03/28/07 8:30 PM ET
Mets' bullpen in state of flux
Players want to know who will be with club in '07
By Marty Noble / MLB.com
Yes, the final days of Spring Training have arrived, and the Mets -- the players and the decision makers -- are proving they have arrived. They're fidgeting. Restlessness is expected. Life in Port St. Lucie passed the point of tolerance about 10 days ago for all involved in this annual venture in the sun. It will pass Sunday night, when Busch Stadium is the venue and winning -- not merely preparation -- is the objective.
But because winning is the objective, the current uncertainty is especially unsettling. The roster hasn't been established. And it's not critical that it is. But there were indications Wednesday that the Mets may be shuffling the personnel deck in the bullpen. And one of them said, "We'd like to know who we're going to go to war with."
Three strikeouts and two shutout innings by Ambiorix Burgos against the Braves on Wednesday seemed to alter the club's view of the hardest thrower in camp and push the Mets back toward their original thought of adding a strikeout pitcher to their bullpen mix. Two players said they had been told Tuesday that Burgos' chances had improved -- mostly because Chan Ho Park had lost favor.
"Just that they had him [Burgos] throw two [innings] today says they're still interested," the player said. P> Burgos seemingly had pitched himself out of the running by allowing 12 runs and 19 hits in 13 1/2 innings in his first 10 appearances. But even before he achieved six outs against the Braves, there was an indication he would accompany the team to St. Petersburg on Friday night. They Mets play the Devil Rays on Saturday in their final exhibition game.
Manager Willie Randolph certainly sounded as if he wanted Burgos more than Park after each had pitched against the Braves.
"OK, I guess. Nothing earth-shattering. He was getting his work in," was Randolph's critique of Park's work -- a run allowed in two innings.
When the manager spoke of Burgos, though, he did so in the present tense and with some energy, saying, "With [Duaner Sanchez out], he fits in nicely. He gives us a power arm. He gives us a different look in the bullpen. But he still has to execute his pitches."
The presence of either pitcher seems to unsettle the others. Nothing personal, but to some veterans, neither seems equipped to handle the responsibility the club has expected to fall to Sanchez. It was one matter when Sanchez was going to start his season late, in late April or May. But now that additional surgery looms and his return has been pushed to August -- if then -- his replacement has a greater role in determining the Mets' fortunes.
At this point, the bullpen has three left-handed members -- Billy Wagner, Scott Schoeneweis and Pedro Feliciano -- and right-hander Aaron Heilman. And there was every indication Saturday and again Wednesday that rookie Joe Smith and veteran Aaron Sele, both right-handed, had secured positions in the 'pen.
But neither Smith nor Sele was seen as Sanchez's successor as the other half -- alongside Heilman -- of the seventh- and eighth-inning tag team. The choices were Park, the veteran and a reluctant reliever with limited experience in the role, and Burgos, the nearly 23-year-old who emphasizes velocity to his own detriment.
And so a feeling of uncertainty exists.
"It just doesn't feel the same as it did last year," a veteran said Wednesday afternoon.
"Last year, we were primed. I don't it feel now."
He spoke in a mostly empty clubhouse after yet another exhibition loss, this one an 8-3 defeat by the Braves. With three games remaining, the Mets have lost 20 times, as often as they ever have in Spring Training.
Not that losses -- or victories -- mean that much at that time. But 10-20 is an ugly record in any arena, and perhaps it has played a role in establishing an unhealthy atmosphere.
"We just need to get going," Julio Franco said. "Go to St. Louis and Atlanta, win a few games and move on. We'll be OK."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.