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Mets (9-11) vs. Marlins (12-8)


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The big league credentials of Marlins infielders Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla, by this point, are well known. The speed of leadoff man Emilio Bonifacio is gaining national recognition. And the potency of the lineup below him is becoming common knowledge.


It seems only natural that Mets manager Jerry Manuel would mention all of those things in his assessment of the Marlins, a vastly improved divisional rival and his team's next opponent.


"But their starting pitching," Manuel said, "is the thing that I thought was most impressive."


It's the one thing separating these Marlins from previous incarnations of the team, most of which could hit with aplomb. Now, with a healthy Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez in the rotation alongside an improved Chris Volstad, Florida has finally been able to parlay its frenetic and powerful offensive into one of the league's best records.


It's not an ideal time for the Mets, still smarting from their series sweep in St. Louis and an ugly final game against the Nationals at Citi Field, to welcome one of the league's best teams into their new home. And it certainly doesn't help that the Mets will have to oppose both Johnson and Sanchez, two of the team's best starters, in the series.


Sanchez will pitch against the Mets on Monday evening, Johnson on Wednesday afternoon. And Nolasco, the only one of the group performing below expectations, will start on Tuesday.


"The maturation of those pitchers has really gotten them to another level," Manuel said. "That's what's impressed me more than anything."


The Mets' starting pitchers, meanwhile, are reeling. Oliver Perez is facing the reality that he may be removed from the rotation, and Monday's starting pitcher, John Maine, has not been any more successful than Perez, and the Mets need to see a marked improvement in their rotation from everyone not named Johan Santana.


"I'm really, really concerned at this point," Manuel said.


Dating back to last August, the Mets are 3-5 in their last eight games against the Marlins. And perhaps no club, not even the Phillies, has vexed them more over the past two years -- Florida took a conspicuous delight in twice knocking the Mets out of playoff contention on the final day of the season.


They also took two of three games from the Mets earlier this month in Miami, showcasing their improved pitching staff when Johnson threw a five-hitter in a Sunday afternoon game at Dolphin Stadium.


On that day, Johnson was opposed by Santana, who will face him yet again on Wednesday.


But the Mets have to get to Wednesday first.


Pitching matchup

NYM: RHP John Maine (0-2, 7.47 ERA)

Maine said after his poor start against the Cardinals last Wednesday that he had detected a flaw in his delivery that was affecting his command. After making a mechanical change with his arm in his first three starts, Maine reverted to his old delivery for his final three innings against the Cardinals and found some comfort. Bonifacio, Ramirez, Uggla, Cody Ross, John Baker, Jorge Cantu and Cameron Maybin have produced a .224 batting average in 49 composite at-bats. Ramirez has two home runs against Maine, as does Jeremy Hermida, who has a .385 average in 13 career at-bats against the Mets' starter.


FLA: RHP Anibal Sanchez (1-1, 2.50 ERA)

This will already be Sanchez's second start against the Mets. He pitched five scoreless innings against them in Miami on April 10. But he wasn't involved in the decision. He has made four career starts against the Mets, producing a 2-1 record and a 2.82 ERA in 22 1/3 innings. Ryan Church has been the Mets' most productive hitter against him -- seven hits (four extra-base hits) in 13 career at-bats. In his most recent start, against the Pirates, Sanchez surrendered a run in each of the first three innings, but he finished strong, striking out six and allowing no additional runs in seven innings.



Manuel indicated he may rest Carlos Delgado on Wednesday afternoon, when Johnson is to be the Marlins' starter. Delgado, who has five hits in his most recent 37 at-bats, has a double and four strikeouts in 15 career at-bats against Johnson. Manuel said he wants his veteran first baseman to benefit from resting Wednesday and then Thursday, an off-day for the team, before the Mets begin their series in Philadelphia. ... Carlos Beltran curiously attempted to steal second base with two outs in the third inning Sunday and the Mets trailing by three runs. He slowed down 10 feet from the base and -- for the second time in a week -- he didn't slide. "He thought he heard the ball hit the bat," said Manuel, who said Beltran should have slid. Beltran acknowledged it was a mistake and that it was the first time he's done it. ... Manuel said that the batting drill he implemented in Spring Training, forcing hitters to swing at 80 curveballs in a row, has been watered down for daily use during the regular season. Mets hitters participate in the drill every day, but only for 15-20 swings prior to Sunday's game. The Jets' first-round draft pick, quarterback Mark Sanchez, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Monday's game. ... David Wright struck out three times on Sunday, and he now has 23 strikeouts in 70 at-bats (33 percent). ... Fernando Tatis received the Major League Baseball Players Choice Award as the 2008 National League Comeback Player of the Year. In his honor, the MLB Players Trust gave a $20,000 grant to the Dominican-based Ken Bell Missions.


