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.

Mar 15

Who Is To Blame For Wright’s Injury?

There are conflicting reports as to how David Wright’s rib injury was handled, and they don’t make the team or the player look good.

General manager Sandy Alderson told reporters this morning at the Mets’ spring training facility in Port St. Lucie, Fl., that the team will not know the nature or severity of the injury sustained while playing with Team USA in the World Baseball Classic until Wright is examined by club physicians today in New York.

Wright was scratched from Thursday night’s game after taking batting practice. Alderson said he talked to Team USA officials around 6:40 p.m.

Alderson said there’s no timetable for Wright other than to say he’s expected back in Florida on Saturday. Unquestionably, he’s out of the WBC.

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Mar 15

Wright’s Injury Raises Questions

The hits just keep on coming for the New York Mets. It remains to be seen when they’ll resume for their All-Star third baseman, David Wright, who was a leading MVP candidate for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic.

Wright was scratched from Thursday night’s game against the Dominican Republic with rib soreness in his lower back left side. He was to be examined this morning in Port St. Lucie, but will now travel directly to New York, which could denote the Mets believe the injury is worse than originally speculated.

WRIGHT: What's he thinking now?

WRIGHT: What’s he thinking now?

Initially, Wright expressed optimism he would be able to continue to play, but that won’t happen now.

“I wanted to play tonight, but I understand the decision,’’ Wright said in Miami, where the game was being played. “I’m disappointed. That goes without saying. But I completely understand the direction that they’re going.’’

Wright started experiencing soreness a week ago and said recently he had difficult sleeping. This was reported to the Mets, but he was not told to immediately report to his team or club physicians. When the pain persisted the Mets pulled the plug on Wright’s WBC experience.

Why the Mets didn’t force the issue early needs to be questioned, as does Wright’s willingness to play through the injury.

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Mar 14

David Wright Scratched From Game Against Dominican Republic

The Mets’ worst possible fears regarding the WBC could be materializing. David Wright injured his ribs working out with the WBC team last week in Arizona, evidently played hurt, and was scratched from last night’s game against the Dominican Republic.

WRIGHT: Scratched with rib pain.

WRIGHT: Scratched with rib pain.

Wright was having a tremendous spring for Team USA and could be out the rest of the tournament.

USA manager Joe Torre consulted with the Mets’ medical staff and it was decided he’d be scratched and will be examined by Mets doctors Friday morning in Port St. Lucie.

“I’m optimistic that they’ll allow me to come back and rejoin these guys,’’ Wright told reporters in Miami, where tonight’s game was played. “I wanted to play tonight, but I understand the decision. I’m disappointed. That goes without saying. But I completely understand the direction that they’re going.’’

Wright felt pain in his left side over a week ago. Reports were sent to the Mets’ team doctors, who cleared him to play.
Why he wasn’t sent to Port St. Lucie or New York immediately to be examined by club physician hasn’t been answered.

Wright was having a blistering spring, hitting .438 (7-for-16) with 10 RBI, including a grand slam over Italy.

We don’t know the severity of Wright’s injury, but a significant player being hurt in the WBC and missing time from his team has always been the biggest concern about this manufactured tournament.

When it comes to international competition, I understand the concept of the Olympics – which has done away with baseball, by the way – and the World Cup. However, the WBC? Well, that is a manufactured event devised for marketing purposes.

Maybe this is nothing with Wright. Maybe it will turn out to be a big deal, a major negative for a team that has experienced so many.

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Mar 12

Testy Johan Santana Acting Like Diva

It was a little over a week ago when the Mets pointed to March 14 as the target date for getting Johan Santana in an exhibition game. Doing so would have given him three, maybe four starts to be ready for Opening Day.

It won’t happen.

Outside of that ill-advised mound session, we haven’t seen, or heard, much from the testy lefty this spring. Today, he sniped at reporters who had the gall to try to talk to him – imagine that? – giving a curt response about not understanding the concept of an off day.

SANTANA: Rough times

SANTANA: Rough times

By definition, an off day is when no game is scheduled. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything going on. There was a reason why Santana was at the complex, just as there was a reason reporters were present.

At the time of the projection, Terry Collins said, “we’re not worried about April 1, we’re worried about 30 starts.’’

At this rate, it doesn’t look as if he’ll get either, even if Santana was pushed to the back of the rotation for the first cycle. Whether he’s ready or not, Santana’s last two exhibition starts would come against minor league competition, because if he were placed on the disabled list to the start the season the Mets could backdate it into spring training.

This reduces the time Santana would miss in the regular season although it is highly unlikely he would reach the 215 innings plateau needed to activate his 2014 option. I don’t know what the Mets are waiting for if not to placate Santana’s ego. He won’t be ready for the start of the season and the decision the Mets are avoiding is only inevitable.

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