Today begins the final full week of spring training. (The Mets break camp and bus to Miami after a game next Wednesday, in 10 days.)
Back in Port St. Lucie on Sunday, exactly two weeks after his lone Grapefruit League appearance, and two days after a cortisone shot, Carlos Beltran is due to test his balky knees running. The Mets, meanwhile, are off to Jupiter to face the Florida Marlins. Chris Young starts opposite Anibal Sanchez. Also due to pitch for the Mets: Taylor Buchholz, Mike O'Connor, Bobby Parnell and Manny Acosta.
We may be hearing more about the $1 billion lawsuit today too. Actually, we may be hearing a detailed defense.
On to Sunday's news stories:
• Pitching coach Dan Warthen tells the Post's Mike Puma that not only does he see Jason Isringhausen making the Mets' bullpen at this point, he sees him likely in the eighth-inning role, giving Parnell more time to get acclimated to a late-inning capacity. "Right now we all agree he's throwing the ball very well and we would like to see him as part of our team," Warthen tells Puma. "The health is the whole issue. If he continues to throw like he's throwing, I think he is part of this team." That would be a storybook finish to a career for the former Generation K pitcher, who tried out after spring training already had started. Scouts, for whatever it's worth, aren't as euphoric.
But it has looked like Isringhausen was moving in the direction of claiming a spot with D.J. Carrasco continuing to get stretched out for long relief/spot starts, which made Pat Misch look very vulnerable. If you accept Terry Collins' early proclamation that five pitchers are safe -- Francisco Rodriguez, Parnell, Carrasco, Tim Byrdak and Buchholz -- then that leaves one spot remaining assuming Izzy already is on.
Pedro Beato is a Rule 5 pick and Acosta is out of options, so those jump out as priority guys -- with Beato particularly impressing scouts and with far more potential upside. Misch also is out of options. And because Misch has cleared waivers and been outrighted to the minors before, he can declare himself a free agent if he happened to clear waivers. O'Connor is highly regarded by the staff, but he is on a minor league contract and Sandy Alderson has intimated carrying two lefties in the pen probably is a luxury that won't happen. (Chris Capuano should be working in the pen during the season-opening road trip.) Blaine Boyer, who one Mets official was talking up this weekend, is in the same boat as O'Connor being on a minor league contract.
• The Mets have had ceremonial spring training coaches in the past such as John Franco and Darryl Strawberry, but that has not been the case this year. And, apparently, Strawberry is no longer on the payroll. Writes Newsday's Ken Davidoff:
The Mets confirm this development in their annual media guide, listing Tom Seaver , John Franco and Rusty Staub -- but not Strawberry -- as club ambassadors. "We couldn't come to an agreement,'' Strawberry said in a telephone interview. According to a person with knowledge of the situation, the Mets paid Strawberry $30,000 last year to serve as a spring training instructor and perform assorted other duties. Strawberry, whom the Mets inducted into their Hall of Fame last year, renewed his affiliation with his original team in 2005, ending the estrangement that began when he left the Mets for the Dodgers after the 1990 season. ... Strawberry insisted, "There are no hard feelings. I have all the respect in the world for Fred and Jeff Wilpon. I wish them the best.''
Is it a bad sign when the Mets' media game notes list the probable pitchers through Wednesday and Perez does not appear at all?
• Andy McCullough in the Star-Ledger chronicles the fan dialogue in the stands as Perez struggled:
Ollie, a fan shouted, the Pirates are hiring! M-V-P, one section chanted. Ollie, another fan shouted, Luis can come pick you up!
• McCullough also does this week's Sunday Q&A with Josh Thole. Asked about what made him most proud last season, Thole replies: "I would have to say, for me, was starting to build the relationships with the pitchers. I’m a firm believer that that’s a big part of, I guess you could say, my development. All the guys really took me in well. Again, I had to sit and listen to those guys. That’s how you get through all that."
• The award-winning McCullough also profiles Brad Emaus, the frontrunner at second base considering Daniel Murphy is more likely to be on the team for his bat off the bench, Luis Hernandez's on-base percentage does not fit the front office's preference and Justin Turner -- who may have outperformed everyone so far -- has minor league options. McCullough speaks with Emaus' college coach at Tulane, Rick Jones, regarding Emaus' strike-zone discipline. Writes McCullough:
On the New Orleans campus, Jones simulated game situations on the practice field. He reinforced the value of hitters extending plate appearances and rallying from behind in the count. After Emaus joined Tulane in 2005, he adapted well. “He really was an outstanding two-strike hitter,” Jones said. “Just got deep in the count, fouled pitches off, fouled pitches off. Didn’t give away at-bats.”
• The Times' Tyler Kepner takes a closer look at Collins. The article sets the scene in the Mets' clubhouse by noting a sign posted on a wall requesting 15 veteran players to find the time to see their manager. Writes Kepner:
All of the listed players had one thing in common: at least five years in the major leagues. The manager, Terry Collins, wanted to allow each player to choose a day off before the end of spring training, a reward for enduring the six-week grind. “He has a pulse for what it’s like to be a player,” starter R. A. Dickey said. “This is a very hard game to play. It really does send a nice signal to know that the guy that’s leading the ship here hasn’t forgotten what it’s like.”
Kepner notes the 61-year-old Collins in the fourth-oldest manager in baseball, behind mentor Jim Leyland, Charlie Manuel and Tony La Russa.
• Post columnist Mike Vaccaro writes that if the Mets are listening to their fans, as was asserted as part of the rationale for releasing Luis Castillo, he wants these things too:
1. Perez gone. As in, yesterday.
2. Keith Hernandez’s No. 17 retired.
3. Albert Pujols. At whatever it costs.
4. Proof, at the trade deadline, that if the Mets are contenders, they act that way.
5. Another owner. Any other owner. As in, yesterday.
In a piece about Alderson, Daily News columnist Mike Lupica notes "a Madoff bankruptcy trustee named Irving Picard goes after Fred Wilpon and his money the way Capt. Ahab went after a different kind of whale."
BIRTHDAYS: Outfielder George Altman, who played 124 games for the '64 Mets, was born on this date in 1933. He primarily spent his career with the Chicago Cubs. ... Right-hander Blas Minor, who played at Arizona State, also the alma mater of Ike Davis, was born in 1966. Minor appeared in 52 games in relief for the Mets in 1995 and '96 before being traded to the Seattle Mariners. ... Infielder Manny Alexander was born in 1971. He played for the Mets in '97, before being part of an August trade that also involved Lance Johnson, Brian McRae, Mel Rojas and Turk Wendell.