This date in Mets history -- April 29:

Al Jackson pitched the first shutout in franchise history on this date in 1962. The Mets defeated the Phillies, 8-0, at the Polo Grounds, pushing their record to 3-9 -- a .250 winning percentage, identical to their final percentage of the season. Jackson allowed eight hits and a walk. The shutout was the first of his career -- he had started five games for the Pirates in 1959 and '61. He would pitch the only four complete-game Mets shutouts that season, and 13 more in his career.


Jerry Koosman pitched 4 1/3 innings and his relief, Nolan Ryan, went 4 2/3 in the Mets' 2-0 victory against the Expos at Parc Jarry on this date in 1969. Koosman allowed two hits, Ryan four, and neither walked a batter; Koosman struck out one, Ryan eight. Ed Kranepool hit two home runs off losing pitcher Mudcat Grant. He hit two in one game on five other occasions. Kranepool had five hits -- the others were singles -- in seven career at-bats against Grant, who hit him once.


Ryan walked eight in six innings against the Cardinals on this date in 1971. But he allowed two hits. The late Danny Frisella allowed one hit and no walks and struck out six, one more than Ryan had, in the final three innings of the odd 7-0 victory at the second Busch Stadium.




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I miss Giuseppe Franco. Since his commercials have not been show, this team has been terrible going all the way back to last year. Coincidence? I think so.



Yes, I totally concur. One of my friends used to work at the Diamond Club last year (she still works

for the Mets..but works in different areas now) and she met him and talked to him for a bit. She said

he was really short, full of tattoos and dyes his hair like no one's business.


I think we should get a petition so he can be seen on SNY again. And again. And again.

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Its so good to see Maine have a good outing. I think once his rustiness wears off from the missed time and surgery last year he will be ok. When he is spotting that fastball at 92-95 like he did early tonight his stuff is as good as anyones.

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After the Mets produced a triple and five singles in a loss Sunday, Jerry Manuel saw his regular batting order as lacking extra-base potential. Then the lineup he started Monday night against the Marlins excluded Carlos Delgado -- the man most likely to find the far reaches of Citi Field. And chances are Delgado won't be in the lineup Tuesday night when the Mets engage the Marlins again.


An inflamed right hip kept Delgado in the dugout Monday while his teammates beat up on Anibal Sanchez. He had aggravated an existing problem Sunday when he slid into third base for the Mets' lone extra-base hit.


"It's not big deal -- I don't see it as a [disabled list] thing," Delgado said Monday night after missing a game for the first time this season.


Delgado also said he could have pinch-hit in an emergency situation. Manuel wasn't interested in seeing him swing.


Delgado intended to have the hip examined Tuesday morning. The Mets offered no long-term prognosis on the first baseman, who was due for a day off Wednesday even before the injury. The triple is one of five hits he has produced in his 37 most recent at-bats.


The right side of the Mets' infield is likely to be manned by understudies. Fernando Tatis is likely to be the first baseman, as he was Monday night. It was his 12th career assignment at first. And, Manuel said, Alex Cora is likely to play second base, as he did Monday after Luis Castillo was removed from the game because of muscle spasms in the right side of his back.


Castillo had beat out an infield single in his third plate appearance, in the fourth inning. He remained in the game after trying to loosen the muscle. But he was removed after the inning. The club provided no prognosis for Castillo beyond him sitting out Tuesday.


The need for extra-base hits had prompted Manuel to use Gary Sheffield in left. Tatis was to have started at second base, but was shifted to first when Delgado couldn't play. The manager said using Sheffield was not prompted by Daniel Murphy's defensive problems. And if it were, the manager needs a different solution. Sheffield misplayed the first ball hit to left Monday, committing a two-base error that led to the Marlins' lone run against John Maine.


But he made solid contact in two at-bats, which is what Manuel had sought.


Pitching matchup

NYM: RHP Livan Hernandez (1-1, 7.31 ERA)

In three starts, the first against the Marlins, Hernandez has gone from a victory to a no-decision to a loss, and his ERA has jumped from 2.70 to 4.63 to 7.31. He surrendered three home runs, two by Albert Pujols, in his 4 1/3 innings against the Cardinals Thursday. Right-handed hitters are batting .354 against him, compared with the .278 average left-handed hitters have produced. Even with his successful performance against them April 11 in Miami -- two runs in 6 2/3 innings, he has a 6.37 ERA against them since the beginning of the 2006 season.


FLA: RHP Ricky Nolasco (1-2, 6.86 ERA)

Nolasco was roughed by the Pirates on Wednesday, allowing six runs (five earned), eight hits and three walks. He has struggled through each of his four starts, surrendering 16 earned runs in 21 innings. Even his victory, against the Nationals on Opening Day, fell short of the standard for a quality start. The Mets scored four runs in five innings against him April 11 and won. He has a 2-6 record and 6.36 ERA against them since the beginning of the 2006 season. Despite his struggles, manager Fredi Gonzalez doesn't seem concerned, saying recently, "I'm sure he and [pitching coach] Mark [Wiley] have made some adjustments, but I've got all the confidence in the world that he'll get it. It's one of those things. ... He'll end up with the numbers he should end up with."



