Mets pitching has room to improve

Mets pitching has room for improvement

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- His extended workday complete, Billy Wagner developed a sense of accomplishment from something as routine as an appearance in a simulated game on Monday. Nameless hitters with brief Minor League resumes had come and gone, failing against Wagner's expanded repertoire -- low 90s fastball, hard slider and his new pitch, the split-finger changeup.

A foreign thought occurred to the Mets closer as he ran in the outfield: "Three innings, three pitches," he said to himself. Three and three might equal five, in Wagner's case. It was pure fantasy, and hardly one he fancied.

"It's not that far to five innings," he said aloud later at his locker. "Now that I've got three pitches, I could be a starter. I could be our No. 5 starter."

The idea had appeal for as long as it takes one of his mid-summer fastballs to make the trip from his left hand to Paul Lo Duca's.

"But maybe they'll ask," Wagner said. "I've seen worse."

Some of the worse has been visible the last few days in Mets exhibition games. Chan Ho Park and Aaron Sele were ineffective in respective starts against the Nationals and Orioles on Saturday. Orlando Hernandez didn't distinguish himself on Sunday against the Cardinals. And, at the same time, neither Jorge Sosa nor Ambiorix Burgos threw enough quality strikes or missed enough bats to quell anyone's angst about the bullpen.

The Mets aren't pitching well. The staff is dancing around it, but the performances of the pitchers and an urgency expressed by Mets people in the field evaluating talent belies the "we're-getting-there" public posture the club has assumed.

"It was just a matter of time before they had to start looking ... the way their guys have been throwing," a scout said Sunday in Jupiter. "They think they can win again -- and they're one of the teams that will be there at the end -- but they don't look like they have enough pitching. Not now.

"For them to win, a lot of things have to go right with their pitching."

The scouts said Sunday -- and others have said since -- the Mets are looking to deal for starting pitching. And, he added, "Who isn't? ... Just the Dodgers, maybe the Phillies. Unless [things pick up with the Mets], they're going to start the season short."

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Tom Glavine, John Maine and Mike Pelfrey have pitched effectively in exhibition games. Glavine pitched five scoreless innings against the Marlins on Friday night. Pelfrey, who has allowed one earned run in nine innings, pitches Tuesday night against the Orioles. Maine pitched six innings in the simulated game Monday. He threw hard, he threw long -- 90 or so pitches, and his pitches had movement and power late in his work day, a good sign for a pitcher who reached the seventh inning five times in 19 starts, postseason included, last year.

And Oliver Perez has had more than a few moments this month. But as impressed as the scouts were last week when he dominated the Red Sox, they want to see more of it before they're convinced pitching coach Rick Peterson has worked magic.

Now is the time for all of them. This portion of March isn't "just" or "only" Spring Training. Beginning Tuesday night, when they return from their lone baseball-free day, the Mets will be expected to produce and perform. The manager said so.

So if Park is not going to concede to Pelfrey, then he must begin to throw effectively. If Sosa is to be the long reliever -- the slight chance he had if winning a spot in the rotation is long gone, like too many of his pitches -- he must begin get some outs. And Burgos had better get his pitches down, or his first pitches of the season will be in New Orleans. The window may have shut on Sele. But he could be the long man/spot starter if Sosa doesn't make a better showing.

No matter what, Wagner won't be pitching in the early innings or before the eighth.

"But I could be now," he said. "I'm a three-pitch pitcher now. Tell Pedro [Martinez] he doesn't have to rush back."

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