.’’

But, it isn’t pain as much as it is weakness or fatigue in the shoulder.

“There was a little bit of weakness, not that much,’’ Maine said. “I guess they want to get to the bottom of it. What’s the problem, you know? What’s going on back there?

“Something has got to be found, but if everything comes back good, then I’ll deal with it and pitch, if I have to.’’

In the interim, the Mets must improvise.

The current thinking is to use Raul Valdes, who replaced Maine after his five pitch-outing, against the Phillies Tuesday night, followed Hisanori Takahashi and Mike Pelfrey. The thinking of Valdes over R.A. Dickey is because of the left-handed power in the Phillies’ line-up.

The next time Maine’s turn in the rotation would be is a week from today. But, the Mets will jump off that bridge when they get to it.

May 22

May 22.10: Chat Room, Game #44 vs. Yankees: Pelfrey attempts to stop slide.

The beleaguered Mets – losers of eight of their last ten games – hope to get better tonight with Mike Pelfrey (5-1, 3.02) going against the Yankees.

Pelfrey is making his third start against the Yankees, against whom he is 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA in 10 innings. In his last start, Pelfrey gave up two runs over a season-high 7 2/3 innings Monday at Atlanta, which snapped a five-game losing streak.

With questions throughout their rotation, Pelfrey has been the Mets’ most dependable starter, and his 3-0 with a 2.61 ERA in five home starts. Pelfrey attributes much of his success for falling out of love with the sinker. He said he was becoming predictable with the sinker.

“I would almost say I’ve changed from being a sinkerball guy to a four-seam guy,’’ Pelfrey said. “There are times when I’ll only use the sinker when I get in trouble. I’ve changed.’’

What hasn’t changed is the Mets’ myriad of pitching questions, beginning with John Maine, who will be examined by doctors Monday for discomfort and fatigue in his shoulder.

Maine pitched to one batter Thursday night at Washington before being removed. Angry for being taken out, Maine has finally admitted to discomfort, but stubborn as he is, said he didn’t think it was necessary to go on the DL.

Raul Valdes replaced Maine and pitched five strong innings. He was so effective, that Jerry Manuel has tentatively penciled him in over knuckleballer R.A. Dickey to start Tuesday against Philadelphia.

The Mets’ offense, save a 10-run explosion Thursday night, has been listless for much of May. It has been a brutal month for David Wright, who was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. Wright has struck out 23 times since May 8.

Here’s tonight’s line-up behind Pelfrey:

Jose Reyes, SS
Luis Castillo, 2B
Jason Bay, LF
Ike Davis, 1B
David Wright, 3B
Angel Pagan, CF
Rod Barajas, C
Jeff Francoeur, RF
Mike Pelfrey, RP

May 22

May 22.10: Don’t count on Mets getting Oswalt.

Just because Roy Oswalt wants out of Houston, don’t go thinking his next stop is Queens. Oswalt has $31 million remaining on this contract through 2011, plus an option, so he won’t come cheaply.

I know what you’re thinking, if they can give more money than that to Oliver Perez, why can’t they give it to a good pitcher such as Oswalt?

They could, but do you really see them spending that kind of money? I don’t, and I don’t see Oswalt waiving his no-trade clause to play for a team that’s in disarray.

Let’s face it, outside of a pitcher’s ball park, what do the Mets have to offer. A listless offense? Perhaps a managerial change? Perhaps a change in the front office? A shaky bullpen?

The Mets aren’t a very attractive proposition right now.

Even so, the Mets still have three holes to fill in their rotation.

After last night, Hisanori Takahashi will get another shot. So will R.A. Dickey. The next time John Maine’s spot in the rotation will come up will be a week from tomorrow. The best guess is it will be Pat Misch.

Bottom line, for immediate help, it will have to come from within.

May 21

May 21.10: Chat Room, Game #43 vs. Yankees: Mets come limping home.

Both the Mets and Yankees limp into this weekend’s series at Citi Field, but as usual there are more issues in Queens than the Bronx.

“I always look forward to these series,’’ Mets manager Jerry Manuel said. “You find out where you are as a team, and how you perform in that type of environment.’’

Doesn’t he know by now?

The Mets, despite winning last night at Washington, are reeling, almost in a free fall, and could very well be there after back-to-back series against the Yankees and Phillies.

The last-place Mets are coming off a 2-6 road trip in which they lost, by injury or performance, three-fifths of their rotation. Jon Niese, the most consistent of the three, went on the disabled list and could be joined there by John Maine, who was yanked after five pitches last night. Oliver Perez was exiled to the bullpen.

