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Bullpen a buzzword for Mets at camp

Bullpen a buzzword for Mets at camp

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Triple play: Three questions that need answers

1. Do the Mets have sufficient pitching -- in quantity and quality?
The question won't be answered in March. But the pitchers' readiness to compete can be determined before the team moves north on April 4. Each potential starter, even Johan Santana, has an issue. Only Mike Pelfrey and John Maine aren't coming off injuries, but Pelfrey is coming off what he identified as a bad season, while Maine hasn't had a full season since 2007. Oliver Perez always is an uncertainty. Jon Niese and Fernando Nieve suffered gruesome leg injuries last summer.

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2. Who fills in for Beltran?
Carlos Beltran isn't a Spring Training question. He isn't expected to resume baseball activities until the final days of camp. The issue is which of his two understudies -- Angel Pagan and Gary Matthews Jr. -- will take his place. Manager Jerry Manuel already has endorsed Pagan, who demonstrated many offensive skills when he replaced Beltran last summer. But Pagan may offset his superior performance with mistakes. Matthews doesn't appear to be the player he was in 2006 when he reached his peak.

3. What pre-Frankie bullpen sequence will be established?
We know Frankie Rodriguez closes and left-hander Pedro Feliciano faces the Chase Utleys, Ryan Howards and Brian McCanns of the world. But who else pitches when? The trade that imported Matthews cost Manuel a reliever he seemed to favor in Brian Stokes. The options now are Sean Green, who didn't distinguish himself last season; Bobby Parnell, who had his moments -- good and bad -- in 2009; reclamation project Kelvim Escobar; and Japanese signee Ryota Igarashi. The 'pen doesn't appear to be nearly the asset the Mets had hoped it would be last season.

2009 record
70-92, fourth in the National League East

Projected batting order
1. SS Jose Reyes:
  .279 BA, .355 OBP, .395 SLG, 2 HR, 15 RBI in 2009
2. 2B Luis Castillo:
  .302 BA, .387 OBP, .346 SLG, 1 HR, 40 RBI in 2009
3. 3B David Wright:
  .307 BA, .390 OBP, .347 SLG, 10 HR, 72 RBI in 2009
4. LF Jason Bay:
  .267 BA, .384 OBP, .537 SLG, 36 HR, 119 RBI in 2009
5. 1B Daniel Murphy:
  .266 BA, .313 OBP, .427 SLG, 12 HR, 63 RBI in 2009
6. RF Jeff Francoeur:
  .280 BA, .309 OBP, .423 SLG, 15 HR, 76 RBI in 2009
7. CF Angel Pagan:
  .306 BA, .350 OBP, .487 SLG, 6 HR, 32 RBI in 2009
8. C Omir Santos:
  .260 BA, .296 OBP, .391 SLG, 7 HR, 40 RBI in 2009

Projected rotation
1. Johan Santana, 13-9, 3.13 ERA in 2009
2. Mike Pelfrey, 10-12, 5.03 ERA in 2009
3. John Maine, 7-6, 4.33 ERA in 2009
4. Fernando Nieve, 3-3, 2.95 ERA in 2009
5. Oliver Perez, 3-4, 6.82 ERA in 2009

Projected bullpen
Closer: Frankie Rodriguez, 35 saves, 3.71 ERA in 2009
RH setup man: Kelvim Escobar, 3.60 ERA in 2009
RH setup man: Ryota Igarashi, DNP in big leagues in 2009
LH setup man: Pedro Feliciano, 3.03 ERA in 2009

The new guys
Bay: The right-handed-hitting slugger returns to the National League. Bay's signing as a free agent allowed the club to turn away from the conundrum that Carlos Delgado had become. That Bay bats right-handed and Beltran will miss at least the first month of the season creates a left-handed/right-handed balance power issue in the batting order.

Escobar: General manager Omar Minaya has identified Escobar and Igarashi as the likely setup relievers for K-Rod, even though the former has pitched five innings in the big leagues in the past two seasons, and the latter has never pitched in this country. Escobar, a starter with the Angels in 2007, underwent right shoulder surgery the following July.

