Feliciano eyes Mets' eighth-inning gig

Feliciano eyes Mets' eighth-inning gig

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The crossover pitcher missing from the Mets' bullpen sequences for most of the months since the injury to Duaner Sanchez in 2006 may be filled -- finally -- by a pitcher who has been high profile in the club's late innings for four seasons. Because none of the candidates for the pre-Francisco Rodriguez assignment has distinguished himself in this camp and the competition was likely to have been determined by default, the Mets have turned to Pedro Feliciano.

Nothing is definite. The Mets are full of maybes, might-be's and could-be's about the eighth-inning, center-field and eft-handed pinch-hitter jobs. But they seem comfortable with this idea. And Feliciano is delighted by the prospect of a new and more challenging assignment. He was quoted last week saying essentially, "Why not me?" and manager Jerry Manuel indicated Monday that Feliciano, with his left-handed sidearm delivery and his newly polished cutter, is a prime consideration for the role that has been vacant three-plus seasons -- except for the weeks last year during which J.J. Putz could throw without pain.

"I can do that job," Feliciano said Monday afternoon. "I want to do that job. I'm here to pitch. I'm here to win. I can be a setup man instead of the supposed left-handed specialist. I'm ready for it now. I don't care what right-handed hitters they bring up. I'll just do my job."

The job may be more taxing, though in a different way, than the one that made Feliciano the most used pitcher in the Major Leagues in each of the past two seasons, during which he made 88 and 86 appearances, respectively. Or not. As the eighth-inning pitcher -- as opposed to a reliever who pitches in the eighth -- he would be asked to face a minimum of three batters each time the Mets carry a lead after seven innings at home or 7 1/2 on the road.

How often that circumstance will exist this season in an unknown. But Feliciano faced a total of 57 batters in 40 of his 88 appearances last season. Forty appearances as the eighth-inning pitcher would necessitate facing a minimum of 120 batters if none reached base.

"My arm never hangs," was Feliciano's reaction to the challenge of increased workload.

And pitching coach Dan Warthen said, "He literally has a rubber arm," before he agreed figuratively was the appropriate adverb.

According to Feliciano, Warthen approached him twice last week, once after the Mets had brought in Raul Valdes, the left-handed 32-year-old from the Tobasco club in the Mexican League, and again after the Mets.com report appeared. The coach was pleased to learn of the pitcher's desire for more responsibility.

Even if the workload isn't the issue for Feliciano, who replaces him as the lefty specilist is. Hisonari Takahashi is left-handed, and because of his ability to throw with command, Manuel identified weeks ago as a potential left-handed specialist. But neither the 35-year-old non-roster rookie nor Valdes is considered as adept as Feliciano as disarming the potent lefty batters in the National League East -- Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Brian McCann, Adam Dunn, et al.

One of the Mets' talent evaluators said Monday that though Valdes has no trick pitch or funky arm angle, "He seems pretty capable of getting outs against both sides."

Valdes pitched one-third of an inning against the Marlins on Monday -- he faced left-handed hitter John Baker. In his 11th hour audition, he has faced six batters and retired five in 2 1/3 innings in three appearances.

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The Mets re-familiarized themselves with Valdes over the winter when he pitched in the Caribbean World Series. General manager Omar Minaya saw him there. Valdes had pitched with the Mets' Class A and Double-A teams in 2007.

Were Feliciano to be assigned to the eighth and Valdes added to the roster, it would knock over the first in a row of dominoes that would impact other pitchers, here from the first day of camp, who hadn't performed well. Bobby Parnell and/or Sean Green would have even less job security.

Takahashi would not be an sort of left-handed specialist -- the club see that as too restrictive a role for him -- and he'd be available to pitch in long relief, a job the Mets frequently link him to in conversation. Pitching in long relief would make him more ready to be a spot-starter.

Takahashi in that role wouldn't bode well for Nelson Figueroa, who last week was identified a the most likely "staff saver" -- read long man -- on the staff.

How it will work out is an unknown even now that less than a week remains before Opening Day. There were indications some important decisions were to be made overnight.

"Just let me know a few minutes before I have to come in," Feliciano said. "I can get ready in the time it takes Jerry to walk to the mound. And if I pitch the eighth, I have more time."

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