Journeyman knuckleballer R.A. Dickey replaced Perez and performed well, and long reliever Hisanori Takahashi will start tonight in place of Niese against the Yankees.
Takahashi’s move to the rotation, even temporarily, further strains the bullpen. Fernando Nieve and Pedro Feliciano, so effective in April, have been hit lately.

Further complicating matters has been an unproductive offense, which is relying on a journeyman catcher Rod Barajas and rookie first baseman Ike Davis because of the season-long power drought of Jason Bay and David Wright’s assault on the strikeout record.

Bay, although he’s been making contact lately, in on pace for four homers, while Wright is on pace for 223 strikeouts. Jeff Francoeur and Jose Reyes also aren’t hitting.

As bad as things have been, one can logically assume if Wright and Reyes, the cornerstones to the franchise, were hitting according to expectations, the Mets would be over .500 and there wouldn’t be so many rumblings about Manuel’s job security.

Despite COO Jeff Wilpon’s impromptu meeting in Atlanta in which he said he wasn’t about to fire Manuel or GM Omar Minaya, the whispers persist and are even louder after last night’s Manuel-Maine dugout blowout.

“When the owner comes down, you know something is going on,’’ said Francoeur. “But at the same time, you have to be professional. At times it can be tough, all the speculation, but I try to just play. That’s the easiest way to deal with it.’’

Manuel didn’t do much to get Wright and Francoeur on his side when he rested both this week. Both expressed displeasure at sitting, but neither criticized Manuel.

Also, neither offered much verbal support.

Before he was sacked, Willie Randolph had more verbal support from his players than Manuel has received, but the players are still hustling. That is a saving grace, but will it be enough if the Mets are pasted by the Yankees and Phillies?

Here’s tonight’s Mets’ line-up behind Takahashi:

Jose Reyes, SS
Alex Cora, 2B
Jason Bay, LF
Ike Davis, 1B
David Wright, 3B
Angel Pagan, CF
Rod Barajas, C
Jeff Francoeur, RF
Hisanori Takahashi, LP

NOTE: Luis Castillo was scratched from the line-up with a bruised left heel. … After throwing five innings in relief last night, Raul Valdes is not expected to be available for the Yankees series. … With Takahashi starting, R.A. Dickey will be the long man.

PREVIOUS POST: Feel free to comment on the Maine vs. Manuel thread.

May 21

May 21.10: Who goes first, Manuel or Maine?

Was one of the five pitches John Maine threw last night his final one with the Mets?

That’s what many are thinking, but if Jerry Manuel’s job security was secure, or at least stable, it might be enough for him to outlast Maine, but it is a house of cards.

Maine was the third Mets starter to go down during the team’s dreadful 2-6 road trip, but if the DL is in his immediate future then he’ll get another chance to save his career.

Manuel and pitching coach Dan Warthen think Maine is hiding an injury – the latter called the pitcher a “habitual liar’’ when it comes to discussing his health – and we should know after he sees a doctor today.

“I would like an explanation,’’ Maine said about his removal. “Me throwing 85 mph I don’t think is a good explanation to be taken out.’’

A weak warm-up session and Maine hunched over on the mound might have had something to do with it.

However, Maine partly answered his own question about why he wasn’t allowed to stay in the game.

“I’m in no position, I don’t have enough clout,’’ said Maine. “I don’t have enough star power to say anything. So what happens happens.’’

While Maine’s verbal explosion might doom him with some organizations, what might save him was how this was bungled by Manuel and Warthen.

“I just didn’t think John had enough to compete tonight,’’ Warthen said. “If he’s throwing that way, then there’s got to be something incorrect in that arm. … He wants to go out there and pitch. But we have to be smart enough to realize this guy isn’t right.’’

How come then, if his warm-ups were so bad, weren’t they smart enough to pull the plug before he took the mound?

Warthen told Manuel that Maine wasn’t throwing 80 mph in the bullpen. When Maine bounced a warm-up pitch, Manuel immediately got Raul Valdes up and throwing.

Manuel talked so much about wanting to protect Maine, but he let him start the game anyway? If one pitch could blow out his shoulder, then why take the chance?

Maine said he was never asked how he felt or that he was scheduled to see a doctor today. There’s a protocol in dealing with pitcher’s injuries and it wasn’t followed.

To be sure, Maine didn’t handle things properly, but neither did Manuel or Warthen, and the ice they are skating on is thinner than Maine’s.