The Dog Days Of Spring Training
Call these the “Dog Days,” of Spring Training. With the regular season opener less than two weeks away it still resembles more mirage than oasis. Waiting for that ketchup, er, season to flow, grows with anticipation as another meaningless Grapefruit League tilt thankfully is capped. The storylines have been played out and one can only bang the bottle so long before realizing it’s empty.
Eventually you must unseal the new season before the gratification commences. You can only ponder the “what ifs,” without ultimately grinding them into pulp. If spring training is the LSAT exam, then two weeks from yesterday the proctor finally hands out the SAT’s.
Butterflies on tests and Opening Day are normal.
How the Mets will “score,” (on both sides of the ball) will finally begin for real in 11 short (long) days. Until kickoff, we still remain uneasy about only 4/5ths of the rotation. The trio of Ollie Perez, John Maine, and Mike Pelfrey have to supply innings (Pelf did last year, a team high 184.1, Maine and Perez, 81.1 & 66.0, respectively, did not) and quality starts.
Can they become stalwarts of the rotation (will Perez and Maine win a combined 15 games, let alone as each recorded in 2007?). Yet to be determined but crucial.
Who will win the fifth starter’s competition between Nelson Figueroa, Fernando Nieve and Jon Niese? Maybe neither. More than a passel of Mets fans are rooting for the homeboy Nelson Figueroa. Hopefully he sneaks in. He has had a better spring than the N & N boys. However, this may be graded an incomplete until May (only 23 games in April).
(And Figgy has earned one last push at a career before saying Sayonara.)
Who will step into the role as second closer (8th inning)? If Kelvim Escobar wasn’t hurt, Bobby Parnell erratic, and Ryota Igarashi putrid, would the phenom Jenrry Mejia, at only 20 and his future as a starter, really be a consideration?
Regardless at how sterling he has pitched this March. Can you blame Jerry Manuel for wanting as many boots on the ground as he embarks on his personal Waterloo?
Can Angel Pagan or Gary Matthews Jr. fill the oft-injured shoes of Carlos Beltran? Will Jose Reyes’ see action on opening day? Yada, yada, yada.
Of course, spring training is the place where questions begin to get answers. But it’s limited. When the games move North the real issues get addressed. Such as, if Daniel Murphy doesn’t start hitting, then Ike Davis could be headed to La Guardia on the next shuttle in from Buffalo. Or Mike Jacobs, if he is caught in a numbers crunch, re-signed and handed the job.
Once the calendar turns to April the questions don’t take (hopefully) weeks to answer. It becomes a day-to-day proposition. The same could be said about Manuel’s and GM’s Omar Minaya’s days as management cornerstones. Their margin of error is Razor Thin, not Razor Shines.
As of right now, the fans’ anxiety level is at CODE ORANGE regarding the aforementioned three starters, the 8th inning bridge to F-Rod, and replacing Reyes and Beltran-again. The return of David Wright, addition of Jason Bay, and health of Johan Santana, is BLUE (a soothing color, not mental state).
Guess we have to be patient just a short while longer before the test ovals are blackened. Let’s just hope the results are positive ones.
About the Author: Doug Branch
Doug has been sports writing since 1983. He first wrote about the Mets at spring training that year, and his first interviewee was surly catcher Ron Hodges. He currently writes for Mets Inside Pitch, among other magazines published by Scout Publishing-which is owned by Fox Sports. He began following the team during the Wes Westrum era, and redeemed many Borden milk coupons for free Saturday baseball. The night of Tom Seaver's imperfect game against the Cubs, he was in line to buy a ticket when the windows slammed shut and abject disappointment ensued.
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