The last week of spring training has not exactly painted a rosy picture for the 2010 Mets. Injured players will be missing from the lineup and the team seems to have as many question marks as any team in the National League with starting pitching heading the laundry list of issues. The resident ace of the Met staff, Johan Santana, sees it very differently and vows things will be different in 2010 for the Mets and their fans.
"I know we had a horrible season last year but everyone should realize injuries played a large role in that and the whole rotation is feeling good," says Santana.
Still, the spring training numbers contradict his confidence as every starting pitcher was for the most part ineffective in Florida.
As a consequence, the expectations outside the team are very low as most experts are picking the Mets no higher than third place in the NL East. That does not seem to bother the Mets' talented southpaw,
“Predictions are predictions and we could care less what the media thinks about us. I am being honest here and I do not mean to sound impolite but we have good players and good pitchers on this staff. We know it is not going to be easy but if we all do our jobs, we will be just fine.”
There is no question Santana will do his job because he is still recognized as the top southpaw in the league but the question remains what happens when he is not pitching. The trio of Mike Pelfrey, Oliver Perez and John Maine have spotty pitching resumes and especially in the case of Oliver Perez, many experts feel he lacks maturity and focus. In light of these deficiencies, Johan Santana has spent more time with Perez than ever before, counseling and mentoring the enigmatic southpaw.
“Ollie needs to understand he can become more consistent because he has great stuff," says Santana, “but he must not change who he is. Ollie is at his best when he is passionate and aggressive and I feel he needs to combine that personality with adjustments he made in the offseason.” Santana may have hit on a key point here because the radar gun has consistently graded Ollie Perez at 91-92 MPH in his bullpen sessions, yet he downshifts to about 88 mph in games. My theory here is that Ollie has become so cognizant of the fact that he needs to throw strikes that he is actually aiming the ball rather than throwing it which keeps his walk totals down but has made his pitches much more hittable.
Two days ago, Oliver Perez spent an extended session on one of the back fields in Port St. Lucie with Santana and pitching coach Dan Warthen and it appeared that Santana was doing all the talking. They did not even allow Perez to throw a ball as the Met ace talked to him about two things: his footwork around the rubber and his follow through on the mound.
After the session, Santana did not want to talk much about it and neither did Warthen but Ollie said, “I worked on some things out there about my follow-through and I know I have to pitch better. I really respect Johan and he gave me some real good advice.”
Whether or not Ollie will benefit from these sessions remains to be seen but it actually speaks more to the resolve of Santana than anything else. “I came here to win a championship and now two years have passed and I have not even pitched in a postseason game.” says the Met ace, “and that needs to change this year. And it is not just my responsibility to be prepared on the days I pitch. I have to help the other guys in this rotation any way I can.”
This is a Met clubhouse that many people say is crying for leadership and the critics are correct about that. It is very hard for a non-everyday player to provide that leadership but I have seen people like Tom Seaver, Curt Schilling, Al Leiter and Tom Glavine provide it for their teams. Santana has the personality very similar to the aforementioned quartet of pitchers and is making every effort to pull the other Met pitchers along with him. The only question is will they listen and in turn, will they perform?