Apr 18

April 18.10: Chat Room, Game #12 at Cardinals: Pressure on Maine.

The pressure never ends.

As much as last night’s epic 20-inning victory – anything 20 innings plus is epic – has been written and mentioned as being a catalyst to turn around this sluggish season, it means nothing unless the Mets can sustain.

That means John Maine must step up, perhaps unlike at any other time during his career with the Mets, and pitch big tonight against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Mets exhausted their bullpen last night for 13 innings, and despite pitching one inning, Francisco Rodriguez was spent after throwing 100 pitches in an up-and-down evening warming in the pen.

If a starter won’t throw the next day after throwing 100 pitches, the same could be for Rodriguez tonight.

Maine, who seems to hyperventilate around the third or fourth inning, needs at least six, better seven innings tonight. He needs it for a lot of reasons, including to silence the Dillon Gee whispers.

You see, Maine isn’t pitching tonight to save the bullpen as much as he is his spot in the rotation. While it is likely Maine, barring a disaster, will get another start after this, manager Jerry Manuel has done nothing to dispel the speculation.

Aware of ramifications of a third hammering, Maine went to the videotape to look at his mechanics and pitch selection from 2007, when he won 15 games. Fundamentally, Maine concluded if he’s going down it would be with his fastball, which has atrophied after falling in love with his off-speed and breaking balls.

“I’m fine, my shoulder is fine,’’ Maine said after the Colorado debacle. “ I know the No. 1 priority is to get back and throw my fastball. That’s what I’m going to do in my bullpen. That’s what I’m going to do in my next start I’m going to get back to where I was.’’

Maine looked at everything from wind-up to delivery to release point and said he’s going back to his 2007 delivery and with it, hopefully that year’s fastball. Where Maine once touched the radar gun at 94 mph, he topped out at 91 in his last start, Tuesday night’s meltdown in Colorado.

“I’m just going to go back to that delivery, going back to throwing the fastball,’’ Maine said. “Hopefully it turns out fine. I may get hit, but, you know, at least I know I’m going out there, getting beat with my best pitch and not my second and third pitch.’’

Maine, 0-1 with a 13.50 ERA, has given up 12 runs in eight innings in his two starts, including eight runs in three innings at Colorado Tuesday.

“It’s hard. I’m doing my stuff in between starts,” Maine said. “I’m doing the right things. I just can’t put it together. … This is awful right now.”

****

Tonight’s line-up for the Mets (4-7):

Jose Reyes, SS
Alex Cora, 2B
David Wright, 3B
Frank Catalanotto, 1B
Jeff Francoeur, RF
Gary Matthews, CF
Rod Barajas, C
Angel Pagan, LF
John Maine, RP

NOTES: Mike Jacobs was designated for assignment to make room for reliever Tobi Stoner, who was brought up to bolster their depleted bullpen. It’s obvious the Mets won’t go with a Fernando Tatis-Catalanotto platoon, so expect Ike Davis to be promoted. By designating Jacobs for assignment, the Mets open a spot on their 40-man roster.

Apr 13

April 13.10: Chat Room, Game #7 at Rockies: Maine needs a big night.

With the 2-4 Mets six games into the 20-game plateau manager Jerry Manuel defined as fair to evaluate the start of the season, the team begins its first road trip to Colorado and St. Louis, perhaps two of the more unfriendly venues for visitors.

After losing two each to the Marlins and Nationals – teams they should handle at home at least – the mood of the Mets isn’t panic as much as it is urgency.

There have been three bad starts by the rotation, a trend that would wear down the bullpen eventually, and no hitting with runners in scoring position.

“It’s six games,’’ said outfielder Jeff Francoeur. “With that being said, we’d better get it going quick, because we’ve got some teams coming up that are really, really good.’’

Manuel ripped his team for being unprepared – for which he assumed responsibility – and others wondered about the intensity level.

If the Mets are going to get it started, they’ll have to do it tonight behind John Maine, he of the 7.20 ERA and slow fastball.

Maine has lost some of the velocity, and worse, some of the movement off his fastball, a byproduct of shoulder problems. He says he’s fine, but he still needs to build up strength.

“We’ll continue to hope for that,’’ Manuel said of Maine building up his shoulder strength. “He’s healthy and I don’t see why, being free from setbacks and those types of things, we won’t see that at some point.’’

Maine is 2-1 with a 2.66 ERA in three starts versus the Rockies, so there’s some reason for optimism.

NOTE: I am taking classes on Tuesday and Thursday nights for the next few months, and won’t be around for the start of the game. With the game at 8:40 p.m., I’m expecting to be back by nine, so I might miss the first inning or two.

Apr 06

April 6.10: Wright steps up for his team.

