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 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 24

March 24.10: Wrapping up the Day.

Jose Reyes returned to camp today, but couldn’t guarantee he’d be ready for Opening Day. And, Reyes said his leg won’t enable him to go all out anytime soon, so he’s got to take it easy.

Jerry Manuel said he doesn’t expect Reyes to be playing by this weekend, telling reporters: “I couldn’t give you a timetable, but it sure is good to have him back.’’

Reyes didn’t run at full speed, but participated in workouts and said he expects to feel sore tomorrow. Reyes said doctors told him he had a virus that elevated his levels and he has diet restrictions, such as not being able to eat seafood.

* Johan Santana gave up two runs on eight hits and one walk in 5 2/3 innings.

* Doc Gooden was arrested Tuesday morning for driving under the influence. Is he ever going to get it together?

* It appears the fifth starter job is Jon Niese’s to lose with Fernando Nieve and Hisanori Takahashi trying to earn spots in the bullpen.

* Several reports have the Mets trying to deal outfielder Gary Matthews for pitching. But, considering where Matthews is in his career, what could he bring in return?

Mar 19

March 19.10: Looking at the pen.

Jerry Manuel said if prospect Jenrry Mejia makes the roster coming out of spring training, it won’t be in the set-up role but in low pressure situations.

If that’s the case, then isn’t he better off in the minor leagues pitching in the role the Mets envision for him immediately?

I just see the Mets doing the same yanking around with him they did with Bobby Parnell. Speaking of Parnell, his spot on the roster could be in jeopardy if fifth-starter candidate Hisanori Takahashi makes it as a reliever.

Takahashi will start the March 27 game against Washington. He has worked 8 1/3 scoreless innings in three appearances in competing with Jon Niese and Fernando Nieve for the fifth-starter role. The more I think of Takahashi as a fifth starter, the more I wonder. His numbers are good, but he hasn’t exactly been stretched out this spring and one start won’t do it, thereby making him more suitable for the bullpen.

PEN NOTES: Kiko Calero and Ryota Igarashi are in good shape as far as making the roster. … Pedro Feliciano was hit on the right knee by a grounder and left last night’s game. Feliciano was able to throw warm-ups after the injury and is expected to be fine. … Either Sean Green or Parnell could also be in trouble if the Mets sign left-hander Joe Beimel.

LIKING JACOBS: Manuel likes Mike Jacobs as a back-up first baseman and pinch hitter. The word is he’s been better than expected defensively. Jacobs has two homers this spring.

MANUEL ENDORSES CORA: After last night’s game Manuel endorsed Alex Cora over Ruben Tejada to play shortstop while Jose Reyes is down. That’s not to say Tejada will automatically be ticketed to the minor leagues.

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.