Notes: Milledge's throw steals show
Outfielder's arm overshadows offense in intrasquad game
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The Mets still can swing the bats. The offseason has not changed that, evidenced by developments in the first intrasquad game Monday. Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes hit home runs -- Reyes' came with two runners on base -- in a 5 1/2-inning dress rehearsal for the first exhibition game Wednesday.
The most eye-catching play, though, had nothing to do with offense. Lastings Milledge, playing right field, made a brilliant throw in the third inning to catch pinch-runner Fernando Martinez trying to advance from first to third on a single by Shawn Green. Milledge charged the ball and from medium right field made a low, pinpoint, one-bounce throw to David Wright at third, the kind of throw seldom seen in recent Mets seasons.
Manager Willie Randolph said Milledge's arm isn't his best tool, and Milledge agreed.
"I hit. I'm here to hit," he said, aware that any team will make room for a hitter; not so for a guy with an arm.
But his throw is what stood out most on Monday.
Milledge made a few strong throws last season, but none that he or anyone else recalled with the "carry" he demonstrated on Monday. The strength of the throw, he said, was the result of his daily work with coaches Jerry Manuel and Howard Johnson.
Milledge, a right-handed thrower, explained that his technique deteriorated two years ago. He began throwing from a different arm slot, i.e., a different arm angle, and with his left shoulder opening too early and too wide. His throws began to sail.
"I was putting my body in an awkward position," he said. "It's like I was throwing around my body."
With input from Manuel, who helped Cliff Floyd make dramatic improvement in his throwing in 2005, Milledge has concentrated more on technique and essentially forced his arm into the proper slot by throwing an oversized, weighted ball against a small trampoline in the clubhouse and throwing repeatedly off a mound.
"The heavy ball makes your arm go to it's natural angle," Milledge said, "and if you repeat it enough times, you develop muscle memory."
Throwing may not be what Milledge does best. But he does it well enough to be the strongest right field arm the Mets have developed since Darryl Strawberry. And he likes to throw.
"When you can throw," Milledge said, "you can control the damage."
Game notes: The Mets starters -- Jason Vargas and Jorge Sosa on Monday -- are not the issue. They retired six of seven batters. All the damage came against those who followed, nine pitchers who threw one inning each. Jorge Vasquez surrended Reyes' home run and five runs in the fourth. Delgado's home run came against a left-handed pitcher, Pedro Feliciano. ... Beltran was gratified by the warm reception he received each time he batted.
Ballots for the All-Star Game haven't been printed, much less distributed. But evidently, some players are to be included on the ballots and considered likely to be in San Francisco on July 10 when baseball takes its annual coffee break. Three of them are Mets -- Beltran, Reyes and David Wright.
The three, all voted to the National League team last year, left camp after the game Monday and traveled up the Florida Turnpike a few miles to tape a Fox commercial for the All-Star Game. Also involved were Nomar Garciaparra of the Dodgers and a fish-out-of-water cable car. There isn't much call for cable cars in Florida.
Furthermore: Before hitting his home run, Delgado sent a hot drive into the third-base dugout -- the Mets dugout -- that caromed off the back wall and bounced on to the field. It scattered players and narrowly missed a dugout guest, one Sandy Koufax.
The Hall of Fame pitcher had visited the Mets camp, as he has with some regularity in recent years, though this time Mets owner Fred Wilpon, Koufax's childhood friend, wasn't in Port St. Lucie. Koufax, 71 and able to pass for 55, visited briefly with former Dodgers pitcher Chan Ho Park in the clubhouse before the intrasquad game.
Jason Craig, who works with the Mets in strength and conditioning, wheeled a cart of weighted basketballs through the clubhouse and recalled a demonstration of strength he still finds remarkable. The balls weigh eight pounds each. But they do bounce. All players -- except one -- catch them with two hands and, sometimes, have trouble with that.
The one exception was Preston Wilson, in the Mets camp in 1997 and 1998. Wilson not only could catch the ball with one hand, he could dribble it like a regular basketball and, incredibly, pick up his dribble by palming the ball.
"I've never seen anyone even attempt to do that,' Craig said.
It's Spring Training for the larynx, too. Alex Anthony, the public address announcer at Shea Stadium, is here getting his voice in shape for 81 home games. He will work the home exhibition games, too.
Play me or keep me: "This team is going to be it for the next decade. I want to be here for that, for the dynasty we're building and the new stadium. I want to be on the best team, on the Mets in New York. That's why I'm glad I'm here." -- Milledge, on his place with the Mets and his inclusion in so many trade rumors and reports
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.