Every time an updated injury report is released, August appears to be the month circled for the majority of the disabled players to make their return to the Mets. What will this mean for the players who have been thrust into everyday roles over the past few months? Let’s start analyzing what August has in store for the Mets, beginning with the hitters.
The key Mets injuries in 2009 have been the ones to Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes. Their replacements have been Daniel Murphy, Angel Pagan and Alex Cora, respectively. They have all performed well defensively at their positions, but other than Pagan, their offense has been a considerable dropoff from the players they replaced. What role will they serve in August?
Although he started out rather poorly in left field, Daniel Murphy has become more than adequate at first base. In fact, on occasion, he has been nothing less than brilliant. He has participated in numerous key double plays, with the most recent being the 3-2-3 twin killing he started during Saturday night’s game against the Diamondbacks to help Oliver Perez get out of a bases-loaded no-outs situation. Also, who can forget the behind-the-back flip he made to Bobby Parnell on July 8 against the Dodgers?
However, Murphy is not the power hitter Delgado is. He has been flirting with a .250 batting average for most of the season and has only produced six home runs. Murphy certainly has a role as an infielder on this team, but until he shows he can be a better hitter, especially at a corner infielder spot where more power is expected, he will most likely be relegated to the bench once Delgado comes back. Fortunately for Murphy, Delgado appears to be the furthest from returning from his injury of the three core hitters, as he is still not able to run the bases. He has been hitting in the batting cages and has been taking light infield practice. Once he is able to run the bases, he should be able to return to action with the Mets. Although no timetable has been set, mid-to-late August seems to be the best bet for Delgado’s return.
Angel Pagan has been heaven sent. He has been better than advertised since he replaced Carlos Beltran in center field. Pagan has been a great clutch hitter and has played well covering Citi Field’s vast expanses. Beltran was able to take outdoor batting practice on Saturday for the first time since he was placed on the disabled list in June. He might be two to three weeks away from returning, but that hinges on his ability to test out the bone bruise in his right knee.
When Beltran is well enough to return from the disabled list, he will surely be reinserted into the everyday lineup as the starting centerfielder, forcing a move for Angel Pagan. However, Pagan should not be placed on the bench. He has earned his starting role and should be moved to left field. An outfield of Pagan, Beltran and Francoeur is exceptional defensively. The only question will be where Pagan would hit in the order since Jose Reyes will take over the leadoff spot once he returns.
Speaking of Jose Reyes, he suffered a setback on Friday when he was unable to run hard around the bases. Reyes can take infield practice and has been able to hit, but as with the other disabled players, his problem has been running the bases. Since Reyes’ forte is his speed, he will not come back until the team feels he can run at full speed without feeling tightness in his hamstring.
A return from Reyes would put Alex Cora back on the bench. He has been a good injury replacement for the Mets, filling in nicely on the defensive end for the injured Reyes, but he has gotten far more at-bats than he ever expected and is nothing more than a singles hitter. As a leadoff hitter, Reyes was not expected to drive in many runs. However, even though he hasn’t played since May 20, he still has more RBI than Cora (Reyes has 15 RBI to Cora’s 14). Cora is far more effective as a bench player and a backup for Jose Reyes and Luis Castillo.
As far as the pitchers go, namely Billy Wagner, J.J. Putz and John Maine, Wagner is the closest one to returning. He pitched a perfect inning in his rehab appearance on Friday night, needing only ten pitches to retire the three batters he faced. With a few more pain-free rehab appearances, he could be back in the Mets bullpen at some point in the next few weeks.
J.J. Putz said during a Sunday interview on SNY that he expects to be back in about three weeks. He reported no pain after completing a favorable bullpen session on Saturday in which he threw 25 pitches (20 fastballs and five splitters). His next bullpen session is scheduled for Wednesday where he is expected to throw 30-35 pitches. If this is also favorable, he will then face live hitters before beginning a minor league rehab assignment.
John Maine may or may not return this season. However, he did receive some positive news from Dr. James Andrews when it was revealed that he has nothing more than shoulder weakness, confirming an earlier diagnosis. Maine has since returned to the minor league complex in Port St. Lucie but the Mets have not stated what his upcoming rehab schedule will be.
Three hitters. Three pitchers. August will herald the return of some, if not most of these players. Once they do come back, the bench will be strengthened and the players currently getting playing time will get much-needed rest. Jerry Manuel will have plenty of lineup decisions to make over the next few weeks, but fortunately those decisions will not involve which bench player or minor league call-up to insert into the game. They will involve which established major leaguer is going to play. That’s a decision a manager loves to make.
In closing, I’d like to ask the readers what they would do with the players currently playing on an everyday basis. Which players should continue to play every day? Which should return to the bench? What roles and/or positions should they play? Would the Mets be better served if the disabled players were shut down for the remainder of the season? Here’s your chance to play manager. Let’s see what you’ve got.