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Setup job remains for the taking

Setup job remains for the taking

PORT ST. LUCIE -- Prevention and recovery, the newest logo message for the Mets, hasn't been a smashing success just yet. Prevention has worked well. With more caution applied, no new maladies have developed in a camp of 66 players. But recovery has been a tad behind only because two players critical to the team's success arrived with preexisting issues.

The inactivity of Carlos Beltran was anticipated. His right knee surgery, for all the fuss it caused, came so late -- Jan. 13 -- that little chance existed that the center fielder would return to playing before May. And even if "mid-May" now seems to be the estimated time of return, the Mets have been able to implement contingencies.

The likely absence of Kelvim Escobar because of right shoulder weakness is a different set of dominoes. Angel Pagan distinguished himself to some degree last summer when he served as Beltran's understudy. The Mets had planned for Escobar to be the primary or regular eighth-inning guy, the bridge to Francisco Rodriguez, and now that he is likely to begin the season on the DL, the club has no obvious choice to fill that role, no second domino.

One day after manager Jerry Manuel spoke of Escobar's time-line recovery, he was reluctant or unable to identify the likely replacement for the veteran pitcher, who before he arrived in camp, was a long shot to be in the Opening Day mix. Manuel spoke of three pitchers as possibilities. No surprises here: Bobby Parnell, Ryoto Igarashi and Sean Green. No probable, either.

Meanwhile, changing relievers twice in the eighth inning has zero appeal to the manager who wore out his soles in the second half of 2008 and parts of last season, as well. The need for a crossover reliever has existed for that long. The Mets had a diminished need for one last year because they had fewer leads to protect. And on two occasions, they used Billy Wagner in an audition for a trade to fill the need.

And now what? Parnell prompted mixed, though mostly positive, reviews in his 66 relief appearances. The reviews of his eight starts were neither mixed nor all that positive. Green had good and bad days, more of the latter, early in the season, and fell into disuse until his arm angle and the Mets' season dropped down. And Igarishi, his split-finger fastball and new slider have yet to oppose a big league hitter.

Two days after Manuel said Fernando Nieve was suited to pitch in long or short relief, he backed away from that thought but said "[Nieve] is flexible enough to be a late-inning guy." So go figure.

"That's why the Mets are out and around looking for a reliever," a scout from a different club said Saturday. "From what I've heard, they want a lefty so Jerry can mix and match with what he has, or they want someone who can handle the eighth no matter who he has to face. It's a little late now to get the quality they want."

The Mets have been chasing left-handed free agent Joe Beimel for two months. He would serve as a second left-handed reliever after -- or actually before -- Pedro Feliciano. The later, more challenging left-handed-hitter situations would go to Feliciano. The Mets have made Beimel an offer. But he signed quite late last year -- March 18 with the Nationals -- and was able to command a $2 million salary, a figure he isn't likely to command now or come March 18. The Mets hardly are poised to offer a No. 2 left-handed specialist more than they are obligated to pay their regular catcher.

Ron Mahay, late of the Royals and Twins, follows Beimel on the Mets' wish list.

That's where the Mets are now, trying to cover themselves until Escobar, an if-and-when proposition himself, has recovered and restrengthened his right shoulder. Mets general manager Omar Minaya is in the mode Manuel too often has found himself -- trying to make do in the eighth.

"It's our biggest challenge," Manuel said Sunday. "I'd like to see one of them separate himself from the others."

When the club signed Igarashi in December, indications were that he would compete for the eighth-inning assignment -- with whom was unclear. Escobar hadn't yet signed. And now Escobar in under contract, all the candidates are in camp, and no clarity exists yet.

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

{"content":["spring_training" ] }
{"content":["spring_training" ] }