Mar 22

March 22.10: Questions down the stretch.

When pitchers and catchers reported Feb. 18, I posted five key questions the Mets faced heading into spring training. With two weeks remaining, there are issues with four of those five concerns.

Question: What is this team’s attitude?
Assessment: By all accounts, it is good and positive. The Mets aren’t rolling through their spring schedule, but there have been no issues of lack of hustle and laziness. David Wright said the Mets need to use last year’s embarrassment as a motivator. Jason Bay is fitting in and Jeff Francoeur has been a positive influence. So far, so good, but they haven’t played any games that count yet.

Question: How healthy is this team?
Assessment: Injuries sabotaged the 2009 season, and already two of the team’s core will open the season on the disabled list and likely won’t be ready until May. Carlos Beltran’s knee is responding well to rehab and Jose Reyes’ hamstring feels good. However, Reyes’ issue is his thyroid and one wonders how that will be with the riggers of the season. Reliever Kelvim Escobar, penciled in as a set-up man, has missed the entire spring with shoulder pain. There have been no problems physically with Francoeur, Oliver Perez, Johan Santana and John Maine, all with recent surgery on their resume.

Question: What is the status of the three pitching questions, Mike Pelfrey, Oliver Perez and John Maine?
Assessment: These three guys represent the season’s key. If they do well, then the Mets can contend. The Mets didn’t make any rotation additions this winter because they believe in the upside of these three. It has been an up-and-down spring for all three, but Perez has been refreshingly positive. However, none have performed to where the Mets can say they are in the clear. The concerns remain.

Question: Who is fifth starter?
Assessment: Fernando Nieve, Jon Niese, Nelson Figueroa and Hisanori Takahashi are in the mix. Takahashi has looked the best, but he hasn’t pitched enough to be stretched out. Niese has options remaining, so they could do the safe thing and send him out and protect someone else. Jerry Manuel said he’ll use a fifth starter from the start, so there will be no hiding him with the off-days in April. This is the biggest decision remaining in camp.

Question: What is the make-up of the bullpen?
Assessment: The biggest sub-question is whether Jenrry Mejia goes north in the pen and what role he would have. With his stuff, he’s a closer in waiting, which makes me think eighth-inning set-up. But, will the Mets expose him to that or put him in a low-pressure role. To me, that’s defeatist thinking. If you’re afraid to use him, then why carry him? Losing Escobar went a large part in opening the door for Mejia. So has, the general ineffectiveness of the relievers. If Takahashi doesn’t make it in the rotation, it could be him. Any of the losers for the fifth-starter could also fit as the long man. Bobby Parnell is still around, but he might be a casualty if they keep Takahashi in the pen. Kiko Calero and Ryota Igarashi will make the roster. Pedro Feliciano is still the only lefty of substance.

Mar 18

March 18.10: Perez tries to take another step vs. Marlins.

Oliver Perez is left-handed with 90-mph. plus heat. He’ll keep getting chances. When he’s on, as he was last Saturday against Detroit with four hitless innings, he ignites the imagination.

Then again, when he’s the Bad Ollie, he reduces those in the Mets’ dugout to a bunch of babbling, head-scratching messes. Jerry Manuel once said the Bad Ollie kept him on the top step of the dugout ready to spring out.

Perez threw strikes and spotted his pitches against the Tigers, and the Mets want to see more of that tonight against Florida. The Mets continue to hang with Perez because of his high ceiling for potential, which is greater than John Maine or even Mike Pelfrey.

Perez’s command was good in his first two starts, traceable to a consistency in his footwork mechanics that resulted in a comfortable release point.

“It seems so easy when it all works,’’ pitching coach Dan Warthen said.

When Perez has an idea where his pitches are going he becomes more focused and relaxed. The anxiety is gone.

It seems like a little thing, but in the Detroit game Perez cruised and retired his first eight hitters, but then walked the next two. The wind kept Carlos Guillen’s ball in the park. The next inning, Perez regained his focus and set the Tigers down in order.

There are dozens of games when those circumstances produced a different scenario.

It’s only spring, but it beats what we’ve seen before.

Beltran making progress: Carlos Beltran, who’ll open the season on the disabled list following knee surgery, is encouraged by his rehab.

“I’m doing good,’’ Beltran told ESPN Radio. “I come to the ballpark every single day, rehabbing, to try and put myself in the best condition, so when it come time for me to start playing baseball I can go out there and do what I know I can do.’’

Here’s tonight’s batting order vs. Marlins:

Angel Pagan, CF
Luis Castillo, 2B
David Wright, 3B
Mike Jacobs, 1B
Jason Bay, LF
Jeff Francoeur, RF
Alex Cora, SS
Henry Blanco, C
Oliver Perez, LP

Followed by Pedro Feliciano, Hisanori Takahashi, Pat Misch, Ryota Igarashi and Francisco Rodriguez.

