Jerry Manuel may have taken over the Mets last June, but this spring the club officially becomes his.
Running his first Spring Training, the Mets manager gets a chance to put his mark on the club as he put the team through various drills and stresses the Manuel brand of baseball.
“I think when you acquire guys that you felt that you were lacking, an area that you were lacking in, and then you acquire an excess in that area, you’ve got to feel pretty good,” Manuel said to reporters in Port St. Lucie as the Mets opened camp. “Not necessarily a stamp of any type, just making sure that your team understands the fundamentals, leaves healthy and know how to play the game. And if you have good players, you should have some success.”
Manuel will be doing some things different from his predecessor Willie Randolph. Seeing a lack of fundamentals, the manager will stress those aspects to his club during the next six weeks. He will also experiment, saying he will put much maligned second baseman Luis Castillo in the leadoff position, while using Jose Reyes in different parts of the order.
“Spring training you have some freedom to look at things differently,” he said. “And you have to try to do everything you can to try and exercise that time frame where you can look at things differently and say, he might look good there, and see what it might look like without it costing you, why certain things are being done.”
Mainly though, Manuel wants to communicate more with his players, be it the stars like Reyes, David Wright, or Carlos Delgado, all the way down the last reserve on the roster.
“There’s going to be a lot of conversations,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of conversations on those different things. Once the games start, there will be a lot of applause and celebrations for the little things that are done in the course that didn’t manifest itself statistically. There will be a big emphasis on those things, a huge emphasis.
“And also, for me, I will have to find some way to reward that versus rewarding a guy going 2 for 4, or he’s hot, but maybe he didn’t the things that I thought were necessary for us to win the game and a guy went 0 for 4 and did those things, well, I might play the guy who went 0 for 4 because he did the things that I thought were conducive to winning versus a guy who everybody said, he’s hitting .500. These types of things. It’s kind of a ticklish situation, but I think it’s a necessity for what needs to be done for this particular group.”
Manuel is trying to prevent the 2009 Mets suffering the same fate as the Met teams of the last two seasons. He knows it’s a 162 game season and the Mets need to strive through that. If this club is to return to the playoffs, then he says the emphasis needs to be on winning, rather than individual stats. So if that means Reyes hits third with Castillo leading off, then so be it.
“I think that message is so critical, especially for teams in New York,” Manuel said. “They care about the game and the W and the Ls versus how you do or how many you hit or how many you strike out. I think if I can get that point across, or if my staff can get that point across, then I would feel very good and very confident with the talent going into a full season.”