In the early innings of tonight’s Mets telecast, Gary Cohen asked the viewers who they thought was the injured player closest to making his way back from the disabled list. Although Jose Reyes has been doing some light running and is very close to playing in rehab games, he was not the answer. Imagine my surprise when the answer was revealed to be the Sandman, Billy Wagner!
So I did a little research to see the progress of the Mets players currently on the disabled list and sure enough, according to Brian Costa in the Star-Ledger, Billy Wagner was able to pitch two innings this afternoon in a simulated game in Port St. Lucie. After today’s effort, Wagner will pitch in two additional simulated games, followed by rehab games. This could lead to his return to the Mets sometime around mid-August.
Wagner last pitched for the Mets on August 2, 2008 against the Houston Astros. He pitched poorly in that game, failing to protect the two run lead given to him. He gave up the tying runs in the ninth inning on three hits and a walk. Wagner was credited with a blown save that night in a game eventually lost by Aaron Heilman and the Mets, 5-4 in 10 innings.
Soon after, he felt pain in his left elbow and was placed on the disabled list on August 5 with what was then deemed a strained elbow. He was allowed to pitch in a simulated game two weeks later but then reported swelling after the outing. More tests were performed on his elbow and the worst case scenario became reality. He was diagnosed with a torn medial collateral ligament in his left elbow which required Tommy John surgery. The surgery was performed on September 10 and at the time, Wagner was convinced he had played his last game as a Met based on the knowledge that Tommy John surgery usually requires a twelve-month recovery time.
How quickly things change! Wagner might be back only 11 months after his surgery and can still contribute to the Mets. He has an $8 million option in his contract for 2010. Although he would like to close again, Wagner would most likely pitch in the seventh or eighth inning, depending on the return and effectiveness of J.J. Putz.
Putz has an $8.6 million option for 2010. Wagner’s option is for $600,000 less. Both pitchers are coming off injuries. Both would like to be closers but would not do so for the Mets as long as Francisco Rodriguez is healthy. However, the Mets have a plethora of righties in the bullpen. The only two lefties currently in the pen are Pedro Feliciano and Pat Misch. Feliciano should be around in 2010 but Misch probably will not. Given the option of keeping Putz or Wagner, wouldn’t having the extra lefty make more sense? Putz hasn’t been afforded the opportunity to become comfortable in New York while Wagner has not only acclimated well to the Big Apple, but has plenty of experience pitching in pressure situations. Putz pitched for mostly sub-.500 teams in Seattle and has still not tasted pennant race baseball.
There is a possibility that neither Putz nor Wagner will have their options picked up by the Mets, but if Wagner comes back in three weeks and pitches well, I wouldn’t be surprised if Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” is put on the Citi Field jukebox to replace AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” in 2010. It’s amazing that this is even a topic of conversation after the circumstances that ended Wagner’s season in 2008.
Brace yourselves, Mets fans. Before you know it, the Sandman will be running out of the Citi Field bullpen and onto a mound near you. I know I’ll be sleeping with one eye open, gripping my pillow tight in anticipation of his return!