PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Pedro Feliciano returned to the Mets this spring hoping, at age 36, to reclaim his status as one of the top left-handed relief specialists in baseball. To continue down that path, he will need to swallow a sizeable chunk of pride.
The Mets have informed Feliciano he will not make the Opening Day roster, the left-hander said Monday, asking him instead to report to the Minor Leagues. Feliciano can either accept that assignment for $100,000 or ask for his release; his non-guaranteed deal was worth $1 million had he made the team.
Though Feliciano enjoyed a successful spring following a health scare in February, posting a 2.08 ERA in eight Grapefruit League appearances, his velocity never rose above the low- to mid-80s.
"I think everything is there," Feliciano said. "Maybe my velocity is a little down, but I think to get a lefty out you don't have to throw hard. Just throw strikes and be consistent."
With Feliciano out of the picture, Robert Carson becomes the obvious choice to make the team, given manager Terry Collins' stated preference for a second left-hander to supplement Josh Edgin. Though the Mets have not informed anyone inside or outside the organization of their final decision, Carson admitted that he has heard rumors "through the grapevine."
"I feel like I came here in good shape, strong," Carson said. "I'm ready for whatever. If that's the case, if I do break with the squad, I'm ready to go and do whatever Terry and [general manager] Sandy [Alderson] and the Mets want me to do. Whatever role that is, I'm going to try to fulfill it and do the best I can."
Carson could not entirely enjoy his unofficial bit of good news on Monday, entering a six-run game in the bottom of the seventh and proceeding to serve up back-to-back home runs to Braves sluggers Jason Heyward and Justin Upton. Considering Carson's primary role with the Mets will be facing left-handed sluggers such as Heyward, he tried to draw positives out of the experience.
"It's two pitches I can't get back," Carson said. "But I know for next time, and next time I see him it will hopefully be different results."
If Carson has beat out lefties Feliciano, Scott Rice, Aaron Laffey and Darin Gorski for a bullpen role, the only remaining relief battle would be between hard-throwing right-hander Jeurys Familia and submarine pitcher Greg Burke, both of whom have intrigued Collins this spring. Though the Mets believe Familia can be a lockdown late-inning reliever, the team may carry Burke so as not to risk losing him.
That was once the thinking on Feliciano, as well.
Returning to the Mets this offseason after pitching for the franchise from 2002-04 and '06-10, Feliciano called his late-spring demotion "a little bit" of a surprise. He underwent major left shoulder surgery shortly after signing with the Yankees in 2011, and wore a cardiac monitor early this spring due to a rare congenital heart defect. Feliciano's last Major League pitch came with the Mets in 2010.
"I thought just being here and throwing strikes and getting lefties out, I would have opened some minds," Feliciano said. "But they decided different than what I expected. I was happy just to be here and to let people see that I'm ready."
Feliciano said the Mets are giving him a few days to decide whether to accept a demotion or look for work elsewhere. The team wants him to work in the Minors for a month, or however long it takes to rediscover his old strength. In his prime, Feliciano's fastball averaged around 87 mph.
Most important, Collins said, is for Feliciano to display the strength necessary to pitch on back-to-back days. Resiliency was one of his hallmarks during his prime, resulting in a franchise-record 86 appearances in 2008, 88 in '09 and 92 in '10, the latter mark tied for fourth-most in MLB history. Those gaudy appearance totals may ultimately have resulted in the shoulder injury that cost Feliciano a good chunk of his velocity, but they were also a huge part of what made him valuable.
"We'd like to see him build up some shoulder strength," Collins said. "You've got to know that you can bring him back-to-back days and he's still going to be sharp."