Thursday, March 03, 2005

Mets drop their ST opener to the Nattys 

The Mets played in their first Spring Training game yesterday, losing to the Washington Nationals 5 to 3.


Tony Armas started the game for the Nattys and faced what will undoubtedly (barring injury of course) be the Mets opening day 1-3 hitters in Jose Reyes, Kazuo Matsui and Carlos Beltran. While the trio went down in order, both Reyes and Matsui displayed uncharacteristic patience at the plate, with Reyes not even swinging at the first four or so pitches. Reyes finished the day 1 for 3 and Kaz went 0 for 3 with a run. Beltran (1 for 3 with a run) got his first hit in a Mets uni when he scorched a single up the middle, almost decapitating the pitcher. Willie Randolph slotted new first basemen Doug Mientkiewicz and his career .404 SLG in the cleanup slot, who walked twice and scored a run. Jason Phillips was the Mets money hitter de jour, going 2 for 3 with a double and two RBI. For all of you who think he should hit higher in ther order, even in a depleted Spring Training line-up Randolph would not put David Wright higher than sixth in the batting order. Despite putting good wood on the ball in virtually all of his at bats, he went hitless on the day. Victor Diaz and Eric Valent rounded out the starting lineup and combined for an 0 for 5.


All-in-all, the starting defense that took the field looked pretty good throughout the game. Reyes and Matsui turned a nice 4-6-3 DP, with Kaz making a quick toss to Reyes who winged the ball toward first base, forcing Mientkiewicz to dig the ball out of the dirt to record the out. Last year, there was about a 50/50 chance the ball ended up some place other than the first basemen's glove and about a 25% chance that if Mike Piazza was playing first, he would have hurt himself. Matsui flashed some more leather, or should I say flesh, in the third, when he charged a dribbler, bare handed it and quickly threw across his body to Mientkiewicz (yes, I'm cutting and pasting his name). It seemed like the Nattys were trying to test Matsui, as later that same inning a high chopper headed toward Kaz, who again charged it, this time taking the short hop in his glove and making the throw to first. Part of Matsui's problems last year at SS, probably due to his years of playing on fast turf in Japan, was staying back on balls he should have been charging, forcing him to make harder and more accurate throws than necessary. This, combined with a a bunch of converted catchers at first base, contributed to his error total. It was good to see Matsui charging balls, knowing the speed of the runners, and making good, aggressive plays on balls. I read a few days ago that Mets coaches quiz Matsui on certain players and how fast they are. It seems Matsui is the Ken Jennings of this little game and it showed yesterday. The only middle infield mis-q occurred on yet another dribbler that rolled across the infield grass on the second base side. Reyes glided across the infield toward the ball, Matsui took a few steps forward and neither of them took charge. Reyes will have to reestablish himself as the leader of the infield and make those plays, which I'm confident he can and will. Despite the feel good story occurring in the middle infield, it was a misplay at third that did the Mets in when Miguel Cairo, filling in in the later innings, committed an error that allowed the go ahead and eventual winning run to score.


Tom Glavine looked relatively sharp, tossing two scoreless innings and fanning two. I held my breath when Glavine plunked the volatile Jose Guillen, thinking Guillen was going to take Tom's head off, or worse. Guillen kept his trap shut, took his base, and proceeded to get caught stealing when Glavine threw over to first after Guillen already decided to try and swipe second base. Braden Looper had a relatively uneventful inning of work, allowing no hits and striking out one. The wheels started coming off when Aaron Heilman took the mound in the fourth. In two innings pitched, Heilman allowed three earned runs, including two HRs. It seems no matter how many chances this kid gets, he's never able to capitalize. Felix Heredia came in to pitch an inning, giving up a run and taking the official "L." Heath Bell, who looks like he dropped about 50 pounds from last year, looked sharp, pitching a hitless inning and striking out a batter. Mike Mathews finished the day for the Mets, getting knocked around for three hits and a run.
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