Omir Santos became the third Mets player to hit a grand slam for his first big league home run. The lone home run that pitcher Jack Hamilton hit in his career -- against the Cardinals at Shea Stadium on May 20, 1967 -- was a slam. Hamilton had three other RBIs in 149 other big league at-bats. Jose Reyes hit a slam in his fifth big league game June 15, 2003, against the Angels in Anaheim. He has hit one since then.


USC quarterback Mark Sanchez, the Jets' selection in the first round of the NFL draft, threw out the first ball Monday. He was warmly received and appreciative of the reception. Sanchez was unaware he was the second USC alum to throw out the first pitch at Citi Field; second in merely 10 games. He was advised that a person named Seaver already had and was asked, "Have you heard of him?"


Sanchez said, "Seaver?" And added rather unconvincingly, "Sure." Nice try on the audible, kid.


This date in Mets history -- April 28: Roger Craig would produce a 15-46 record with the dreadful Mets teams of 1962 and '63. On this date in '62, he gained his first victory -- it came after he had lost three times -- and it came as a reliever. Craig pitched the final three innings of the Mets' 8-6 victory against the Phillies at the Polo Grounds. He didn't allow a run. He had allowed four in an inning plus two batters the previous day in an 11-9 loss.


Six years later on this date, rookie Jerry Koosman put his record at 4-0 with a flawed performance in the Mets' victory in Cincinnati. Koosman, who had pitched complete games and allowed one run, total, in his first three starts, was charged with four runs in 7 2/3 innings in a 6-5 victory. ... Craig Swan allowed five singles and a walk and struck out 11 in a 3-0 shutout victory against the Braves at Shea on this date in 1976. Dave Kingman hit a three-run home run against Andy Messersmith in the first inning. The home run was Kingman's ninth in the Mets' first 18 games. He hit a then-Mets record 37 -- in merely 123 games -- that season. That 37 now stands as the ninth-most in franchise history. Kingman reached 37 again with the Mets in 1982.


On this date in 1985, an error by Pirates first baseman Jason Thompson in the bottom of the 18th inning allowed pinch-runner Mookie Wilson to score the decisive run in a 5-4 Mets victory at Shea. The Mets had scored four runs in the first inning on a grand slam by Darryl Strawberry. They had three hits in a 16-inning sequence before Strawberry singled in the 18th. The Pirates had 18 hits, five in seven inning against winning pitcher Tom Gorman. ... And on April 28, 2002, the Mets scored six runs in the sixth to make a winning pitcher of reliever Kane Davis in a 9-6 victory against the Brewers at Shea.



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The generic game doesn't allow for critical games in April or any other month until August. But as Buddy Harrelson once said, "There always are games when it's advisable to win." And more often than not, those games occur when the No. 1 starter is pitching.


Harrelson knew of what he spoke. He made his mark in the big leagues serving as Tom Seaver's shortstop. And when Seaver pitched, winning was ... well, highly recommended. It was good for the team's mental health.


Seaver often was surrounded by other accomplished starters -- Jerry Koosman, Jon Matlack, Gary Gentry -- during his first tenure with the Mets. Still, it was advisable. Johan Santana doesn't have that level of support with the current Mets. So on his days, winning isn't essential, but it borders on necessary.


"Yeah, when Johan's going," pitching coach Dan Warthen said, "winning is a real good idea."


And Santana is pitching Wednesday afternoon. The Mets' most compelling player is to perform in the matinee finale of the three-game series against the Marlins. Santana and Josh Johnson, who has similar status with the Fish, are to reprise their confrontation of April 12 -- that one in Miami, that one won by Johnson.


The Marlins won, 2-1, that day in what clearly was the most compelling game the Mets have played to date. Johnson pitched a complete game, and Santana struck out 13 in seven innings, allowing no earned runs.


"Anytime you get to see a pitcher like Johan, you want to watch," general manager Omar Minaya said. "And when he's against another great pitcher, you know you might see something like we saw in Florida -- a great game."


Santana is certain to pitch for a team weakened by injury. Jerry Manuel said Carlos Delgado won't play until Friday night in Philadelphia, and Luis Castillo is likely to miss Wednesday's game, as well. Neither played Tuesday night. Delgado missed a second straight game because of his inflamed right hip. Castillo still was affected by the back spasm that beset him Monday.


Jeremy Reed is likely to play first base in Delgado's stead, and Alex Cora, who played quite well Tuesday, will serve as Castillo's understudy at second again.


