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Thursday, August 05, 2004

Juuuust a Bit Outside 

David Wright had three hits including a pair of two baggers and a home run and drove in 6 RBI, only two short of a single game Met record, en route to an 11 to 6 win over the Brew Crew yesterday afternoon. Other than being a coming out party of sorts for Wright, the game was significant in that it capped off a three game sweep of the Brewers and also gave Mets fans a first look at Rick Peterson's new toy Victor Zambrano, acquired in the much maligned trade that sent hot shot pitching prospect Scott Kazmir to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

The Mets got the ball rolling in the first inning off of Victor Santos when Jose Reyes singled up the middle then stole his 14th base of his short season to wind up on second base. Eric Valent worked a walk and the slumping Mike Piazza got aboard when he was hit in the forearm by a Santos pitch to load the bases. The Mets have struggled mightily this season with the bags full hitting only .206, but with no outs and a remote chance that the season could still be salvaged the Mets could not afford to allow this problem to go on. Richard Hidalgo dug in and popped up to second base. Mets fans everywhere held their breath since a double play could end the inning without a single run crossing the plate. Mike Cameron, who seems like he's been hitting behind in the count all season long, worked the count to find himself ahead 3 and 1. Cameron turned on the fifth pitch of the at bat, pulling it to deep left-center field bringing Reyes and Valent in to score and bringing Wright up to bat. Wright quickly found himself in an 0 and 2 hole, took a ball, fouled two pitches off then launched a hanging 1 and 2 breaking ball deep into the Miller Park stands. Vance Wilson followed up Wright's jack with a homer of his own to go back-to-back and when the inning was over the Mets had gift wrapped a six run lead for Zambrano.

Zambrano took the mound with a huge, early lead and a mountain of pressure. The Mets had mortgaged the future to get him to help them "win now" and despite a career 4.47 ERA the Mets are expecting him to become a top of the rotation starter. Adding to the pressure, Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson said that he spotted a flaw in Zambrano's mechanics and that he could fix him "in 10 minutes." Peterson's statement bucks the conventional wisdom, as highlighted in Will Carroll's great new book Saving the Pitcher, that

Changing mechanics, especially those that have been ingrained into muscles over years of competition, is difficult and requires an intense commitment. Doing so inside of a season or even a pre-season does not likely provide enough time to do so properly.
Nevertheless, perhaps Peterson intends to spend an extra, super-sized, mucho intense ten minutes with Zambrano. Those ten minutes better have been pretty intense because Zambrano needs a a lot of fixing. Many say he's got great "stuff" but at 29 years old he's yet to harness it, as he leads the league in pitches thrown per inning, walks (yes, the Mets actually found someone who is less efficient than Al Leiter) and sports a hefty 4.43 ERA. But never fear, because Professor Rick has had roughly 7,200 minutes to work with Zambrano since Black Friday. Since Peterson only needed 10 minutes to mold the wild Zambrano into a top of the rotation starter, God only knows what Peterson could do to Zambrano with the extra 7,190 minutes! Going into the game I was thinking no hitter. Well, not so much.

In the first inning alone Zambrano threw close to 30 pitches, walked two, and allowed the Brewers to cut the Mets six run lead in half. Maybe Peterson needed 7,201 minutes? Luckily for Zambrano, the Mets tacked on four more runs in the fourth thanks to a two run single by Hidalgo and a bases clearing, three run double by Wright. Wright doubled again in the sixth for his third hit of the game and Wilson singled him home, extending the Mets lead 11 to 3. Zambrano took the mound in the sixth inning where he witnessed the Mets Bad News Bear-like infield defense (by the way, I don't care what defensive efficieny ratio says - the Mets infield defense is bad - real bad). Craig Counsel, proud owner of the ugliest swing in baseball, took first base on a catcher's interference call and then Joe McEwing, who had an awful day in the field, botched the force out at second thrown to him by Wright. With two on and no outs, Zambrano struck out Scott Podsednik but allowed a single to Bill Hall to load the bases. With the bases loaded and one out, Art Howe summoned Pedro Feliciano who gave up a three run double to Geoff Jenkins cutting the Mets lead to 11 to 6, which held as the final score.

When the dust settled, Zambrano had given up 8 hits, 6 runs, 4 earned runs, walked 3 and struck out 7. The frustrating numbers is that it took him 110 pitches to get through only 5 and 1/3 innings and of those 110 pitches only 62 were strikes. While he got the win, Zambrano was helped by a Brewers line-up that would not lay off his pitches out of the strike zone and he was also helped by quite a bit of run support. It was frustrating that even with a huge lead, Zambrano could still not bring himself to throw strikes consistently. He got away with it yesterday, but his pussyfooting around the strike zone will not work in a close game and/or against a team with a scintilla of patience. Zambrano's fastball was unimpressive, topping out at only 89-91 mph and while he has a nasty slider, he has no idea how to use it. In sum, Zambrano showed virtually no changes from his days with the Devil Rays. He's got good stuff but does not know how to use it. Rick Peterson is a good pitching coach and I have faith he will help him but let's be real; Zambrano is a project. He will not be fixed in 10 minutes, 10 hours, or 10 days. More likely, he will need at least 10 starts.

This and That

Black Friday repercussions: Okay, so I'm going to try and move on but it's harder than I thought. I took a few days off to calm down and read the various takes on the trades hoping to gain an appreciation for why the Mets did this. Every day another Met "justification" comes out that just gets me more angry. Between the absurd things said by Jim Duquette and Rick Peterson in their interviews on WFAN to the various quotes in newspapers, I'm not even close to saying my peace on this. However, I'm going to try and move on but cut me some slack if I appear a bit more pessimistic for few more days/weeks/years.

Check this out for a look at a few pitchers with odd deliveries. Just think, if any of these pitchers came up in the Met organization they would be dealt in a heartbeat since they do not conform to The Peterson Way (TM). Oh, sorry, see the last sentence of the point above.

Check out The Hardball Times where Aaron Gleeman and Craig Burley compare and debate Hank Blalock and David Wright as the best third basemen under 24 years old.

A few weeks ago I hinted that the Mets should pick up Generation K alum Bill Pulsipher to help them out with their lefty bullpen woes. Well, the Mets may not read my blog but the Mariners do. The M's bought out Pulsipher's contract from the Long Island Ducks and assigned him to to AAA Tacoma. Good luck!

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