Former top guns take the hill

Two former Mets top pitching prospects take the hill in the major leagues tonight, although you can bet that Mets fans will be eyeing the one that got away more closely. <P> Aaron Heilman gets the nod tonight for the Mets against the San Diego Padres at Shea Stadium, but the real curiosity will be the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' game at Seattle, when 20-year-old Scott Kazmir makes his big league debut.

The Mets felt that Kazmir wasn't ready for prime time yet, or that his slight frame and build weren't up to snuff in The Show, or that he wasn't friendly enough with veterans like Al Leiter.

Whatever spin you want to believe, it's not the case with Lou Piniella's Devil Rays, who have sunk well below Piniella's hopes of escaping the cellar in the American League East.

Piniella needs a reason – any reason – to believe that he'll be able to someday topple not just the likes of the Toronto Blue Jays, but the Yankees and the Red Sox too. If Kazmir impresses against an underachieving Mariners club on Monday, that could be reason enough to celebrate.

The Mets can't worry too much about Kazmir's performance, even though it's sure to be a topic of discussion around Shea Stadium and in the media on Tuesday.

New York is coming off of a 3-3 road trip and will attack a four-game series with the Wild Card-contending Padres behind Heilman, who was 2-7 with a 6.75 ERA last year with the Mets and got off to an awful start this year at Triple-A before turning things around of late. His Triple-A numbers are an improved 6-9 with a 4.20 ERA.

News Roundup

  • Jeff Duncan's season is over. The struggling outfielder, who spent much of last season with the Mets and was up briefly this year, broke his right hand when he was hit by a pitch on Saturday while playing for Double-A Binghamton.

  • The Mets optioned first baseman Craig Brazell back to Norfolk in order to make room for Matt Ginter, who suffered the loss in Sunday's 3-1 defeat at the hands of the San Francisco Giants. Brazell was 0-for-3 in his brief stint with the Mets.

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