Changes afoot in the bullpen

With spring training just weeks away, Inside Pitch is profiling every aspect of the team as a preview of our March issue, jam-packed with analysis and exclusive content you can't get anywhere else. <P> Here is the rundown on the Mets relief pitching for 2005. (Free Preview of Premium Content)

As most bullpens do, the Mets' relief corps centers squarely around closer Braden Looper, who was the most reliable gun for the Mets in 2004 despite a 2-5 record and five blown saves.

After losing his closing job in Florida, Looper put an exclamation point on his career last year with the Mets by racking up 29 saves and a 2.70 ERA in 71 appearances, doing so in the same division as the Marlins.

Primarily a groundball pitcher, Looper's approach matches well to Shea Stadium, and should be even more effective this year as Jose Reyes' range supplements the middle infield defense.

"I'm a realist," Looper said. "I know the chances of me being Eric Gagne aren't there. I'm going to go out there and try to do my job. When I blow it, I'm the guy standing in front of my locker. That's just me. The rest of it, I can't control."

The rest of the Mets' bullpen falls into line with a sequence of question marks, as New York will have to count upon a young arm or two to step up and prove their worth at the major league level.

The Mets parted ways with John Franco via free agency and with Mike Stanton in a trade with the Yankees, so the defacto veteran leader in the bullpen becomes Mike DeJean, a 34-year-old righthander who was very impressive after coming to the Mets in a midseason trade with the Baltimore Orioles.

DeJean re-signed with the Mets as a free agent, his pitching style apparently far better suited to the spacious gaps of Shea than they were to Baltimore's Camden Yards. In 17 appearances with the Mets, DeJean posted a 1.69 ERA over 21.1 innings, and the Mets are hopeful he'll be able to replicate those numbers this year.

Beyond DeJean, the rest of the Mets' setup men will have to be determined during spring training and perhaps in the regular season.

Righthander Scott Strickland is back in the Mets' picture after spring training, and now having mostly recovered from Tommy John surgery, he says his arm feels as strong now as it did back in college.

Lefty Felix Heredia found his way to Shea in the Stanton trade with the Yankees, and though Minaya acknowledged his acquisition was more of a salary shuffle than anything else, the Mets believe Heredia still has a live arm and isn't quite as poor as his 6.28 ERA (and in-season demotion to Single-A Tampa) last year showed.

The Mets have a promising prospect ready to step up in Blake McGinley, a smart pitcher with great location who was invited to the Arizona Fall League last year to work against some of baseball's top prospects. However, his path may be impeded by the presence of both Heredia and 36-year-old lefty Dae Sung Koo, who signed with the Mets during the winter and will be testing his funky three-quarters delivery stateside.

That logjam was a major reason that the Mets and lefty Pedro Feliciano – who got into 55 games with the Mets from 2002-04 – agreed to part ways this winter, with Feliciano signing with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks of Japan's Pacific League.

Other candidates for middle relief include Orber Moreno, a 27-year-old righthander who showed a live arm in 33 mostly successful appearances with the Mets last year, and Bartolome Fortunato, a 30-year-old righty who joined the Mets in the July 30 trade with Tampa Bay and made a display of pumping fastballs in the mid-90s. 40-year-old Roberto Hernandez, cast off by the Phillies, gets a look as a spring training invitee.

The Mets are also high on Heath Bell, Matt Ginter and Tyler Yates, all right-handers who should be given ample opportunity to win a spot during camp. Grant Roberts is also still in the organization, having re-signed as a free agent, and badly wants a chance to get back in the majors.

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