The Battle for No. 5

The New York Mets must be saying to themselves,” Hey, don’t forget about us.” With all the attention at Yankees camp with the Alex Rodriguez steroids saga, the Mets have been under the radar as they opened Spring Training workouts.

One quiet competition taking place is for the number five slot in the starting rotation. Not exactly the star-studded drama going on in Tampa, but during a 162-game schedule a bevy of arms is necessary.

As it currently stands, there are eight possibilities that will be widdled down during the exhibition schedule. Six veterans and two youngsters make up that octuplet and leaves the organization a margin of error and instant fill-ins in case of ineffectiveness or injury.

The pitchers making manager Jerry Manuel’s decision as difficult as they can are as follows, in no particular order:

1-    Tim Redding – The eight-year veteran has not had a winning season since his rookie campaign with the Houston Astros in 2001, but threw 182 innings and won 10 games for the lowly Washington Nationals last summer.

2-    Jonathan Niese – A 22-year old southpaw, Neise had a cup of coffee in Flushing last year and went 1-1 with a 7.07 ERA in three starts. Will probably be better off with more seasoning at Triple-A.

3-    Bobby Parnell – Saw brief action in the big leagues in 2008 and pitched five relief innings in six games. Another candidate for more minor league action.

4-    Tony Armas, Jr. – Once part of the trade that sent Pedro Martinez from Montreal to Boston, the son of the former outfielder has never lived up to his potential. A career mark of 53-65 with a 4.65 ERA makes him mediocre at best and he is returning to the Mets after winning his only start last year.

5-    Elmer Dessens – Entering his sixteenth big league season, Dessens’ best year came in Cincinnati in 2000 when he went 11-5. Used mostly in relief the past few years, the Mets are hoping they can catch lightning in a bottle with him.

6-    Casey Fossum – Once a big time prospect, the lefthander has bounced around to four different teams since then, most recently the Detroit Tigers where he went 3-1 last year.

7-    Freddy Garcia – Perhaps the candidate with the most upside, Garcia will be a steal if he can recover from his shoulder injury. He has won in double-digits six times in his career and has been an ace of both the Mariners and White Sox staffs.

8-    Livan Hernandez – El Duque’s half-brother is now a Met, with the club giving him a minor league contract. Regardless, the MVP of the 1997 World Series can eat up innings as easy as he does large meals. A rubber arm is an understatement with him with his 255 innings average over a 16-year career.

Because there are so many question marks surrounding all of these men, it may be a good idea to hang on to more than one as Plan B. Only Redding, Niese and Parnell are on the 40-man roster, so there is much to gain and little to lose by stockpiling pitchers. That has been Minaya’s mantra over the years and this looks like a good time to continue that trend.

Redding or Hernandez will probably the most consistent, but a healthy Garcia can make a difference. Niese and Parnell should begin the season in the minors and the other candidates will probably start falling after a rough outing or two.

Considering the way the last two Mets seasons ended with gut-wrenching collapses, a good stock of experienced pitchers to go to, especially in September, can make a difference when it counts.

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