Mar 15

March 15.10: Not pleased with Maine.

Not at all pleased with John Maine’s explanation for his horrendous performance yesterday afternoon. Maine gave up five runs on three hits and three walks while facing only eight Marlins.

“My mechanics felt fine. I just I wasn’t into it,’’ Maine told reporters.

Huh?

“The feeling that it wasn’t my game as a starter – that was the hardest thing. It’s a waste of a day… I was up, down, I can’t put my finger on exactly what was wrong. My delivery was fine. I was rushing a little. But that’s normal when you haven’t pitched in a while.’’

It might not have been his day as a starter, but it was his day as a Mets pitcher and there can never be any excuse for going through the motions. Never.

There was too much of that last year and if this spring is about starting fresh, there can’t be that kind of attitude.

The Mets’ pitching is suspect enough as it is and they can’t afford to have pitchers throw away their games even if it isn’t in the role they desire.

Maine is supposed to be one of the pitchers the team is looking up to and he has to come up bigger than this.

NOTEBOOK: Francisco Rodriguez, out with pink eye, will make his debut today. … The following were sent to the minor league camp: R.A. Dickey, Josh Fogg, Josh Thole and Eric Neissen.

Here’s today’s line-up vs. St. Louis:

Luis Castillo, 2B
Ruben Tejada, SS
David Wright, 3B
Mike Jacobs, 1B
Jason Bay, LF
Fernando Martinez, CF
Jeff Francoeur, RF
Rod Barajas, C
Fernando Nieve, RP

Followed by: Jon Niese, Francisco Rodriguez, Pat Misch, Sean Green, Tobi Stoner and Elmer Dessens.

Mar 14

March 14.10: Mets play two; line-up and roster thoughts.

With Jose Reyes down, it looks as if Jerry Manuel has settled on David Wright-Jason Bay as the 3-4 hitters, which is the way to go. Wright is the better overall hitter and should be in the three hole. Also, separating Bay and Jeff Francoeur, two strikeout guys, is the way to go.

There’s no surprise, that with Reyes out it will either be Matthews or Angel Pagan leading off. Just leave Luis Castillo alone in the two slot.

Bobby Parnell will get time in the “A” game and has been working on a cutter. Curious to see it because the rap on him is the need to develop a secondary pitch.

It is obvious Omir Santos won’t go north with the team, so it appears they are showcasing him by giving him the start with Johan Santana in the “A” game. (The “B” game was at 10 this morning.) Otherwise, why not give Rod Barajas the time with Santana?

As good a spring training Fernando Martinez is having, the Mets won’t carry him unless there’s another injury. He needs consistent at-bats and he’ll get them at Triple-A and not at the fourth outfielder with the Mets.

Both Santana and John Maine go today against the Marlins in the “A’’ at Jupiter.

Santana is coming off a rocky first start, and Maine was solid in his first outing. They will try to duplicate what Oliver Perez did yesterday against the Detroit. Hit hard in his first start, Perez rebounded yesterday with four hitless innings against the Tigers. He did walk three, which is always a red flag with him, but as I said several times with Perez, I’ll take what I can get and hope for the best.

Manuel said the most encouraging sign with Perez has been a simplification with his mechanics, with the result a more consistent release point.

Here’s today’s line-up against the Marlins:

Gary Matthews, CF
Luis Castillo, 2B
David Wright, 3B
Jason Bay, LF
Daniel Murphy, 1B
Jeff Francoeur, RF
Alex Cora, SS
Omir Santos, C
Johan Santana, LP

Santana will be followed by Maine, Bobby Parnell, Kiko Calero and Ryota Igarashi.

Mar 13

March 13.10: Perez tries to improve vs. Tigers.

The Mets liked that Oliver Perez threw strikes is his first start. It would have been nice if he’d gotten some hitters out. The Mets need to see improvement today from Perez in his start against Detroit.

The Mets’ projected rotation of Johan Santana, Mike Pelfrey, Perez, John Maine and Jon Niese have all worked, with only Maine pitching effectively. But, it’s early and still time for the others to get into a grove.

Perez is coming off a miserable start last Sunday against Washington in which he gave up five runs on seven hits in three innings.

Perez did come out of the start with not problems to his right knee (offseason surgery) and that he threw 33 of 49 pitches for strikes.

Here’s today’s line-up against Detroit:

Angel Pagan, LF
Luis Castillo, 2B
David Wright, 3B
Jason Bay, DH
Daniel Murphy, 1B
Jeff Francoeur, RF
Gary Matthews, CF
Rod Barajas, C
Alex Cora, SS

Perez will be followed by Hisanori Takahashi, Nelson Figueroa, Sean Green and Bobby Parnell. If it works out where innings are available, Jenrry Mejia will pitch.