Notes: Tracking Pelfrey's progress
Padilla throws batting practice; Valentin, Milledge back in action
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- As predicaments go, this wasn't one -- a 2-0 count on the No. 3 hitter with two out in the first inning of an exhibition game. There may come a time, though, when Mike Pelfrey is up to his narrow shoulders in peril, and the count is 2-0. What will he do? Groove a fastball to avoid a 3-0 abyss or offer some fastball-ready monster something soft and sneaky?
That scenario needn't be addressed for now. But Pelfrey did throw a changeup to the Dodgers' James Loney in the first inning on Saturday. With a sense that less can be more, Pelfrey defused the first baseman, killing him softly with an off-speed pitch that wasn't at his disposal a year ago.
Progress can come in unusual packaging. The Mets selected Pelfrey in the first round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft because he had a power arm and a promising future. Now they have him on their list of candidates for the 2007 rotation because he had a power arm and is learning when not to use it.
That changeup to Loney, as much as any of the 21 pitches Pelfrey threw on Saturday, demonstrated his improved grasp of the game or, as Willie Randolph said, "How much he has grown."
Pelfrey pitched two innings in what became the Mets' 5-2 loss to the Dodgers, his first exhibition game appearance. He faced six batters, surrendered one hit and then threw 14 more pitches in the bullpen to "get my work in." The next step is 45 pitches, probably three innings, after four days' rest -- or what passes for rest in Spring Training.
Pitching coach Rick Peterson told Pelfrey last summer that improvement in his secondary pitches was essential. He urged the right-handed 23-year-old to abandon the curveball that he'd used only occasionally at Wichita State, replace it with a slider and modify his changeup. The little pitching Pelfrey did from that point on -- through his abridged Arizona Fall League tour -- was done with those directives in mind.
The slider was to add deception to Pelfrey's repertoire -- it looks more like his fastball than the curve did. The changeup was to keep the hitters honest and off-balance and give Pelfrey another pitch that might produce ground-ball outs. Four of the six outs he achieved on Saturday came on ground balls, the other two on a 4-6-3 double play.
"For the first time out, I was pretty pleased," Pelfrey said.
Pelfrey had followed another one of Peterson's tenets: "Take what you do in the bullpen to the mound."
There's no need to do more. Sometimes less is more, or the same is enough.
Patience, patient: Juan Padilla threw batting practice on Saturday for the second time this spring. He began optimistically and emerged from his 45-pitch workday quite encouraged. The next step for Padilla, recovering from ligament replacement surgery, is to pitch in a game, perhaps on Tuesday or Wednesday.
With Duaner Sanchez not likely to be on the Opening Day roster and Randolph fondly recalling Padilla's work in 2005 -- "He doesn't back down. I like that," the manager said -- Padilla has a chance to be a member of the likely-to-be-seven-man bullpen.
An indication of that came on Friday. Padilla, 30 and almost 12 months removed from the surgery, was to have thrown BP that day, with Randolph and Peterson watching. But the change of schedule involving Chan Ho Park occupied them, so they scratched Padilla.
"They wanted to watch me, so I think that's a good sign," Padilla said.
Padilla is able to throw his three pitches -- fastball, cutter and changeup -- without feeling anything close to pain. In addition, he has learned to deal with the anxiety of wanting to pitch and wanting to demonstrate how strong and healthy he is.
"I'm trying to be as normal as I can be," he said. "I spent the whole summer last year looking beyond and trying to figure out when I could get back. Now I'm telling myself, 'You don't have to make the team today.' "
Trainer's room: On Saturday, Jose Valentin played for the first time since spraining his right ankle on Monday. Lastings Milledge had two at-bats, his first two since being hit on the right hand on Tuesday.
Distinction: Aaron Heilman accepted having his salary renewed for 2007 quite matter-of-factly. The distinction he gained -- he is the only Met to have been renewed -- prompted no words of complaint or anger. A salary of $453,000 -- whether imposed or not, whether appropriate or not -- does soften the blow.
