Full Nelson: Figueroa impresses in start
Righty tosses complete game; Mets' Martinez goes deep
MARGARITA ISLAND , Venezuela -- Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to Port St. Lucie, Fla., in two weeks, but Nelson Figueroa's audition for a spot on the Mets' pitching staff is already under way.
Pitching for the Dominican Republic team on Wednesday afternoon, Figueroa struck out eight hitters in a 7-1 complete-game victory against Mexico's Hermosillo club. Figueroa is competing with Fernando Nieve and Jon Niese, if healthy, for the fifth spot in the Mets' rotation behind Johan Santana, Mike Pelfrey, Oliver Perez and John Maine.
Figueroa, who signed with New York as a Minor League free agent, can also pitch out the bullpen.
"I can only hope that the Mets are watching this and they are happy with the work I am doing," Figueroa said. "I started early and I got the competitive juices flowing in December. I'm hoping that carries over to Spring Training so we can all get on the same plane and look forward to October."
The tournament continues for Escogido on Thursday as the Dominican Republic (1-1) takes on Venezuela (0-1) in the nightcap while Puerto Rico (0-1) and Mexico (1-1) square off in the matinee.
As for Figueroa, his lone blemish Wednesday was a solo home run by Mexico's Carlos Valencia in the eighth inning.
Last season, Figueroa went 3-8 with a 4.09 ERA in 70 1/3 innings for the Mets. Coming off five consecutive losses last September, the right-handed pitcher allowed four hits in a nine-inning shutout against the Astros in his final start of the season on Oct. 4. He also went 7-5 with a 2.25 ERA in 112 innings for Triple-A Buffalo in 2009.
"He pitched in the big leagues last year and he pitched at Triple-A and shown he has the stuff to pitch," said Escogido manager Ken Oberkfell, who managed Figueroa last year in Buffalo. "He'll be ready in Spring Training instead of trying to build himself up to that. He's a competitor."
Originally drafted by the Mets in 1995, Figueroa has been part of the Mets, D-backs, Phillies, Pirates, Nationals and Brewers organizations.
"I think the Mets have confidence in me and I'm ready to compete for a job," he said. "I just want the opportunity. I've been in this game for 15 years, and there's no reason why I can't go five or six more."
Figueroa's Dominican Republic teammate, Fernando Martinez, is also looking to secure a spot with the Mets. The outfield prospect hit a two-run home run in first inning against Mexico and finished 2-for-4 with two runs scored and two RBIs. Martinez appears on track to start the season at Triple-A Buffalo because he is blocked in left field by Jason Bay for the next four years, and center fielder Carlos Beltran is signed through 2011. Jeff Francoeur is the Mets' right fielder and Angel Pagan and Gary Matthews Jr. will compete for the center-field job.
"I am just happy with the opportunity to play here," Martinez said. "I'm feeling good. I'm having fun."
A host of familiar players also contributed to Wednesday's victory for the D.R. New Philadelphia outfielder Freddy Guzman, a member of the 2009 New York Yankees World Series championship team, went 1-for-5 with two RBIs. Detroit shortstop Ramon Santiago, who hit .267 with seven home runs and 35 RBIs for the Tigers last season, also had one hit and a run scored. Free-agent outfielder Pablo Ozuna went 2-for-4 with one run scored.
Cincinnati third baseman Juan Francisco, who hit .429 in 14 games for the Reds last season, struck out three times but scored a run for Escogido in the victory. He will be a player to watch during Spring Training. In 131 games combined at Double-A Carolina and Triple-A Louisville last season, the prospect hit .295 with 27 home runs and 93 RBIs. He led all Reds Minor Leaguers in home runs and was fifth in hitting.
"When everybody pitches in, it makes everybody's job easier," Oberkfell said. "We were solid, and it's nice to know that different guys will come through."
Jesse Sanchez is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.