Mar 16

Former Met Nelson Figueroa Is The Essence Of Baseball

I always regarded the WBC as Dancing With The Stars with spikes. It’s a manufactured competition, but with its roots in nationalism.

However, last night’s USA-Puerto Rico elimination was compelling, far more interesting than your average Mets-Marlins spring training game. That interest was generated by the passion in the stands. The WBC means more in terms of national pride to the teams and fans in Asia and Latin America than to the United States.

FIGUEROA: Remembrer him?

FIGUEROA: Remembrer him?

Puerto Rico is now in the international sports spotlight. The American players who are always in the spotlight can now return to their major league teams and big contracts.

Nationalism represented some of the motivational fuel for Nelson Figueroa, a journeyman pitcher who has toiled for six teams in parts of nine years – including the Mets – but pitched like a star last night in sending the United States home for the third straight time.

Figueroa was special, doing what he used to do at times with the Mets, which was burn innings. But, last nigh he gave Puerto Rico six shutout innings in his 80-pitch allotment. Working both sides of the plate effectively with everything but an electric fastball, he gave US hitters nothing to hit.

Putting on a show was the rest of his motivational fuel.

Figueroa told reporters. “It was motivation to show them what kind of pitcher I was.’’

Maybe he showed what kind of pitcher he can be to somebody with the power to make a decision on his career as so many other have done.

Figueroa was signed by Arizona to a minor league contract as organizational depth in December. If Figueroa were higher on the pitching food chain, but not good enough to be a given, he might have been better off in spring training.

However, in this case, showing what he could do against major league hitters should count for more points than a couple of innings against the Dodgers minor leaguers.

Sometime this year, the Diamondbacks or somebody else, will have a sudden need for an arm and think back at how Figueroa toyed with the US lineup.

Figueroa is not flashy. He does not have a great fastball or singular dominant pitch. What he has is command of the corners and guile. When both are on he’s tough to beat.

“I don’t throw very hard, but I pitch inside,’’ Figueroa said, giving us his personal scouting report. “It was a great exhibition of what can be done without a plus fastball. It was an opportunity to demonstrate that good pitching beats good hitting.’’

That’s the way it always has been and always will be. From a fundamental perspective, that’s baseball’s essence. From a human perspective, Figueroa is also the essence of the sport.

History has given us far more Figueroas in the game than Matt Harveys or Stephen Strasburgs. Harvey and Strasburg have power potential and will always get a shot. Things must break right for Figueroa to get his.

Figueroa has bounced around the globe in search of a job, last pitching in the major leagues with Houston in 2011. He’s been with the Phillies. Toronto and the Yankees released him without his cup of coffee. He has pitched in the winter leagues, for Mexico, for just about anybody who would give him the ball and a few dollars.

Figueroa pitches because that’s what he does. The sport is in his blood, rushing through his veins and consuming his soul. Until he’s physically unable, or run out of teams, Figueroa will pitch. It is players like him, perhaps even more than players like Justin Verlander, as the reason we watch.

Verlander is elite. Figueroa is more like us, who once dreamed of the big leagues. However, unlike us, he persevered through rough times, rejection and defeat to get the taste we will never.

Nov 11

Beltran willing to move to right

One of Sandy Alderson’s objectives is to convince Carlos Beltran to accept a move to right field and it looks as if that might happen.

In a conference call Thursday, Beltran said he would be open to moving to right field and waiving his no-trade clause.

BELTRAN: Open to move and trade

“I still feel that I can play center field,’’ Beltran said. “But, if the organization has different things in mind, then we have to talk about it.’’

Beltran wants to finish his career with the Mets, but is aware the club would like to shed his $18.5 million salary.

“If the organization is looking at different options, I have to be aware,’’ Beltran said. “So if a situation comes between them and us, we’re going to handle it in a very professional way.’’

The talking could start Saturday when Alderson travels to Puerto Rico for Beltran’s fundraiser for the construction of his baseball academy.

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Jul 16

Plenty of blame to go around on Reyes fiasco.

REYES: On the shelf.

Maybe this time they are getting it right.

Better late than never, but the Mets say they are now shutting down Jose Reyes until he’s able to swing pain free from both sides of the plate. The decision came as the outcome of last night’s pre-game circus that first had Reyes in the lineup, and then scratched with the news he’ll be put on the shelf.

The ringmaster of the circus, of course, is Jerry Manuel, who has irresponsibly bungled this from the outset.

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Jul 14

Reyes a question as second half opens.

REYES: Needs to come back only when he's ready.

The second half begins with Jose Reyes’ strained oblique a pertinent question, and all because the Mets foolishly tried to rush him back into the lineup.

After treating his thyroid issue with kid gloves, Jerry Manuel did the opposite with Reyes, letting him bat right-handed against righty pitching.

Reyes still can’t bat left-handed with confidence and the Mets should dismiss any thoughts of him playing tomorrow night at San Francisco.

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Jun 29

Tonight’s lineup vs. Marlins

PAGAN: Returns to lineup

Angel Pagan returns to the lineup today against the Marlins in Puerto Rico. Here’s the order:

Jose Reyes, SS

Angel Pagan, CF

David Wright, 3B

Jason Bay, LF
Rod Barajas, C

Fernando Tatis, 1B

Jeff Francoeur, RF

Ruben Tejada, 2B

Hisanori Takahashi, LP