Pitching matchup

FLA: RHP Josh Johnson (2-0, 2.20 ERA)

In his last start against the Phillies on Friday, Johnson was dominant while pitching seven shutout innings. He gave up just three hits while walking two and striking out eight, leaving the game after throwing 102 pitches -- 68 for strikes. The 25-year-old right-hander allowed just three runners to get into scoring position and ended his night by striking out Greg Dobbs looking with runners on first and second and his team sporting a three-run lead. If not for a seven-run meltdown by Lindstrom, the Marlins would've improved to 4-0 in games Johnson has started this season. Johnson is 5-0 with a 1.59 ERA in six career starts against the Mets.


NYM: LHP Johan Santana (3-1, 0.70 ERA)

New York's stopper is set to make his third start at Citi Field against the team that beat him April 12 in Miami. Santana has a 2-0 record and an 0.69 ERA at the Mets' new home. He hasn't lost at home -- Shea Stadium included -- in 11 starts. He has an 8-0 record and a 1.34 ERA in those games. He is averaging 12.97 strikeouts per nine innings in his four 2009 starts, and he has allowed merely 23 baserunners in 25 2/3 innings. The four runs the Mets scored against the Nationals on Friday night doubled the number of runs they have scored for Santana this season. In his five most recent starts against the Marlins -- four with the Mets -- Santana has a 4-1 record and a 1.50 ERA in 36 innings. He has allowed 31 baserunners and struck out 45.



Gary Shefffield was honored before Tuesday night's game in recognition of his 500th career home run. ... Sheffield's two RBIs Tuesday gave him 1,637, moving him past Ernie Banks into 26th place on the all-time list. ... Catcher Ramon Castro, who hasn't started in four games, will be behind the plate Wednesday afternoon. Rookie Omir Santos will sit. ... Manuel intends to have David Wright bat cleanup in front of Delgado and Sheffield when the Mets oppose a left-handed starter -- such as Jamie Moyer on Saturday.


This date in Mets history -- April 29: In one of the more bizarre games the Mets played in their first five seasons, they defeated the Pirates, 5-2, in 11 innings at Forbes Field in 1966. The Mets, who allowed a run in the bottom of the inning, scored four times in the 11th on three walks, a wild pitch, a passed ball and two singles -- all after two outs. But what made it bizarre was that losing pitcher Luke Walker intentionally walked Jerry Grote with first base occupied -- he already had walked Ron Swoboda, putting the go-ahead run in scoring position. Chuck Hiller's ensuing pinch-hit single scored Swoboda.


Koosman pitched a four-hitter against Atlanta in 1973 to put New York's record at 12-8. The Mets lost the next five games, and, after this date, their record never again was four games over. 500, not even when they clinched the division championship five months later. ... Eleven years later, the Mets beat Koosman, then a starter with the Phillies, in a 6-2 game at Shea Stadium. It was Koosman's first return to Shea since the February 1979 trade that moved him to the Twins for Jesse Orosco. Koosman completed his career after the 1985 season with a 1-2 record against New York.


In 1992, Bret Saberhagen gained his first victory with the Mets, pitching a three-hitter in a 1-0 victory against the Astros and the late Darryl Kile at Shea Stadium. ... And in 2005, Livan Hernandez limited the Mets to one run in eight innings in a 5-1 Nationals victory in Washington. Brian Schneider drove in a run, while Ryan Church was an outfield substitute.


Mets try to make most of Johan's starts.

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Lately when Wright's not striking out he's hitting into double plays. I've noticed that he is behind just about every fastball. Against Josh Johnson, some of his swings look downright silly. He is panicking up there, thinking too much, is confused, or something. Even the hits that David has been getting (RBI single last night) are to the opposite field. It has been awhile since I've seen him aggressively attack a fastball and pull it. I don't know if it's Manuel's new batting drills, or just psychological fallout from the last few seasons (maybe a combination of both), but David is a liability at the plate right now, and he needs to get his mind right because the Mets have NO chance without him hitting.


Not only that, but now David has two errors in two games, albeit on hard hit balls. But I think a David Wright who's playing the game with confidence makes those kind of plays.


Right now, if I'm Howard Johnson, I might be feeling a little uncomfortable about my job security. And I may be jumping ahead here, but Manuel might be next if things don't get better quick after that.


What do you guys think? Sports psychologist?

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Not sure what was going on there, but Castro appeared to already be in the clubhouse. WTF? Where was he when it was his turn to hit with the bases loaded and the bags juiced? I guess when you are due up 6th in the bottom of the ninth down by a run, and you play on the Mets, you feel the game is already over and you won't get to your turn.

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On another note, Wright finally pulled a single on an aggressive swing, but backed away from a fastball from Lindstrom that was just on the inner third of the plate on a strikeout looking in his last AB. 4 K's in the last 2 games, leads the NL in strikeouts, 2nd in MLB overall.

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