With Trachsel out, Mets scramble for a starter

You knew it was too good to be true – for the first time in recent years, the Mets were headed toward the regular season with five legitimate starting pitchers in the rotation. <P> Last year's shoot-'em-out derby for the last rotation spot involving the likes of Grant Roberts, James Baldwin, Tyler Yates and Scott Erickson was but a distant memory.

That all came crumbling down on Tuesday, when a second opinion on right-hander Steve Trachsel's ailing back came in with negative results – the 34-year-old Trachsel has a herniated disc that could force him to miss anywhere from three months to the entire season.

The diagnosis, which was confirmed by Los Angeles-based specialist Robert Watkins, is a crushing blow to a Mets rotation that was being vaunted as one of the most solid staffs in the Majors.

Trachsel, a workhorse who has never made fewer than 28 starts in his four years as a Met, would have been slotted in as either the No. 4 or No. 5 starter in the rotation.

With the diagnosis, Victor Zambrano automatically is bumped up to the No. 4 position – his horrid 2-1/3 inning, seven-run start against the Los Angeles Dodgers last Friday notwithstanding.

Matt Ginter
The Mets now have to choose from a limited pool of potential fifth starters that includes Matt Ginter, Jae Seo, Aaron Heilman and Mexican League import Francisco Campos, with Ginter emerging as the front-runner.

Ginter stepped in and did a decent job for the Mets last season as a part-time starter, making 14 starts and going 1-2 with a 4.54 ERA. His season ended three weeks early due to bone chips in his right ankle, but he has recovered and probably would have fought it out for one of the Mets' bullpen positions if not for Trachsel's injury.

In fact, the No. 5 rotation spot is probably Ginter's to lose at this point. Pitching coach Rick Peterson is not enamored of Jae Seo, a sub-.500 pitcher in 52 career starts who rebuffed Peterson's overtures to teach him a third pitch last season, and Heilman is not being given serious consideration to start the year anywhere but Triple-A.

The intriguing option might have been Campos, the new man on the scene, but any luster he brought was diminished when he served up three long home runs to Cleveland Indians batters on Tuesday.

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