Mar 18

March 18.10: What’s Jerry’s thinking about the fifth starter?

With most managers, at least those with security, their objectives are a balance between winning today and building for the future. That can’t be said for the Mets’ Jerry Manuel, who has joked about the importance of a fast start for the preservation of his job.

There’s truth in humor.

Manuel presided over the late season collapse of 2008 and full season free fall of 2009, and knows the Mets must contend, if not get to the playoffs and win a round, if he’s to return next year. Manuel’s job is on the line, and with it there’s a sense of urgency of being competitive immediately.

Given that, it stands to reason Manuel’s decisions, like that of choosing his fifth starter, will be to give him the best chance of winning now as opposing for building for the future, because quite simply, he has no guarantee of a future.

Manuel’s comments the other day that he’d like to see Hisanori Takahashi start a game this spring suggests strongly he’s being seriously considered for the fifth starter role. Takahashi has been superb in six scoreless innings, giving up two hits and striking out nine.

“What we have seen so far is he really has the ability to pitch and pitch with all his pitches,” Manuel said. “He probably is our sharpest pitcher right now, as far as everything hitting where he wants it to hit.”

If not Takahashi, then perhaps Fernando Nieve. Nelson Figueroa will be sent out to clear waivers, and Jon Niese, who went into spring training the favorite, will be sent out because he has options remaining.

Niese might be the fifth starter down the road, but Manuel doesn’t have the luxury of letting him learn on the job. As long as Takahashi is getting batters out, the Mets have a chance to win, and that means Manuel has a better chance to stick around.

Mar 12

March 12.10: Have to wonder about Reyes.

Let’s do the math. Two weeks from today puts us a week before spring training. Then Reyes has to start over, because they aren’t going to push him and certainly don’t want to rush him considering his hamstring. That puts us at the middle of April. And, since nothing with the Mets ever goes as planned, and there is no such thing as a best-case scenario, we’re not going to see Reyes before May.

Is anybody to blame for this or is it simply just another case of bad luck for the Mets?

Just because Reyes can’t eat seafood doesn’t automatically mean his overactive thyroid resulted by diet. Is it diet, heredity or some other external factor that caused the spike in Reyes’ thyroid levels?

The elephant in the room is HGH.

Reyes was treated Dr. Anthony Galea, who is under investigation after being charged with attempting to HGH into the United States. Reyes denies taking the stuff, that he only had the blood-spinning treatment. Who knows? Maybe it was the blood-spinning treatment that’s the cause.

Even so, MLB doesn’t test for HGH and since there is a correlation between HGH and thyroid levels (an excellent article this week in the Daily News), we can’t dismiss it out of hand. Would you really be surprised?

Maybe we’ll never know the cause. Hopefully, his levels will stabilize and this won’t be an issue again. But, for now there is speculation.

What is known is that the Mets are again a team with its core on the sideline. Don’t count on seeing Reyes or Beltran in April, and if the pitching doesn’t come around they could be in serious trouble before either returns.

The Mets spent the offseason counting on their injured returning and their pitching would improve. Well, half of that wish hasn’t been answered. It remains to be seen about the other half.

Mar 09

March 9.10: Santana hammered.

It wasn’t a good day for Johan Santana, who gave up four runs on six hits in 1 2/3 innings in today’s loss to Houston.

Santana, who is coming off elbow surgery was clocked in the low 90s and reported no discomfort or pain.

“They made me work today,’’ Santana told reporters. “They were swinging right away. But I felt good because I was able to throw all of my pitches.

“I was a little bit off with my mechanics, releasing the ball. That’s part of spring training. That’s what we’re here for, trying to make adjustments and throw all of my pitches. The good thing is I felt good. I didn’t feel any problem in my arm. So that’s good.’’

Also today:

* Mike Pelfrey’s threw today and said his bruised right knee is fine and he’s on for Thursday’s start.

* Francisco Rodriguez threw in the bullpen today. He’ll throw again tomorrow and is scheduled to pitch Saturday.

* Fred Wilpon returned to Port St. Lucie.

* Jenrry Mejia is still turning heads but GM Omar Minaya said he’s still slated for the minor leagues. The Mets are stretching out Mejia’s outings to build up his stamina to be a minor league starter.

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.

Mar 08

March 8.10: Maine goes today.

John Maine isn’t a project the way Mike Pelfrey and Oliver are, but he’s a question nonetheless. When healthy, the Mets have a reasonable idea what to expect from Maine, once considered a throw-in in the Kris Benson with Baltimore.

But, how healthy is Maine?

“It feels fine,’’ Maine said at the start of spring training when asked about his surgically repaired shoulder. “It feels like it did three, four years ago.’’

Three years ago appeared to be a breakout year for Maine, who made 32 starts and went 15-10 with a 3.91 ERA. However, Maine complained of fatigue in his shoulder the following summer and eventually missed his last seven starts because of surgery to remove bone spurs in his shoulder.

Surgery was deemed successful, but by his own admission he rushed his comeback saying “maybe I was trying to make up for lost time.’’

Maine made only 15 starts last season and went 7-6 with a 4.43 ERA. Maine’s biggest problem last year was an inability to amp it up and pitch out of trouble. He came back at the end of the year to show he was recovering, then modified his off-season program by starting later and throwing less.

Today’s start against the Florida Marlins won’t be about getting people out as it will be another test for his shoulder and to see what he might have picked up working with Sandy Koufax earlier this spring.

Koufax had Maine using a longer stride when delivering his fastball and concentrating on working on the inner half of the plate.

When healthy the Mets have a good idea from what to expect from Maine, although the organization believes the potential ceiling is higher with Pelfrey and Perez.

“I think being able to go out there every five days,’’ Maine said when asked the key for a successful season from him. “When I do go out there I generally give the team a chance to win.’’

Here’s the line-up behind Maine:

Angel Pagan CF
Fernando Martinez RF
David Wright 3B
Jason Bay LF
Daniel Murphy 1B
Rod Barajas C
Russ Adams 2B
Ruben Tejada SS
John Maine RP