For Jerry Manuel and Omar Minaya it is a case of better late than never.
Slowly but surely the Mets are making moves that should have been obvious in either Spring Training or even the offseason. Gary Matthews opened the season getting regular at-bats. Now he is chained to the bench.
Angel Pagan, despite excellent play when healthy last year, was not in the every day lineup. Now he is making a case to be the team’s #2 hitter. Mike Jacobs started the year as the bigger half of the first base platoon. He has since been released. Jeff Francoeur began the season hitting #5 or #6 and playing every day. Now he is batting #8, getting an occasional day off and hoping that Carlos Beltran does not come back any time soon. Chris Carter was sent to the minors at the beginning of the year but since has been freed and delivered some timely hits. Jose Reyes was miscast as a #3 hitter and has thrived once he moved back into the leadoff spot.
Oliver Perez and his 86 mph fastball were removed from the rotation. The Mets braintrust finally stopped listening to John Maine and instead believed their eyes when it came to his health. Fernando Nieve and Pedro Feliciano opened the season pitching in virtually every game. Nieve got a start in his last outing and Feliciano has moved back into more of a lefty specialist role.
The Nieve move is the right one, even if he struggled mightily in his outing against the Brewers on Saturday. Nieve has the arsenal of a starting pitcher and did well in that role last year in both the minors and the majors. Yes, he was a little bit lucky as a starter last year with the Mets, but he still showed enough to be given another shot at that role, even if he needed to work on his command in Triple-A. Instead he was moved to the bullpen and pitched on a pace that would make a normal reliever cringe, much less one who was utilized as a starter the year before.
One of the hallmarks of a good manager is putting his players in a position to succeed. Manuel usually does pretty good in this regard, but he failed miserably with Nieve. Instead, Manuel put him in a position to fail. No one thought that Nieve would succeed as a reliever when called upon five out of every seven days. And then to move him into the rotation when he had not pitched more than one inning in his previous 12 outings was, to be kind, a head-shaking move. Nieve needs to be a starting pitcher, but he needs to do it in the minors, where the transition does not hurt the team’s chance to win.
Yet another better-late-than-never move was the promotion of Elmer Dessens. Most people view Dessens as nothing more than an afterthought. Sure, he has been around forever, but his numbers are mediocre, at best. But Dessens is a serviceable reliever, one capable of starting if the need arises. In short, he was a perfect candidate to be a reliever for the 2010 Mets, a team with four question marks in its starting rotation heading into the season.
Dessens had a 3.31 ERA and a 1.041 WHIP in 28 games last season. In Spring Training this year, he went 2-0 with a 1.00 ERA in 10 games. But when the Mets chose to make a reliever out of both Jenrry Mejia and Nieve, Dessens was sent to the minors. While some might have been disgusted with a questionable demotion, the veteran Dessens went to Buffalo and did his job. After going 5-0 with a 2.12 ERA in 17 IP, where he had 3 BB and 18 Ks, Dessens finally got a promotion when Maine went on the DL.
In three games so far, Dessens has pitched well for the Mets. He was one of the unsung heroes from Sunday night’s win over the Brewers, as he relieved Feliciano with a runner on base, pitched a scoreless eighth inning and preserved the team’s two-run lead. A case could have been made that Manuel should have let him pitch the ninth inning, as the team scored four runs in the top of the frame and had a comfortable six-run lead. Dessens would have earned a save if he closed out the game, something not available for Francisco Rodriguez, who did come in and retire the side.
It will be interesting to see what decisions Manuel and Minaya make when Maine and Jon Niese are ready to come off the DL. Hisanori Takahashi and R.A. Dickey have both pitched well enough to remain in the rotation. At the very least, they deserve to be in the majors as relievers. That leaves the question of who will go to the minors to make room for Maine and Niese.
Perez should be the leading candidate. He needs to get away from Manuel and pitching coach Dan Warthen and see if new people can come up with new solutions to his problems. But so far Perez, as is his collectively bargained right, has declined the team’s offer to work out his problems in the minors. But even if Perez does change his mind, that still leaves one other pitcher that needs to be moved.
The easy decision would be to send down Dessens. But the right decision would be to send down either Mejia or Nieve so they could move to the rotation. Both of those pitchers have more long-term value to the team as starters and the sooner they get back to starting, the better. Dessens is a serviceable pitcher who can provide the Mets as much value out of the pen as either Mejia or Nieve. Hopefully Sunday’s performance reinforced that perception to both Manuel and Minaya.
If Dessens stays when Maine and Niese return, that will be another sign that the Mets are moving in the right direction.
Tug McGraw and the 1973 Mets had the slogan, Ya Gotta Believe! The mantra of the 2010 Mets is starting to crystallize as, Better Late than Never.