Igarashi: The 30-year-old right-handed pitcher played 11 seasons with the Yakult Swallows of the Japanese Central League, serving as a reliever exclusively in 507 games. "We've had an interest in Ryota for two years," Minaya said in December. "He's got a power arm and an outstanding split-finger [fastball]."

C Henry Blanco: The Mets didn't entice Bengie Molina to sign with them, so their likely catching tandem includes incumbent Santos and Blanco, the 38-year-old veteran of 11 big league seasons who signed a one-year contract in December as a free agent. Blanco is considered a good receiver. He threw well last year when he played in 67 games with the Padres.

Prospects to watch
OF Fernando Martinez: The MVP of the Caribbean World Series appeared in 29 games with the Mets last season before developing a need for surgery on his right knee in July. He didn't distinguish himself in his 2009 opportunities, and chances are he won't be on the big league roster on Opening Day despite the absence of Beltran.

C Josh Thole: The left-handed-hitting catcher demonstrated a sense of how to handle big league pitching late last season, but he showed little power and a need to polish his receiving skills. The Mets see him as a 2011 possibility, with a chance to return to the big leagues in September this year.

On the rebound
Reyes: After playing in merely 36 games last season, undergoing autumn surgery on his right leg and rehabbing for months, Reyes says he is fit and anxious to return. No one will know for sure how fit until April. His return to the level of play he established in 2005-08 is essential for the Mets. If he is the dynamic player he was, their lineup and infield defense are markedly better.

Santana: One advantage to the Mets falling from contention early last season was that Santana had his left elbow repaired sooner than later. Given his mind-set, he might have tried to pitch the entire season if the Mets were close. Santana noted he won his first Cy Young Award in 2004, the year after he had bone chips removed from his elbow for the first time. Now more chips have been eliminated and he -- half-seriously -- suggests a cause-and-effect relationship can happen again. Who would put it past him? He was as good as ever in the first two months of '09.

Beltran: The troublesome right knee that often has undermined Beltran has been cleaned out after a season of inactivity. He is not to resume baseball activities until early April. The Mets anticipate his return in May, at the earliest. His left-handed power, defense and basestealing -- if he still is a basestealer -- are critical to the Mets.

Francoeur: Surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb has him ready for his first full season with the Mets. Francoeur was a most pleasant surprise after the July 10 trade in which he was acquired for Ryan Church. The trade revitalized him, and his presence added a positive outlook to the team's clubhouse.

Long gone
Delgado: His season ended May 10 and, as it turned out, so did his tour with the Mets. Hip surgery and a subsequent strained oblique undermined Delgado's attempt to return to the big leagues last summer. His inability to move freely at first base in winter ball ended the chance the Mets would re-sign their primary slugger of 2006-08. Now he is considering retirement.

RHP J.J. Putz: The need for elbow surgery in June cut Putz's season short. His New York experience wasn't particularly positive. Green is all the Mets retain from the heralded three-club trade involving the Mariners and Indians in December 2008.

C Brian Schneider: Confident they would bring in another regular catcher, the Mets allowed Schneider to use his free-agent status to join the Phillies. His two-year tenure with the Mets wasn't successful. But he did bat left-handed, and now the Mets appear ready to move forward with three catchers, all right-handed hitters.

OF Gary Sheffield: Injuries and lack of run production by others caused Sheffield to play more than expected last season. But his production fell short of what the club had hoped for, partially because of injuries of his own. The club had no interest in retaining him.

Stokes: Although he wasn't a prominent figure in the Mets' often-unreliable bullpen, dealing Stokes to the Angels for Matthews caught observers and players by surprise.

RHP Tim Redding: He fell behind others in Spring Training and was late catching up. Redding had his moments as a starter, but his departure was expected and not too damaging.

OF Jeremy Reed: After a solid spring, Reed fell into disuse. He was not favored by Manuel and essentially had a wasted 2009 season.

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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{"content":["spring_training" ] }
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