PORT ST. LUCIE -- Paging Pedro Martinez?
Less than a month before Opening Day, the "race" for the Mets' fifth-starter job remains as muddled and uninspiring as ever.
Four of the five candidates threw yesterday, and the results were almost uniformly ugly.
An hour and 20 minutes north in Viera, Fla., the situation didn't get any clearer.
Livan Hernandez gave up one earned run on four hits in three innings of his Grapefruit League start against the Nationals, but can hardly be considered the leader for the No. 5 spot with a 4.70 ERA in 7 innings this spring.
Long-shot candidate Bobby Parnell, meanwhile, was downright helpless yesterday, giving up three runs and two walks without recording an out against Washington.
Redding's awful outing prompted the most glaring red flags. Granted, it was his first game appearance of the spring after offseason toe surgery, but the veteran right-hander was blasted by the upstart Wolverines.
Redding -- the only fifth-starter candidate in camp with a guaranteed contract -- was lifted after just one-third of an inning after giving up five runs on five hits, including two long homers.
Against that backdrop, it didn't go unnoticed here how well Martinez pitched Saturday for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic. Pedro threw three scoreless innings of one-hit ball with four strikeouts in a 3-2 opening loss to The Netherlands.
If I may it was The Netherlands. Three innings. In March. Against The Netherlands.
I'm not saying the guy can't pitch. I'm saying the evidence that he can pitch is just a tiny bit greater today than a week ago. By the same token, the evidence that a fifth starter can't be found among Tim Redding, Freddy Garcia, Livan Hernandez and Bobby Parnell is just slightly larger today than it was yesterday morning.
Granted, we already had plenty of evidence about most of them. Does anyone really need to be reminded that Livan Hernandez posted a 6.05 ERA last year? Or that Freddy Garcia has won two games since 2006? Or that Bobby Parnell spent most of last season in Double-A and wasn't brilliantly impressive there?
The fifth candidate for the fifth slot is Jonathon Niese, who for a spell last season was Parnell's Double-A teammate. The difference is that Niese pitched exceptionally well with Binghamton and he thrived after his promotion to Triple-A New Orleans.
This is -- or should be -- a two-man battle between Niese and Tim Redding. Not that Redding's good but then, most fifth starters aren't. You're just looking for a guy who can keep you in most games for five or six innings, and Redding's got a decent shot of doing that. Niese is only 22, and perhaps it's too much to ask him for 30 starts and 180 innings. But I have to think that between Redding and Niese the Mets can cobble together a No. 5 starter who won't kill them.