Mets' pitching depth being tested early

Soler's start will be historic for Mets

NEW YORK -- What Omar Minaya identified as the Mets depth in starting pitching is a thing of the past, forcing the Mets to dip into their uncertain future to reinforce their present. Down four starting pitchers, they will go deeper into their system than they ever expected this early in the season when they have Alay Soler make his big-league debut against the Phillies this week.

The club released a statement to that effect Monday, one day after Willie Randolph said -- "unofficially" -- that Soler would pitch, and two days after the club indicated its only options was the possible promotion of Soler or the more highly regarded, but less prepared Mike Pelfrey.

Soler, right-handed, Cuban-born and 26 years old, is to pitch against the Phillies either Wednesday or Thursday -- the club has yet to decide. He will become the Mets' ninth starting pitcher in either the Mets' 43rd or 44th game. They used eight starters last season, and the eighth was Steve Trachsel, who didn't make his season debut following March back surgery until Aug. 26, the team's 128th game.

The run of misfortune that had brought the Mets to this point began April 26 when Brian Bannister strained his right hamstring running the bases. He has yet to return, and his return isn't in the horizon. In Bannister's absence, the Mets turned to John Maine, who made one start. And after Maine developed inflammation in the middle finger of his right hand and Victor Zambrano suffered a catastrophic elbow injury, the club turned to veterans Jose Lima and Jeremi Gonzalez. Lima since has been designated for assignment, creating the void Soler is to fill.

Soler's first pitch is likely to give the Mets an unwanted distinction. Through the weekend, no team has used more than eight starting pitchers -- the Padres, Nationals, Cubs, Rangers and Blue Jays also had used eight each. Now, the Mets go for nine, which is more than or as many starters as they have used in nine of their last 20 seasons.

Only once in that period have they come close to using so many starters in so few games. In 1987, the year Dwight Gooden began the season in drug rehab, the Mets used nine starters in their first 49 games. Tom Edens, the ninth, made his Mets debut June 2. Three days later, Gooden returned.

In no other season in the last 20 have the Mets used a ninth pitcher before their 65th game. In 1988, they used six starters until their first 152 games. David West started the 153rd, and no other starter was used. So yes, this is an extrordinary circumstance.

In the last 10 seasons, the Mets never have used nine starting pitchers as early as they will this year. Sometimes, they haven't even used nine in a entire season. The chart below shows how many games into a season the Mets were when the used their ninth starter or when they got to their last starter of the year.
YearStartersDateGamePitcher
20069May 2344/45Alay Soler
20058Aug. 26128Steve Trachsel
200412July 1992Scott Erickson
200310June 2878Jeremy Griffiths
20029Sept. 12146Jason Middlebrook
20018Aug. 1108Bruce Chen
200010July 481Bobby Jones (LHP)
19999July 28103Kenny Rogers
199810July 2499Armando Reynoso
199711Aug. 21128Joe Crawford
19967June 1364Robert Person
199511Aug. 390Reid Cornelius
199411June 1665Mike Remlinger
199310June 2168Dave Telgheder
199212Aug. 11112Eric Hillman
199110Aug. 29126Anthony Young
19907Sept. 1130Julio Valera
19899Sept. 30161Blaine Beatty
19887Sept. 24153David West
198712June 249Tom Edens
19869Sept. 21149John Mitchell

They are reaching down to the Double-A level for Soler, who had five years' experience pitching in Cuba before he defected in 2004. The Mets believed Soler would compete in Spring Training for a place in the rotation, or at least status as a primary understudy for the big-league rotation. They said he threw well in winter ball.

But his velocity was lacking in March, so much so that he rarely pitched in exhibition games. He had a 21.56 ERA in 3 1/3 innings. "I didn't see much of him," Randolph said Sunday. "But the reports are he's throwing harder now." On Saturday, Minaya said Soler had "touched" 94 mph in a Double-A start and is "pitching at 90-91 now." Soler was hitting 85 consistently in Spring Training.

Soler had a 1-0 record and 2.75 ERA in three starts with the Binghamton Mets, allowing 16 hits and three walks in 19 2/3 innings while striking out 22. He won his only two decisions with the Class A St. Lucie Mets, producing an 0.64 ERA in five starts with the Class A St. Lucie Mets. In 28 innings, he yielded 12 hits and eight walks with 32 strikeouts.

To accommodate Soler on the 25-man roster, the Mets will option Anderson Garcia to their Triple-A Norfolk affiliate. He was recalled Friday after Lima was designated. The club optioned another Anderson on Monday. Anderson Hernandez, the team's Opening Day second baseman, was removed from the disabled list and assigned to Norfolk. He had been disabled because of a bulging disc.

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.