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Mailbag: What about Alou at first?

Mailbag: What about Alou at first?

With Carlos Delgado struggling, Ryan Church and Angel Pagan playing well and giving the outfield some speed, Endy Chavez on the bench and Moises Alou due back, why not give Alou a shot at first base?
-- John D., St. Albans, N.Y.

Your e-mail arrived before the developments of Sunday -- Delgado hit two home runs and we got word from the Mets that Alou might have a broken bone in his left foot. But if all matters had remained as they were -- Delgado not hitting and Alou moving closer to a return -- the notion of Alou playing first base, now or ever, is unsound.

You want to take a veteran who has played every one of his 15,900 big league innings in the outfield, a veteran who is prone to injury, and put him at a position that is completely foreign to him? Wow! Maybe you didn't see Mike Piazza try first base. Maybe you don't recall -- or you never knew -- that Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Henry Aaron hardly prospered when they were moved to first. It is a difficult position to play and, for a veteran 41 years old, a position even more difficult to learn. The footwork alone could put Alou at risk.

The Mets haven't given that a thought. And they shouldn't.

As a lifelong Mets fan, I would like to address the constant booing coming from the fans. It is not a reflection of the entire fan base. Personally, I think people who understand baseball know that it is only April and things can turn around. The booing is a result of the bandwagon effect, and I think that it needs to stop for the sake of the team. I was curious as to your thoughts on it.
-- John A., Glen Head, N.Y.

Booing at Shea Stadium has become endemic and borderline shameful. Most folks who never have played the game at any level higher than Babe Ruth -- and I certainly am one of them -- have little sense of how difficult the game is to play. They appreciate success and demand it at all times. It's as if they believe a 25-0 season or .480 batting average would happen if the players put more effort into their performances.

Because fans have the right to boo, they seemingly think it is their responsibility to boo, and they boo because they can. My sense of it is that a couple of thousand malcontents, still bruised by the events of last September, express themselves at nearly every opportunity -- even a leadoff groundout to short in the first inning. Then the followers follow as if booing is contagious.

I suspect most of the boo birds would kill for an autograph and gush if they were to meet the same player they booed an hour earlier. The increased dissatisfaction among fans, I think, is prompted to some degree by the millions players earn and the intolerance for anything but success expressed by sports talk radio.

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Those shows harp on one or two isolated plays. One topic -- one misplay -- will be reviewed for 30 minutes. Even the hosts repeat themselves. If newspaper or Web sites were to react in the same way, you would read the same three paragraphs 20 times.

The concentrated criticism and ridicule creates a distorted view of a play or the player(s) involved, and that misperception carries over to the people who attend games. More than ever, fans want to be part of the game, part of the in-stadium experience. I don't understand. When I was a kid, I went to the ballpark to watch. I cheered the good plays and recognized the bad. I'm sure I booed a call I didn't like. I'm sure my father or uncle didn't allow me to boo anything else.

New York likes to think of itself as a tough town. And I believe every high-profile, new player is tested by the fans; witness the boos for Johan Santana. Kevin McReynolds, a fine player, was booed far more often than he deserved. After he left the Mets, he said New York fans want a player to succeed, but if success doesn't happen, the fans' second preference is for abject failure.

I don't think he was off the mark in that assessment.

I know changing positions isn't always a good idea, but with Delgado's struggles and Pagan's production, what are your thoughts of moving Ryan Church to first base when Alou comes back?
-- Shamus M., Dover Plains, N.Y.

My thoughts are: Use Damion Easley at first base, use Marlon Anderson at first. Don't weaken the outfield defense to bolster first base. You've heard of robbing Peter to pay Paul? Not advisable. Church is an outfielder, and a pretty good one; witness his catch at the wall on Sunday and the respect third base coaches have for his arm.

How long do the Mets stick with Delgado? I know his contract is a barrier, but there has to be a better option out there and a way to get Delgado off of the roster. Would the Mets pursue a trade before the deadline? Would they give Mike Carp a shot? Through Sunday, he was batting .376 with six home runs and 20 RBIs.
-- Jesse, G., Fairless Hills, Pa.

And he produced those numbers in Double-A.

Just because you say there must be a way to shed Delgado doesn't mean there is. His salary for 2008 is $16 million, and he has a $4 million buyout for next season. No club will assume that obligation with Delgado performing as he is, the two home runs on Sunday notwithstanding.

Marty, I know you gave up on Guillermo Mota last year, are you ready to do the same for Aaron Heilman?
-- Josh G., Armonk, N.Y.

I don't recall writing I gave up on Mota, but I won't dispute your conclusion. I wouldn't have brought him back after 2006. But Heilman is another case entirely. He is a significantly better pitcher than Mota, but is currently having a miserable time of it. The following words -- or variations on the theme -- have appeared here probably three dozen times in my time answering mailbag inquiries: nothing is more fickle than setup relief pitching. It comes and goes every year. So many setup relievers, ones who are considered among the best, endure stretches similar to what Heilman is going through.

Heilman did a commendable job against the Phillies on April 19, one night after he surrendered a three-run home run to Greg Dobbs. Who can explain it? What's the difference between David Wright producing eight hits in his first 10 at-bats against the Phillies two weekends ago and then going hitless in 19 at-bats and what Heilman has experienced?

Four home runs in 13 innings is an unacceptable ratio, particularly when the Mets offense was providing no margin for error. Three of the home runs came with runners on base. The four home runs have allowed 10 runs, not all charged to Heilman. But I'd take five Heilmans before I'd take one Mota.

How can Willie Randolph continue to use Heilman? He should just let him rot on the bullpen bench and use Duaner Sanchez in the situations that have gone to Heilman. I'm starting to get worried about this season. So many things are going wrong.
-- Andy S., Ramsey, N.J.

No question Heilman has been spectacularly ineffective. But what would you have the manager do?

Sanchez still doesn't have the arm strength and stamina to do all the work you -- and others -- would have him do.

But you're right, so many -- too many -- things have gone wrong at times for the Mets: The bullpen, the injuries, the poor production and seemingly indifferent defense of Delgado, the general lack of power, the inconsistency of the offense, the inability of Oliver Perez to pitch deep into his starts. The Mets are performing as poor teams perform.

I won't be the one to tell you not to worry. It's early -- "early" ends after 40 games, by the way -- and the signs suggest the club is quite uneven. It played well against the Phillies and, after an alarmingly lifeless effort Friday night, quite well against the Braves Saturday and Sunday. There's a reason the Mets' record is two games better than .500; they have played slightly better than mediocre, all games considered.

Sanchez hasn't given up a run in 6 2/3 innings of work so far this season. I seem to remember that he had a 21-scoreless-innings run going before he got hurt. Does that make his official total number of scoreless innings 27 2/3? Also, do you think he will remain as good as he's been?
-- Ben W., Media, Pa.

Your memory is a tad fuzzy, Ben. Sanchez's streak began during the 2006 season. He allowed 19 runs, 16 earned before the injury that ended his season on July 31. No, I don't think he or anyone else will pitch without allowing runs for any extended period. But he seems to be throwing well. He has stuff, backbone and the support of his teammates, manager and fans. When his stamina is where it needs to be, he probably will be a particularly effective reliever. But he'll have his bad days, too.

Now, a question for you: You used the phrasing "innings of work." You are hardly alone in that regard. It seemed at some point last summer, everyone began to think the words "of work" were required if "inning" or "innings" were used. Why? What else can there be? Innings of ice cream? Innings of snoring? Innings are work.

"Innings of work" is like "hours of time" and "miles of distance."

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

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