Mets ready to move past 2009 season

Mets ready to move past 2009 season

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Operation Mouthwash, the second stage of the Mets' recovery from 2009, began Saturday when pitchers and catchers staged the first day of batteries-included workouts at the club's training camp headquarters. They've had since Oct. 4 to move beyond 2009's crash and burn, 4 1/2 months to let the bruises heal and the sense of disappointment/embarrassment dissipate. All that's left now for them is to rid themselves of that awful aftertaste -- two, four, six, eight ... they can all expectorate -- and get about the business of renaissance.

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The pitchers and catchers, some early arrival position players and renewed hopes all assembled for the organization's 49th camp, its 23rd on Florida's east coast. The players stretched their muscles; their public stretched its imagination. On Feb. 20, all teams are equal, even if some are more equal than others.

Chilly as it has been here, the blasts of real winter don't reach this far south. And all the chill is likely to be gone before the end of the month, about the time new man Jason Bay steps into the cage to measure himself against Francisco Rodriguez in live batting practice. It won't be nearly as seductive as Doc vs. Darryl, but it will suffice. It will tell Bay where his swing is, tell Rodriguez which pitches need what kind of polish. And it will tell us all that Opening Day is just a Jeff Francoeur throw away and that a baseball covers 60 feet, six inches faster that you can say "Where's Rod Barajas?"

Some of the position players -- Francoeur, Jose Reyes, David Wright, Daniel Murphy, Nick Evans -- already have worked out at the complex. The Murph'n Mex School of First Base has passed its first semester. Reyes is up and running. Wright soon will have spent more time in a cage than Hannibal Lecter. The others will follow and bring their issues with them. What would a training camp be without an elbow (Johan Santana's) or a knee (Carlos Beltran's) to monitor?

Manager Jerry Manuel said Friday he was pleased by the early arrivals. Their presence was indicative, he said, of a desire to get to work. All managers say that sort of thing every spring, though they are aware that improved golfing conditions of Florida seduce many of their players. Francoeur said the temperature in Atlanta was 29 degrees last week when he packed the car. Enough said.

But his golf swing says his repaired right thumb has healed. So there are advantages to being here early.

The Mets, Manuel insists, will emphasize defense, throwing strikes, running the bases intelligently and driving the ball. He wants fewer mistakes, more extra-base hits and fewer injuries. To the latter objective, the Mets have tweaked their strength and conditioning program and renamed it Prevention and Recovery. The staff has been outfitted with windbreakers with those words and logos.

"Our guys ought to be strong and in condition," COO Jeff Wilpon said Wednesday. "We want to prevent injuries and then help our injured players to recover."

When the full squad is assembled -- with special invitees included -- on Tuesday, a sense of whom and what are missing will develop. No Carlos Delgado for the first time since 2005. No Brian Stokes, no Gary Sheffield. No Bengie Molina or Randy Wolf, too. No Orlando Hudson. And perhaps, no talk of Pedro Martinez returning. Perhaps. But this camp will begin at least with no disabled list -- there is no DL until late next month -- and therefore no reason to linger on thoughts of 2009.

Each spring camp is about renewal and new faces. The Mets don't have a lot of them, and the ones they have imported lack household familiarity -- Ryota Igarashi, Hisanori Takahashi, Shawn Riggans and Shawn Bowman. That hardly distinguishes the Mets from other clubs at this time of year. An annual element of every training camp is the search for bottled lightning. Igarashi has some resume. Maybe this Takahashi has more to offer than the 2009 model?

And what if Kelvim Escobar becomes functional? And, goodness, what if Oliver Perez finally makes the change from pendulum-ic Ollie to perpetually positive Perez? Could that happen? There's a Mike Jacobs, but is there a Joe Hardy among them?

Spring Training is more about preparation than it is about results. Those who recall Darren Reed and Butch Huskey may recall each produced a Murderer's Row March. Neither was the Mets' man in any other month. Tim Leary was the best pitcher in Florida and perhaps the Northern Hemisphere in 1981. And he barely pitched that season.

So take what you see next month with several grains of salt. Pitchers don't start throwing good breaking balls until after the week of the Sweet 16. Playing nine innings is considered overtime for regulars until the final days down here. But it is a beginning.

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