03/30/07 8:15 PM ET
Park will wait for call from Minors
Veteran to serve as backup option for starting rotation
By Marty Noble / MLB.com
Even as the Mets bugged out of their Spring Training headquarters Friday, leaving him behind, Park was preparing to relieve a Mets starter -- though not in the same way Burgos, Pedro Feliciano, Joe Smith and the others will, beginning Sunday night in St. Louis. Instead, Park is preparing to become a relief starter, the sixth man in a five-man rotation.
The roster moves the Mets made Friday made Park a Minor Leaguer again and, in effect, designated him as the primary member of the team's unofficial rotation taxi squad (though Mets pitchers are opposed to anything that deals with taxis). Park is a New Orleans Zephyr and a phone call away from Flushing. So near, but so far away.
The club told him its decision Friday morning, told him that -- if he would accept assignment to the Minor Leagues -- he would be reassigned and returned to role he prefers, starting pitcher. Park accepted his fate -- as a veteran, he had the right to decline demotion -- then started the team's last home exhibition game.
Later, as his would-be teammates packed for a cross-state trek to St. Petersburg, Park expressed the hope he would start for the team in the regular season as well.
"Hopefully there won't injuries [to starting pitchers]," Park said. "But I will be prepared to pitch for them. I will be ready to take a pitcher's spot and start."
And with that, the Mets addressed the generic need for pitching depth. Once the season is two weeks old, the will have a rotation of Tom Glavine, Orlando Hernandez, John Maine, Oliver Perez and Mike Pelfrey. Aaron Sele, who has more big-league victories than Hernandez, Maine, Perez and Pelfrey combined, will be in the bullpen and available to start at a moment's notice. And, with his 113 big-league victories -- most as a starter -- Park will be ready should a longer-term replacement be needed.
General manager Omar Minaya noted last week how the Yankees and Dodgers had gone from having an abundance of starting pitchers to a shortage in three days time. Though Park had been assigned to the bullpen at the time, Minaya began to replay the erosion of a staff that occurred last season when the Mets lost Brian Bannister, Victor Zambrano, Maine, Pedro Martinez and Alay Soler.
And when Park didn't take to relieving, the notion of him providing rotation depth gained favor with the club. And he wasn't opposed to it.
Made aware of how the Mets had used 13 starters last season, Park kept things in perspective.
"Last year was last year," he said. "It's a matter now of how I can prepare to help [as a starter]."
The first stage of his preparation was three scoreless innings in the Mets' 8-2 victory against the Marlins on Friday. He allowed a walk and struck out five. In his last six innings as a starter -- three innings last Saturday and three Friday, Park allowed one baserunner and struck out seven. The start Friday was cut short because manager Willie Randolph wanted to see how he would fare as a reliever and how his arm would respond more frequent, but shorter assignments.
Park didn't distinguish himself in relief appearances Monday and Wednesday. Randolph acknowledged, "It probably was unfair. ... We didn't give him enough time to adjust."
Moreover, the club wanted Burgos and his strikeout fastball to provide a "different look." Still, Randolph maintained the club's choice didn't come down to Burgos or Park. It was, he said, more that once Pelfrey was named the No. 5 starter and the club became enamored with Smith, Park was squeezed out.
Burgos reinforced his standing Friday, though he surrendered a home run -- to Dan Uggla -- on his first pitch. Burgos retired the next three batters, was removed and told he had made the team by Randolph just outside the dugout.
Park never heard those words, words he wanted to come from a Mets decision-maker.
"I want to stay here, I want to be a starting pitcher," he said, "especially for the Mets."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.