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.

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 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 21

March 21.10: The plans for Davis?

Daniel Murphy has not had a good spring, but Ike Davis has been sizzling non-stop. Makes me think that if Murphy’s troubles continue Davis could be with the team earlier than expected.

By all accounts, Davis has the chance to be a special player and the timetable for him is next year. The plans for Murphy appear to be a position switch to second base.

Davis hit a game-tying homer yesterday, his third of the spring. It’s too soon to say Davis, despite hitting .500, is ready to start the season with the Mets. After all, his window has only been 24 at-bats. Davis will start today against the Astros’ Roy Oswalt in Kissimmee.

But next season, along with Jenrry Mejia and Fernando Martinez, the Mets have the potential for an outstanding young core.

FIFTH STARTER AUDITIONS CONTINUE: Nelson Figueroa will start today’s exhibition against the University of Michigan, followed by Fernando Nieve and Hisanori Takahashi, all up for the fifth-starter role.

Another fifth-starter candidate, Jon Niese, will start in the split-squad game vs. Houston.

Here’s today’s lineup vs. Michigan:

Luis Castillo, 2B
Alex Cora, SS
David Wright, 3B
Mike Jacobs, DH
Jason Bay, LF
Gary Matthews, CF
Chris Carter, RF
Daniel Murphy, 1B
Chris Coste, C

Here’s the lineup against Houston:

Jordany Valdespin, 2B
Ruben Tejada, SS
Ike Davis, 1B
Jeff Francoeur, RF
Fernando Martinez, CF
Fernando Tatis, 3B
Frank Catalanotto, LF
Omir Santos, C
Jon Niese, LP

ESCOBAR TO THROW: Kelvim Escobar, who has been shut down this spring with shoulder soreness, said he hopes to begin throwing tomorrow. But, that’s just him talking and it hasn’t been confirmed by the Mets.

Even if Escobar is cleared to throw, there’s no way he could catch up in time for the start of the season. The best guess would be early May.

Escobar was acquired with the idea of being the set-up reliever for Francisco Rodriguez. Right now that’s still an unanswered questions.

NOTES: Reliever Sean Green has a blister on his right big toe (push off leg) and is day-to-day. … It appears lefty reliever Joe Beimel won’t sign with the Mets. His agent, Joe Sroba, told The Post he’s been getting mixed signals from the Mets. What a surprise.