Friday, May 21, 2010

Hey, Maine: It's not about you

John Maine has pitched some big games for the Mets. Getting him in the Kris Benson deal was a huge win for Omar Minaya. He is, as Dan Warthen said after Thursday night's game, "a warrior." Most Mets fans, I feel, like the guy.

But he's got a lot to sort out now.

Maine has a problem. Whether it is medical, mechanical or mental -- it may be some combination of the three -- he needs to figure out what it is and if he can overcome it and become an effective pitcher again. And he needs to understand that Jerry Manuel, Warthen and his teammates do not have the luxury of allowing him to figure it out on the mound during a game.

I pointed out, in a recent post, that Maine had had several strong starts before his previous one, something that Bobby Ojeda also noted in his post-game comments. So Maine was not ready to be written off for the season.

That all changed Thursday night. Ojeda noted that even "the untrained eye" could see that when Maine pitched to the leadoff hitter, something was wrong. His delivery was slow, so of course his velocity -- a point of concern since his 2008 shoulder surgery -- was down. Way down.

In the bullpen, he could barely crack 80, according to several reports. He was bouncing pitches. It was so bad that the Mets had Raul Valdes warming up from the get-go, one of several things Maine was miffed about.

"I don't care if it's 95. I don't care if its 75 mph," Maine said. "I just want to go out there and pitch."

That's awesome, John, but there are plenty of people who do care if it's 75. And if you're bouncing pitches. And if your delivery is clearly off. Kudos to Manuel and Warthen for stopping a train wreck before it happened.

Warthen raised some eyebrows with his post-game comments, particularly about Maine's ability to tell the truth about his health. But no one should turn this mole hill into a mountain.

Warthen said, "John's a habitual liar in a lot of ways as far as his own health. He's a competitor and a warrior and he wants to go out there and pitch. But you have to be smart enough to realize this guy isn't right. The ball is not coming out of his hand correctly."

He had a smile on his face when he said the opening sentence, implying that the Mets know that Maine will do anything and say anything to take the ball, and that is the attitude you want your starting pitchers to have. But there comes a point when you just can't let a pitcher run himself down.

Maine said several times after the game, "I just want to pitch," and that is admirable. But it's not helping the team. He was also upset that he wasn't given a chance to argue his case. Clearly, Warthen and Manuel had seen enough, so there was no case to be made.

Maine was angry, and Manuel and Warthen understand why. Maine needs to understand why they did what they did and get over himself.

Maybe Maine is scared. It's understandable. He's not the same pitcher he was two years ago. That doesn't mean his career is over. He has an opportunity to make adjustments, unless there is something physically wrong that needs to be corrected. In this case, the Mets absolutely were right in shutting him down.

Oh, yeah, the Mets won, 10-8. The offense woke up with 15 hits -- two by Reyes, three by Bay and only one by Wright, who drove in four, including a bases-loaded double in the first. Yes, it got WAY too close for comfort at the end, but after seeing your starter last just five pitches, coming out with a win was huge, especially with the Yankees series looming.

Give Valdes tons of credit for stepping up the way he did. But the patchwork starting staff -- Manuel said Oliver Perez isn't coming back to the rotation until he gets himself straightened out in the pen -- is alarming.

Hopefully, Maine checks out OK and can start again, but all bets are off. The situation once again exposes Minaya's inability to bring in one or more starters in the off-season. And you have to wonder why. It was a big need. The Mets knew what Maine was like. Even if Minaya was forced to keep Perez in the rotation and had 100-percent confidence in Jon Niese, that's still just four pitchers plus Maine.

That lack of depth is killing them now, and whether or not ownership didn't allow Minaya to spend any more money on free agent pitchers is moot. While this team continues to try and win as constituted, Job One for Minaya is to get another starter, or two, or three.

The season may not be as successful as we'd have liked, but it's sure been interesting. I'll take wins over drama any day.

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