Duo hopes to crack Mets' rotation

Maine, Williams hope to crack Mets' rotation

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- John Maine and Dave Williams both insist their presence at the Mets' annual minicamp has everything to do with getting some early work in and nothing to do with trying to get a jump on the competition for one of the final three spots in the rotation.

Both also insist that they haven't paid much attention to general manager Omar Minaya's attempts to acquire starting pitching, whether it was Barry Zito and Jeff Suppan last month or Tomo Ohka and John Thomson this month. Besides, fretting over any possible additions to the long list of players already in the rotational soup, they feel, would be pointless.

So they showed up at the club's Minor League complex this week, smiled, said the right things and continue to wait and wonder along with everyone else what the rotation will ultimately look like when camp breaks at the beginning of April. Maine, along with Oliver Perez, would appear to have whatever inside track there is on at least two of the spots based on what they did last year and in the postseason.

Maine was 1-0 with a 2.63 ERA in three postseason starts after going 6-5 with a 3.60 ERA in 16 appearances (15 starts) during the regular season. But he isn't resting on the laurels of a surprising season. Too much can change over the next 10 weeks, and he knows it.

"I still have to come in here and make the team," Maine said. "I think I'm a little better than I was a year ago, but who knows what that means. I don't want to slack off. I'm not taking anything for granted."

Williams isn't taking anything for granted, either, but he's clearly in a tougher spot than Maine, who won Game 6 of the National League Championship Series against the Cardinals, or Perez, whose performance in Game 7 whetted the appetite of many on the Mets' coaching staff. That leaves him as part of a group that includes former top picks Phil Humber and Mike Pelfrey, Cuban righty Alay Soler and offseason acquisition Jason Vargas, all of who would be vying for one spot.

While Williams has the luxury of moving to the bullpen, that landscape has also been altered this week with the soon-to-be announced signing of southpaw reliever Scott Schoeneweis.

Minaya said on Wednesday that he has an idea of where he'd rate all the candidates and their chances, but he declined to share his thoughts on the subject. But it's beginning to look, especially with Minaya continuing to covertly court who's left on the free-agent market, that Williams could be one of the casualties when decisions are made in Spring Training.

"I think they already have an idea of what direction they're going in, but that can change," Williams said. "You can't let all the talk and all that other stuff bother you, because that stuff is always going to happen. I'd like to be a starter, I've always been one and I enjoy the energy at the start of a game.

"I just have to showcase myself and prove that I'm a better athlete than the next guy. If you sit around and think about it, though, you can come up with all kinds of scenarios. And then you get caught up in it, and it's pretty foolish."

Manager Willie Randolph said on Thursday that he's happy with the group of starters from which he'll have to choose. He pointed out that with Zito off the market, the remaining available pitchers probably couldn't provide the Mets with anything they don't already have. While he wasn't tipping his hand, Randolph did say he's turned the page on last year, using Maine as an example.

"It's nice to know that we challenged [Maine] and he stepped up," Randolph said. "But you don't start anointing guys or penciling them in because they showed a flash here or there. I'm more of a show-me guy. And I love the fact that we have an open end [to the rotation] with some of the guys we'll have in camp. And Maine's a part of that."

So everyone smiles and waits. What else is there to do? It's only mid-January and decisions like these don't have to be made for several months.

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