Mets reshuffle rotation for first week

Mets reshuffle rotation for first week

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- No team has been a greater challenge for Mike Pelfrey than the Marlins. He has beaten them once and lost to them six times in 10 career starts. No other opponent has beaten him as often.

Now, the Fish won't get another opportunity so soon as they thought.

Based as much on numbers and images of lopsided losses, the Mets have altered their rotation to take advantage of matchups -- or more to the point, so that the Marlins might not take advantage of the pitching matchup. As a result, Pelfrey and Oliver Perez have been pushed back in the rotation so they will miss the season-opening series against the Marlins and instead start the fourth and fifth games of the season, against the Nationals.

John Maine and Jon Niese, who had been tentatively scheduled to oppose the Nationals, now will start the second and third games of the season against the Marlins at Citi Field. Nothing changes for Johan Santana, of course. The Mets' No. 1 starter is to pitch on Opening Day on Monday, and again against the Nationals six days later.

Some of the pitchers involved became aware of the pending changes Tuesday. All five met with pitching coach Dan Warthen and manager Jerry Manuel on Wednesday morning. Nobody seemed bothered by the changes.

"If it helps us get off to a good start, great," Pelfrey said. "I'm all for it. All of us are. It's just kind of funny that they waited till now. We asked them in the meeting, 'Didn't you guys have a schedule?'"

Manuel said the changes were linked to the club's sense that it needs to play well earlier in the season. And now that the team is all but certain to play without Jose Reyes and Daniel Murphy when the season begins, a greater need for favorable matchups exists.

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Warthen said the idea was first discussed about five days ago, though Manuel indicated he had been weighing his options during the offseason.

"It really is perfect for us," Warthen said.

Pelfrey clearly has been more effective against the Nationals. He has a 3-5 record in 12 career starts against them, but his ERA in 75 2/3 innings is 3.72. Since he beat the Marlins in his big league debut on July 8, 2006, he has lost to them six times in nine starts and produced a 5.40 ERA. Call it the lesser of two evils.

Perez has a 6-3 record and 4.00 ERA in 16 starts against the Marlins and a 3-5 record and 7.14 ERA in 10 starts against the Nationals. But he is so inconsistent and often ineffective in April -- his 5.92 career ERA in April is higher than his ERA in any other month -- the club decided to push him back and have Maine and Niese take their chances.

Maine has a 5-2 record and 3.12 ERA in 10 career starts against the Marlins. One of his victories came in the 161st game of 2007, in which he struck out 14 and allowed one infield hit in 7 2/3 shutout innings. His 13 starts against the Nationals, a lesser team than the Marlins during Maine's time with the Mets, have produced an 8-3 record and 4.20 ERA. So the gain is not with Maine, but with Pelfrey not opposing his nemesis.

Poor performances by the least reliable member of the Mets' rotation had as much to do with the club revising the rotation as pitchers' histories against certain opponents. Perez was dropped from the No. 3 slot to No. 5 "because he's pitched like a fifth starter," a person familiar with the Mets' thinking said late Tuesday.

Jon Niese took Perez's place in the rotation, and the same person said, "You can make a case that Niese is our second-best starter."

*****

The club assigned Carlos Beltran and Kelvim Escobar to the disabled list Wednesday, each assignment backdated to Friday, the date the club will use when it does the same with Jose Reyes. ... The Mets have assigned Pat Misch to their Minor League complex. He cleared waivers Wednesday. ... Also demoted was Fernando Martinez -- no surprise. GM Omar Minaya said he would not hesitate to summon Martinez to the big leagues if an outfield need developed.

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