Short Hops: Milledge the real deal

Inside Pitch's Bryan Hoch reflects on the last week in the Mets organization, touching upon Lastings Milledge, Kazuhisa Ishii, Doug Mientkiewicz, Chase Lambin, Merengue Night and more... (Premium Column for Inside Pitch online subscribers)

Watching Mets top prospect Lastings Milledge in Binghamton this week, it's hard to come to any other conclusion than the obvious one – the kid is for real.

Now, prospects have had hot runs before, and Milledge's string at Double-A (.433 in seven games through Wednesday's action) certainly qualifies as one of those.

But it's the intangibles that Milledge brings to the table that really set him apart from the rest of the Mets' Double-A roster. Cleanup hitter Mike Jacobs exudes confidence and seems to know that he's mastered the art of whacking Eastern League pitching around the yard, but Milledge appears far and beyond even Jacobs in the cockiness department.

His movements are fluid, his speed legit and his defense – while not overly challenged in the two games we saw at Binghamton – appears to be up to the five-tool hype.

The best example of Milledge's aggressive play, and it's one I've brought back to New York and passed on to colleagues in the clubhouse, came in Wednesday's game against the New Britain Rock Cats.

After being hit by a pitch in the first inning, Milledge took his lead against New Britain starter Glen Perkins, a lefthander who was obviously operating from the stretch position. No sooner had Perkins lifted his right leg – again, staring right at Milledge – than the speedster bolted for second base, swiping the bag easily without a throw.

Later, in the second inning, Milledge tapped a ball to the first base side of the mound and bolted out of the box, even though it appeared for all intents and purposes to be a routine putout.

But somehow, after the dust cleared, New Britain botched the play and Milledge was a good 20 feet down the right field line, breathing a little heavier but clearly not surprised he'd beaten the ball out.

Milledge is the kind of kid who hustles on every single play – reaching second base on even routine pop flies to right field – and it's a joy to watch.

He's probably the fastest talent Binghamton has had since Jose Reyes, and I might not bet against Milledge in a head-to-head race between the two.

If you're looking for a pleasant three-hour drive from New York up into Broome County, Milledge might just make it worth your while.

***

Was there anyone who needed a solid outing more than Kazuhisa Ishii, who had been skipped over in the rotation and was suddenly feeling the hot breath of Norfolk's Jae Seo on the back of his neck?

Better question: was there anyone who believed Ishii would pitch a gem, and the Mets would beat Jake Peavy Thursday, sealing a series sweep?

That seems to be the way these things always go, and Ishii lived up to the challenge, spinning six innings of shutout ball around some of his usual hairy moments.

No one really seems to miss Jason Phillips around the Mets clubhouse all that much anymore, but with Ishii just 3-8 since the March trade that brought him to New York from Los Angeles, it's easy to wonder what exactly Ishii's role will be as soon as Steve Trachsel is ready to come off the disabled list around Aug. 1.

Perhaps the most interesting thing to come out of Ishii's effort was catcher Ramon Castro's breakdown of just how the Mets deal with their multi-cultural infields, especially with a Japanese pitcher on the hill.

None of the Mets infielders speak Japanese now that Kazuo Matsui is lost in the state of Florida, and Castro says that Rick Peterson is forced to make uses of calming influences, like smiles and facial expressions, to get his points across to Ishii.

So what that breaks down to is this: Ishii really has no idea exactly what advice Peterson is giving to get out of a jam, until he actually gets out of it and the two can converse, with the help of a translator, in the dugout runway.

***

Willie Randolph's voice deepens and grows dull every time he's asked about Doug Mientkiewicz, which seems to signal that Mientkiewicz's shaky first half is still not forgotten – or forgiven.

It's no secret that Randolph has had great admiration for infielder Chris Woodward, and even as Mientkiewicz begins to warm up with the bat – he homered in the first inning Thursday and is hitting .286 (4-14) in four games since his return from a hamstring injury – Randolph still seems to prefer to play wait and see.

Mientkiewicz, batting .223 overall, is not, for all intents and purposes, the Mets' everyday first baseman at this point. If the club is going to consider themselves buyers at the deadline, Mientkiewicz privately admits that he sees another first baseman in the cards.

***

If you're a paying subscriber to this site, we probably don't need to tell you about Chase Lambin, lately of the Norfolk Tides.

But just in case you've missed what the "Great Lambino" – I'm not sure where that nickname comes from, but it's circulated – has done at Triple-A, he's been putting on a hitting clinic.

Through 22 games in the International League (two separate stints), Lambin is hitting an eye-popping .346 with four homers and 15 RBI, with three of those four homers coming in the first game of a July 15 contest at Syracuse. Lambin homered again Thursday at Ottawa and has 18 for the year after slugging 14 at Double-A Binghamton.

It might just earn him a September callup, depending on the Mets' situation. The Mets are grooming Lambin as a Joe McEwing-type player with more pop, and he's seen time at second base, third base, shortstop and left field at both minor league levels this season.

***

Friday marks the ninth occurrence of Merengue Night at Shea Stadium, and the Mets are 7-1 in those contests entering the game against Jeff Weaver and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Still, it's the one loss that proves the most memorable. It was July 23, 1999, and the Mets held a lengthy pre-game ceremony honoring Sammy Sosa and his 1998 pursuit of Roger Maris.

That, coupled with the postgame Merengue concert, drew a large Dominican contingent to the game, and when Sosa homered twice and the Cubs beat the Mets 5-4, it seemed to Valentine that the promotion had been "ill-devised."

Jack Curry noted in The New York Times that Shea Stadium had been transformed into Sosa Stadium.

Mets loss or not, Shea was rocking that night, far more than it would have if the Mets had honored Orel Hershiser or Rickey Henderson, members of that club who had also recently reached milestones.

A friend and I were at that game in '99 as paying customers, and attended Merengue Nights the next few years as a kind of tradition – just to try and re-create that energy.

It hasn't happened since, and we've given up, but Friday could always be another story.

Inside Pitch managing editor Bryan Hoch can be contacted at metsinsidepitch@aol.com.


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