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Feliciano wants to be setup man in 'pen

Feliciano wants to be setup man in 'pen

JUPITER, Fla. -- Considering he's relied upon so heavily in the Mets' bullpen, Pedro Feliciano was given a nice little break recently. Now, with about a week and a half remaining in Spring Training, he'll be used rather steadily as he aims to prepare himself for what will probably be another 80-appearance season in relief for the Amazin's.

But the veteran left-hander has something else in mind.

"I just want to be the setup man," Feliciano said prior to his club's game against the Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium, which resulted in a 2-1 loss. "I don't want to be the lefty specialist. ... I want to be the setup man. I want to be the eighth-inning guy, and I want to prove to the organization that I can pitch to righties like I pitch to lefties."

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Feliciano has been one of the key cogs in the Mets' bullpen for a while.

Over the last four years, he's put up a 3.04 ERA while appearing in an average of 79 games per season. In 2008 and '09, he led the Major Leagues in games pitched with 86 and 88, respectively. And last season, he put up a 3.04 ERA with a career-best 3.28 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

With hopeful setup man Kelvim Escobar starting the season on the disabled list, the eighth inning is a relative toss-up in Mets camp, one that could eventually be inhabited by Kiko Calero, Ryota Igarashi or even Jenrry Mejia -- after he's eased into the big leagues first.

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But Feliciano said pitching coach Dan Warthen asked him recently if he would embrace the eighth-inning role if it fell upon him. Now, he wants it.

"I see [J.J.] Putz is gone, and nobody's set up as the setup man," Feliciano said. "I want to get that position. I want to win it. I'm working with the righties like I'm doing with the lefties. And I just want to leave Spring Training as the setup man."

But Feliciano may be a victim of his past success.

The 33-year-old southpaw has held lefties to a .214 batting average throughout his seven-year career.

Other than Feliciano, the Mets don't really have a lefty who could come in and get a big out against a lefty slugger -- say, Ryan Howard or Chase Utley -- late in the game. Japanese lefty Hisanori Takahashi is a candidate for the bullpen, but he's been mostly a starter throughout his pro career.

While dominating lefties, Feliciano has surrendered a .272 career batting average to righties. But after right-handed hitters pounded him for a .357 batting average in '08, they hit just .264 against him in '09.

This spring, he's continued to work on implementing a cut fastball against righty hitters.

If it turns out that he's not the setup man to begin the season, that's fine with Feliciano. But he wants to be a full-inning guy.

"If they decide with me to be ... the seventh-inning [guy], I'll be there, whatever they want," said Feliciano, who amassed just 59 1/3 innings in his 88 appearances last year. "But I don't want to be the lefty specialist."

Since taking a one-hopper off the right knee against the Marlins last Thursday, Feliciano hasn't pitched. Not because he's been hurt, but because the Mets want to save his arm as much as possible for the rigors of the season.

Now, after throwing to one batter on Thursday, Feliciano is scheduled to pitch again on Friday, then get an off-day on Saturday before pitching in back-to-back days to get himself cranked up again for the season.

Despite pitching for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic last year before leading the big leagues in appearances, Feliciano said his arm was never sore "at all," and Mets manager Jerry Manuel said: "He can probably go to New York right now and wait for us to get there."

"Hopefully I break my record again this year," Feliciano said with a smile.

And though he'll be 34 by the end of August, Feliciano believes he can keep making 80-some appearances again this season and possibly beyond.

"I work so hard in the offseason that I'm not scared of pitching 90 games, I'm not scared of getting up [in the bullpen] 100 times," Feliciano said. "I'm ready, and I know that my body's ready for more and more years."

Alden Gonzalez 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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