David Wright spoke in basic, but his smile told a much more complex story.

First inning, Citi Field, yesterday afternoon and Wright was rounding the bases after hitting a two-run, opposite-field homer off Josh Johnson … his smile carrying him as much as his legs.

Wright, who seemingly talked himself out of hitting for power early in the season, and later that lost summer was felled with a concussion after taking a Matt Cain fastball to his head, had just gotten the Mets off to a fast start in turning the page from a disastrous 2009.

Could one swing of the bat set the tone for a summer?

“I don’t put too much stock into home runs,’’ said Wright, who hit only ten of them last year, one of them last Opening Day he was quick to remind when the “tone’’ word surfaced.

Logic says no, that Mets 7, Marlins 1, was simply one game, but the game gave us a glimpse of what could happen when Wright’s team puts it all together for an afternoon. Yesterday was a blue print of what needs to happen.

The Mets need pitching more than power and Johan Santana was superb. And, with their suspect rotation, they need the bullpen late and Fernando Nieve gave them two sterling innings and Francisco Rodriguez was perfect.

Last summer, the Mets hit a major league low 95 homers – the only team not to hit 100 – so their offense must generate runs and take advantage of what is offered. So many opportunities were wasted last year, but yesterday they parlayed three Florida errors into four runs. A gift, yes, but too many times last year they came away empty in similar spots.

The new guys, Gary Matthews, Jason Bay and Rod Barajas had two hits apiece, and Matthews showed he can cover center until Carlos Beltran’s return.

“I think it was an all-around good effort,” Wright said. “We caught the ball, we pitched well and obviously had some timely hitting. You can’t ask for much more than that, first game of the season.’’

Wright is correct, it’s only one game, but it’s better than if it had been one game the other way. For a team coming off two late season collapses and a free-fall summer, that played with frustrating mediocrity this spring, winning sure as hell beats losing.

“By no stretch of the imagination are we where we want to be right now,’’ said manager Jerry Manuel, who looks at winning in a more personal, job-preserving vein. “The important thing is that as you put the pieces into place that you win games.

“We played well. We played all 27 outs.’’

There will be times this summer when they don’t. All teams, even champions, have those moments. And, there will be times this summer when the smile Wright wore yesterday will be a frown.

But, it was finally nice to see him smile.

“It’s good to see David get started,’’ Jeff Francoeur said. “David has to step up. It has to be his team.’’

And, yesterday it was.

Mar 11

March 11.10: A plan for Mejia.

Contrary to how they handled Bobby Parnell last season, the Mets seem to have a definitive plan for Jenrry Mejia.

He has been working as a reliever this spring, and that’s what he’ll do for the remainder of camp and in the minor leagues.

Manager Jerry Manuel sees that Mariano Rivera-like movement on his cutter and envisions dominance coming out of the bullpen.

Last year, Parnell was bounced around from being a starter in the minors, to a reliever for the Mets, then a starter and finally back to the pen. After the season he admitted being confused and his confidence shaken.

Mejia is 20 and has been scintillating in his role. It is easy to see how Manuel could be thinking about 94-mph fastball coming out of the bullpen, perhaps as soon as this year. In 5 1/3 scoreless innings he has given up two hits and struck out five with no walks.

It’s that no walks that’s importance. The reviews have been good but the presumption is he’ll open the season in the minor leagues, likely the Class AA level.

That’s the plan now, here’s hoping they stick with it.

Mar 09

March 9.10: All eyes on Santana today.

Johan Santana reported to spring training feeling brash, talking about such things as winning a Cy Young Award and more importantly, a World Series.

Always confident, but what gave Santana the push is that his surgically-repaired left elbow feels good, strong and sound.

Last season long since lost, Santana shut it down in August and had surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow – the second time he’s had such surgery.

“I’m able to let it go,’’ said Santana, who’ll do it for the first time this spring in a game against Houston.

Santana has been reporting full extension in his release. So far no problems in his bullpen sessions.

“I am able to throw my fastball with no problems and throw my breaking balls and my change-up without feeling that sharp pain in the back of my elbow now,’’ Santana said. “I am able to throw all my pitches pain free, so that’s a big plus for me.’’

Full arm extension means a better release point, which adds bite to his slider.

“Now I am able to extend my arm and release the ball in front of me and be able to throw my slider,’’ Santana said. “It’s a big difference from last year. I am able to now throw my pitches and let everything go. Last year I wasn’t able to do that.’’

This is huge news for the Mets, who opened camp with questions to their entire rotation, but Santana changes the entire dynamic of the team. If he’s healthy he gives the Mets a good chance to win every five days; if not, an already suspect rotation falls into disarray.

For a team desperate for positive health news, having Santana back eliminates one headache.