This time last year, few expected Bobby Parnell to open the year with Triple-A, figuring he had a bullpen spot locked up. But a poor Spring led to an assignment to Buffalo, where he spent the first two-and-a-half months of the year. Could it be déjà vu all over again for Parnell here in 2011?
Once again, most people have written Parnell’s name onto the major league roster. He figures to be the team’s eighth inning man and primary setup man to Francisco Rodriguez. Plus, with the Mets likely to be careful about the usage of Rodriguez this year, Parnell figured to be the most likely pitcher to benefit, picking up some saves and games finished in lieu of Rodriguez.
Basically, Parnell was in this position almost by default. Yes, he could reach 100 mph on the radar gun but that was seemingly his main claim to the job. Well, that and the fact that there was no one else with closing experience. But now there is.
Jason Isringhausen has come out of nowhere and now has to be viewed as a legitimate threat to not only Parnell and his eighth-inning role, but also his spot on the roster. We know Rodriguez will be on the team. We figure that D.J. Carrasco also has a spot locked up, by virtue of the two-year contract he signed this offseason. It’s a reasonable guess that the Mets will employ both a LOOGY and a long man, meaning that four bullpen spots are locked up.
Taylor Buchholz also signed as a free agent this year with a major league contract. Manny Acosta had a similar ERA and better WHIP last year than Parnell and is out of options. Pedro Beato is a Rule 5 guy and would have to be offered back to Baltimore if he does not make the roster. Throw in Isringhausen and Parnell and it’s now a very crowded bullpen situation.
If Isringhausen is all the way back in his comeback from elbow surgery, he could fill the role of eighth inning man and be the backup closer for Rodriguez. While no one else had closer dust sprinkled on their resume, Isringhausen has 293 lifetime Saves. That could add up to big trouble for Parnell.
Because let’s face it, Parnell is a glorified ROOGY at this point in his career. Last year LHB had a .327/.364/.442 mark against him. It’s great that he can throw so hard and get lots of strikeouts. Those are extremely important for a short reliever. But it’s also important to be able to get out anyone who steps to the plate. Do you really want Parnell facing Ibanez, much less Howard or Utley if the game is on the line in the eighth inning?
If Isringhausen is productive, it seems likely that he will make the team. That makes five bullpen spots locked up for Opening Day. That would leave Parnell in with Acosta, Beato and Buchholz fighting for the last two spots.
So, Parnell cannot repeat his mistake from last year, thinking he has the team made in Spring Training. He has to go out and get results. He gave up four hits and a run in his first outing, which covered two innings. That outing is not horrible, but Parnell needs to improve if he wants to be with the major league club in Florida for Opening Day, rather than waiting a week to open against the Syracuse Chiefs with the Bisons again.