2007-02-16 / Sports

Five Spring Training Questions To Answer For The Mets

By Joe McDonald Sports Columnist

By Joe McDonald Sports Columnist

It's just about to get warmer outside. True, the thermometer still reads freezing temperatures in New York and snow will be blanketing most of the area in the next day. Yet, with the Mets gathering in Port St. Lucie, the first sign of spring is here.

This camp didn't come easy, though. During the offseason, the Mets failed to land the big fish, which would have solidified the rotation. And for a team that came within an out of the World Series, its following up with a number of questions.

That's what the next six weeks are for. Jobs are to be won and the Mets hope to catch lightning in a bottle with some low risk, but high reward players. Because of all the changes, the Amazins' have a number of questions to be answered.

1) Can Tom Glavine and Orlando Hernandez anchor the rotation?

They will have to. The Mets will take it easy on them, because both veterans know how to use this time to get into shape and not exert themselves too much. Ten wins away from 300, Glavine should be fine, although the last time he was called upon to be the ace in 2004, he failed miserably.

The real question is Hernandez. The last - and only - time he pitched 200 innings in a season, it was still the 20 th century. And then there's his age. Some reports say 37, some say 41. In any case, he is up there. Needless to say, the Mets will be extra careful with him this spring.

2 ) After the ageless wonders, who pitches next?

Well, there are plenty of options, although none are sure things. And with Pedro Martinez out until August, someone will have to step up. Pencil John Maine into spot three and unless his spring ERA is around six, Oliver Perez will start the season in the rotation. The number five spot will be an open audition with Chan Ho Park getting the early nod. But don't count out Aaron Sele, Jorge Sosa, Jason Vargas, or rookies Mike Pelfrey and Phil Humber. The Mets, though, would rather the last two to get more seasoning in AAA.

3) That rotation doesn't seem to be able to go deep into games. Will the bullpen handle that?

The fine 'pen that was the Mets strength last season will be tried again in 2007. Returning are stalwarts Billy Wagner, Aaron Heilman and Pedro Feliciano. Guillermo Mota will be back around June after his suspension is lifted. Duaner Sanchez and Juan Padilla are coming back from injuries, but Sanchez will resume his spot in the pen.

Newcomers Scott Schoeneweiss and Ambiorix Burgos will try to fit into the pen as well. Also, expect some of the rotation battlers, like Sosa and Vargas to compete for relief jobs if they can't win a starter's role.

4) Will the lineup be as good as last year?

Well, maybe even better. Shawn Green will be a Met for a full season and Moises Alou brings his big stick in to balance out the lineup. Expect similar years from Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado and Paul Lo Duca, while steady improvement will come from Jose Reyes and David Wright. With that kind of lineup, Jose Valentin will just have to hit a little at the plate and posses the type of glove he showed last season.

5) What about the bench?

Julio Franco is back and Ramon Castro returns to back up Lo Duca. Endy Chavez hopes to duplicate his 2006 season. Replacing Chris Woodward in the utility role is veteran Damion Easley. Look for newcomers Ben Johnson and David Newhan to fight for the last bench spot with Lastings Milledge starting the year in the Big Easy.

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