Seo, Roberts miss rotation

The New York Mets have finalized their pitching rotation to open the 2004 season, and in a stunner, neither Jae Weong Seo nor Grant Roberts are included.

Seo, once considered a virtual lock for the Mets' No. 4 starting job, will begin the year at Triple-A Norfolk in the International League, while Roberts – a main contender for the No. 5 slot -- will return to a more familiar role, working as a right-handed reliever out of the bullpen.

The Mets have prepared to head to Atlanta on April 6 with rookie Tyler Yates installed as the club's No. 4 starter, while veteran Scott Erickson – the subject of trade rumors earlier in the day – has been tabbed as New York's No. 5 hurler.

"It's unbelievable,'' Yates told the Associated Press. "It's something that I've worked all my life for, and it's like a dream come true."

Seo wasn't as ecstatic, dejectedly leaving the Tradition Field complex upon hearing the news and skipping New York's 6-3 loss to the Florida Marlins.

Reporting to camp this spring, it was thought that Seo was all but guaranteed the fourth spot in the Mets' rotation, having earned his way into manager Art Howe's good graces with a strong rookie season.

But Seo's 3.82 ERA and deceiving 9-12 record in 2003 only proved to carry so much weight around camp this spring, and when Seo struggled to find his command and produce consistent results, Howe and pitching coach Rick Peterson eventually were forced to float the idea of having Seo start the year in Triple-A Norfolk.

Just as they'd expected of Seo, the Mets had hoped Roberts could step up and make the fifth starter's spot his own. The righthander did raise eyebrows for a time, but a shaky close to the Grapefruit League schedule -- coupled with an unfortunately timed bout with the flu -- short-circuited his chances at the rotation, at least for the time being.

With their final starting pitching decision made, New York also finds a surprisingly deep pool of major-league ready hurlers at Norfolk. Seo will join James Baldwin and Aaron Heilman to open the year at Triple-A.

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