May 20

Appearances Are Piling Up For Reliever Scott Rice

scott riceLefty reliever Scott Rice tossed two scoreless innings to pick up the win against the Cubs on Sunday. It was his major league-leading 25th appearance of the season.

Rice lowered his ERA to 3.05, and is now on pace for 99 appearances. That would surpass Pedro Feliciano‘s franchise mark of 92 games in 2010 and rank second all-time to Mike Marshall‘s 106 appearances for the Dodgers in 1974.

That is one heck of a workload to say the least, and to think that it’s coming from a pitcher who has toiled for 14 years in the minors before finally getting his shot in the majors makes this all the more amazing.

Rice, the 31 year old rookie, is proving to be the second best weapon in the Mets bullpen after closer Bobby Parnell. However, how long can he continue on this torrid pace before it all catches up to him and he begins to breakdown?

“Right now it’s early enough in the year”, manager Terry Collins said. “We’ve tried to get him some days off. But he keeps pitching four out of five, it’s got to be a concern. We’ve got to certainly pick up some of the workload with somebody else.”

Rice has no complaints and is enjoying every minute of his new-found life in the majors, but he also understands the risks.

“If my arm is feeling fine, I’m going to go out there and throw,” Rice said. “I’m going to be smart, and I know my body. I know how to take care of myself and prepare myself to throw every day.”

I’ve been pulling for Rice since back in Spring Training and was so glad for him when he made the team, but I never expected he would play such a significant role this season. Here’s to more great outings for this veteran rook, who definitely knows his place. He earned it the hard way.

Jan 10

Do you still have faith in the Mets?

There have been countless lost seasons in this franchise’s history, many of them gone before pitchers and catchers report in February. This is looking like another one of those years.

The Mets only did minor tweaking this winter and are no better now than they were when the season ended. They are putting their stock in the season in the hopes of Jason Bay and Carlos Beltran staying healthy, the continued development of Mike Pelfrey and some of their younger players, and encore seasons from RA Dickey and Angel Pagan.

In short, they are hoping everything breaks right, and even if it does, there are two holes in the rotation and a weak bullpen.

Still, the Mets are asking you to believe, with perhaps our biggest wish is for them to get rid of Oliver Perez before Opening Day.

As I look at the drifting snow and feel the cold, the warmth I usually feel this time of year because of spring training has slipped away like me on the ice this morning. Spring training is a time for optimism and hope, but this year realistic hope is around .500 at best. But, we knew this with the hiring of Sandy Alderson, who told us there would be no big spending this winter and he hoped the team would be competitive. That probably means a lot of close games before losing in the late innings.

Still, we follow the Mets because they are our team and are woven deep into our lives. We still love them like the gangly younger brother that embarrasses us. We are loyal to them because we know loyalty is about acceptance and we believe things will improve next year.

As we are distracted by football, we try to envision the snow gone, the grass green and lush and baseball occupying our spring nights. And, somewhere there is the hope this could be a fun summer regardless how it looks on paper now.

Dec 30

Looking back at 2010

As the clock winds down on 2010, a disappointing, yet transitional season for the New York Mets, let’s take a moment to look back at the significant moments, games and issues of the season.

Spring training began with a myriad of issues and questions that never dissipated during the long and tumultuous summer.

Among the more intriguing moments and issues were:

The turnover: Sandy Alderson in for Omar Minaya as general manager and Terry Collins in for Jerry Manuel as manager. Manuel seemed in trouble from the outset with early reports Bobby Valentine would take over. That didn’t happen, but this will be the year where the Met could have turned around their culture. We shall wait and see. So far, Alderson has played it conservatively in terms of player acquisition. To date, Alderson’s plan is to hope for the physical returns of Carlos Beltran and Jason Bay and that nobody else gets injured. It doesn’t sound like much, but the goal is to build a base for 2012 when deadweight salaries are cleared off the books.

Blanking the Phillies: On the field the Mets had two spurts that pushed them into contention, but nothing stood out at Citi Field like the three-game, shutout sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies, featuring R.A. Dickey, Hisanori Takahashi  and Mike Pelfrey.

Draining the Bay: The Mets’ free-agent splash of signing Jason Bay from Boston busted out. A slow start that never got started flamed out with a concussion that kept him out for most of the second half. The $66 million hire that was supposed to energize the Mets’ offense produced just six homers.

Beltran’s relationship and knees sour: Botched communications between Beltran and the Mets front office over off-season surgery led to a rift that only shows signs of thawing under the new administration. Beltran returned after the All-Star break but never showed consistent signs of being healthy and strong. In actually, this was mishandled at the end of the 2009 season when Beltran should have had surgery instead of waiting.

Reyes never settles: Jose Reyes missed the first month of the season with a thyroid illness, then returned to the lineup as the No. 3 hitter. Manuel stuck when the results were clear it wasn’t working and later conceded it was a mistake. Reyes ignited when he was returned to the top of the order, then strained an oblique muscle and was never the same. This injury was compounded when Manuel rushed him back into the lineup.

Mike Pelfrey’s development: Pelfrey took a major step forward, regressed at midseason then showed recovery signs to win 15 games. With a little bit of luck he could have won 18 or 19. With Johan Santana out at the beginning of the season Pelfrey will have to pick it up again to assume the ace role. The pessimistic feelings about Pelfrey at the beginning of the season were replaced by confidence and optimism.

Oliver Perez and John Maine implode: The Mets had questions entering the season about their rotation that were answered in the negative with Perez and Maine. If one player personified the troubles of the Minaya regime it would have to be Perez, who lost his spot in the rotation, and then refused an assignment to the minor leagues to work on his mechanics. Perez forced himself back on the 25-man roster after a stay on the disabled list, then languished untouched in the bullpen until the last game of the season when Manuel pitched him as a parting gift.