Heilman did agree with the notion that an extension or revision of the contract probably isn't in the offing.
The Mets renewed David Wright's contract last March and then, in August, bestowed a $55 million deal on him.
"I'm not saying it won't happen. I'm not saying it can't happen," Heilman said.
He did say, "It's not likely."
Heilman pitched on Saturday, allowing one run in two innings. Fatigue became part of the equation, so he adjusted his pitches -- not necessarily because he was trying to hold the Dodgers but because pitchers often have to pitch when they're tired or when a particular pitch isn't working. And he had to reacquaint himself with what he has to do to survive that sort of internal adversity.
"It's one of the hardest things to do."
Evolution: Some of the younger Mets didn't get it the other day when clubhouse manager Charlie Samuels referred to first-base coach Howard Johnson as "Sheik." How did a guy with such a logical nickname -- HoJo -- become "Sheik?" Here's how:
It happened in 1984, Johnson's first season with the Mets. Because baseball people are inclined to put a "y" or an "ie" on the end of any name, HoJo morphed into HoJie, pronounced "Ho-Gee." From there it wasn't too much a jump to "Ha-Jie." Don't ask why. No one knows.
But once Johnson's clubhouse ID was Ha-Jie, it sounded just like the first portion of the last name of the New York Giants' place-kicker at the time -- Ali Haji-Sheikh. No one called him Ali, they called him Sheik.
But Johnson's Met-amorphosis didn't end there. For no reason that anyone recalls, Sheik became Sheik-azoid in 1985. And by the end of the season, some teammates referred to Howard Johnson, alias HoJo and Sheik, as, simply "Z."
Contact hitter: Scout Mike Cubbage, a Mets coach for seven seasons, was a coach with the Astros when Moises Alou played for them. While chatting near a practice field on Saturday morning, Cubbage turned quickly, as if his name had been called. It wasn't that at all. Alou had made contact in batting practice.
"I know that sound," Cubbage said. "Not many guys hit the ball that way. You can turn your back and know it's him."
Gary Sheffield is another one who makes an audible difference in batting practice. Ron Hodges, the former Mets catcher, said Dave Kingman was, too. Kingman, in his season with the Mets, was known to some as "Dr. Home Run and Mr. Strikeout."
"You can hear his swing -- fffft -- when he's taking BP," Hodges once said. "You really don't hear anyone else's. And you can hear his contact -- chick. It's fffft, chick, fffft, chick, fffft, chick.
"But sometimes, with big Dave, all you get is the fffft."
Furthermore: Carlos Delgado ducked away at the last instant from a high-speed, highly placed fastball from Brad Penny in the first inning of Saturday's game. The pitch struck him in the right hand. ... Tom Glavine missed the workout and game on Saturday and will miss them on Sunday as well, for personal reasons. ... Former Mets general managers Frank Cashen, a Port St. Lucie resident, and Joe McIlvaine, enjoying the less-hectic life of a scout for the Twins, were in attendance on Saturday. ... The Dodgers scored four runs in the ninth against Jon Adkins. But general manager Omar Minaya told Adkins, "You didn't throw bad. Don't worry."
Exclamation point: A restaurant here serves a steak it identifies as "Mets sirloin." When reporter Pat Borzi heard the waitress mention it on Friday night, he asked the appropriate 2007 question: "Is it aged?"
Going, going: Advanced ticket sales for the 2007 regular season have exceeded 2 million. Sales are 20 percent ahead of the comparable date last season. They reached 2 million on March 20 last year. Single-game tickets for the opening home game, April 9 against the Phillies, and the games against the Yankees at Shea May 18-20, are sold out. Limited ticket inventory for these games is available through season tickets, select ticket plans and select Seven Packs.
Coming up: The Mets play the Orioles in Fort Lauderdale on Sunday at 1:05 p.m. ET with John Maine making his first exhibition start. Philip Humber follows. Jaret Wright will start for the Orioles.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.