The rise of RA Dickey and development of Jon Niese: Out of adversity, Dickey, Niese and Takahashi stepped up and filled the voids left by Maine and Perez. They kept the Mets competitive until the All-Star break. Dickey was rewarded with a new contract and he and Niese will enter spring training with rotation spots. Takahashi left as a free agent.

Johan Santana injured: The Mets were cooked by the time Santana’ shoulder was injured late in the second half. Santana didn’t pitch with his usual brilliance on a consistent basis and undergoing surgery for the third straight off-season must raise concerns of his durability during the remainder of the contract. If not Pelfrey, the Mets need to start thinking about a No. 1 in their rotation for the future.

The emergence of Angel Pagan: With Beltran out Pagan emerged as a budding star in centerfield and will win a spot in the 2011 outfield. Pagan improved dramatically in his outfield and base running decisions and developed into one of the team’s clutch hitters.

The young kids come through: The Mets’ long-maligned farm system bore signs of progress with first baseman Ike Davis and catcher Josh Thole, both of whom enter spring training penciled in the lineup. Both showed rawness, but enough glimpses to warrant optimism. Ruben Tejada also saw time but will open the season in the minors. As far as young pitchers go, Bobby Parnell improved over 2009 and will compete for the closer’s role.

David Wright goes deep: After hitting ten homers with 72 RBI in 2009 and sustaining a concussion, there were concerns about Wright’s ability to hit the long ball. Those questions were answered with 29 homers and over 100 RBI, production that could have been higher with a healthy Beltran and Bay. There aren’t any questions now about Wright’s power.

Twenty-inning marathon: In a thrilling display of endurance the Mets won at St. Louis, 2-1, in 20 innings. Santana started and was superb with seven scoreless, but the Mets’ bullpen was clutch in extra innings, leaving the bases loaded in the 10th, 12th and 14th innings, and 22 runners overall. Pitching on his throw day, Pelfrey earned the save.

K-Rod explodes: Maybe the ugliest moment of the season came when Francisco Rodriguez punched out his father-in-law outside the family room at Citi Field. Rodriguez was arrested and the Mets sought to void his contract. The two reached an agreement, but the relationship remains tenuous. If Rodriguez finishes 55 games this season his option for $17.5 million will kick in.

Dec 14

Phillies land Lee in stunning turnaround

On a day Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said Johan Santana won’t  be available until July at the earliest and Oliver Perez had a chance of going to spring training with a chance to compete for a job, the Philadelphia

LEE: Back in Philly

Phillies stunned the sport by bringing back Cliff Lee.

Ouch.

Lee left money and years on the table to return to Philadelphia, the place where he was most comfortable, now even more cozy because he’s joining  a rotation that includes Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt. The Phillies’ team he left is better now than when he was there, and now arguably is the best in baseball.

Never mind that the Yankees were spurned. No tears for them as they’ll sign Andy Pettitte as a stop gap and add somebody at the All-Star break. I feel a little for the Texas Rangers, but they probably made off better in the long run by not being saddled with a huge contract. With Lee, they might have become the Mets in four years.

The Mets and Phillies are close in payroll, but there’s such a disparity in talent. So much so, that adding Lee wouldn’t have put them over the top. Adding Santana didn’t put them over the top, either.

You can try to convince yourself  Halladay and Lee are 32, that Oswalt is showing breakdown signs, that Lee had a bad back, and Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins, that Jayson Werth is gone so there is a closing window in Philadelphia. Maybe so, but before it slams shut the Phillies will have played a lot of October baseball games. Maybe even spilled some champagne.

For the past four years the Phillies have been more aggressive and smarter than the Mets, and eclipsed them in the standings despite similar resources. The Mets have spent money since 2006, but not wisely. The Mets, in essence are starting over with a plan to make up for the poor choices of the past. The Phillies’ choices in that span have worked and they continue to feed the monster.

Maybe, when it is done eating, the Mets will be in position to do something. But, it won’t be anytime soon.

Nov 30

Updating the mess that is Perez

News Oliver Perez has thrown 10 scoreless innings in the Mexican Leagues is best greeted with a who-cares yawn. Afterall, we’ve heard news of such prowess during spring training and rehab assignments before only to watch him unravel when facing major league hitters.

Word his fastball barely touches 90 isn’t encouraging news. Low-velocity pitchers can be successful, but only if their control is impeccable and they know how to set up and work hitters. That has never been the case with Perez.

When Perez was having problems several years ago, I wondered how he might do in situational relief because he still had his fastball. But, that’s gone and he must rely on guile and smarts, both of which he has in short supply.

Even so, Perez will probably get a chance to earn a role in spring training because the Mets don’t have many options and it doesn’t appear as if they’ll be signing anything significant this winter.

They’d love to trade him, but that’s not going to happen. Nobody wants to pay $12 million for all that baggage. Even if the Mets eat a large portion of his contract, Perez isn’t attractive based on what has happened.

Cutting him loose is something we all think about, but Sandy Alderson isn’t likely to do that because the Mets don’t want to pay for nothing. Solution? They will role the dice in the hope Perez finds something that will make him viable. With Hisanori Takahashi gone and Pedro Feliciano declining arbitration today, Perez will get an opportunity by default.

Even when he was Coin Flip there was a chance of him throwing a good game. Now, there is none.

If Perez doesn’t have it in the spring and refuses a minor league assignment again, then I can see the Mets ditching him. Alderson is here to change the culture and I don’t see him putting up with another year of carrying Perez on the major league roster and not using him.

Perez’s attitude and performance last year was poisonous and no good can come with duplicating last year.