Schmoll offers another angle

NEW YORK – Steve Schmoll doesn't know where he might be if he'd never dropped down to a new pitching delivery. He's certain, however, that he wouldn't be touring New York as part of the Mets Caravan this week.

Schmoll, a right-hander who turns 26 next month, was acquired from the Dodgers as part of the Jae Seo trade on Jan. 4, joining Chad Bradford and Mike Venafro as side-arm style relievers in spring camp.

"At first, I was surprised and shocked, because [a trade] wasn't on my mind," said Schmoll, who was 2-2 with a 5.01 ERA in 48 games for the Dodgers last year.

"But I let it sink in, and I knew right off the bat this team had a lot of potential. I'm going to work as hard as I can and hopefully I can get to be a part of it, because this team is going to make things happen."

Schmoll faces an uphill climb to make the Mets' bullpen out of spring training, but that's hardly uncharted territory. Once a walk-on catcher at the University of Maryland, Schmoll proved dispensable as a backstop and was cut during his freshman year.

Reinvented as a pitcher throwing overhand, Schmoll re-joined the team, although his results were median at best – in his first three collegiate seasons for the Terps, Schmoll posted a 6.76 ERA in 51 games (28 starts).

The turning point came during the 2003 season, when Schmoll was fooling around in front of the dugout, flipping the ball side-armed in a game of catch. Terps coach Terry Rupp asked Schmoll if he could pitch like that in a game, and Schmoll vowed to try.

"I was an average pitcher in college before I started throwing sidearm, and it kind of came naturally," Schmoll said. "I worked hard to fine-tune everything, but the bulk of it came naturally. It was unique and different for hitters to pick up."

Schmoll's numbers improved markedly that season – his ERA dropped from 7.44 in 2002 to 3.49 in 2003, striking out 124 batters in 87.2 innings – and he signed with Los Angeles before the draft.

Shooting up to Triple-A by 2005, Schmoll was not invited to big league camp in Vero Beach, Fla., but got into four spring games with the Dodgers – enough to leave an impression that proved useful when closer Eric Gagne went down to injury.

"Anybody in big league camp obviously has an opportunity to make the team," Schmoll said. "I think if you do your job well enough, you'll be in a good position."

Talking baseball: According to third baseman David Wright, the first signs a different attitude has been progressing came this week, when the Mets gathered for their 10th annual winter caravan.

Normally, these sorts of events kick off with a quiet introduction – players and wives introducing themselves, chatting about vacation spots and Broadway shows. Not this year.

"You've got all the guys coming together for the first time," Wright recalled, "everybody was in suits, together for a nice evening, and it all ends up with everybody gathered around talking about baseball. That's just what it's all about.

"Guys gathering up in suits in the middle of January, getting all emotional about baseball. That's what is beautiful about these new guys we brought in, guys we traded for, guys we signed. They have gatherings of younger players and they're talking baseball, talking situations, talking pitchers and hitters.

"That's what's going to make it so special this year, that we have that chemistry."

Pagan sold: The Mets sold the contract of outfielder Angel Pagan to the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday.

Pagan, 24, played last year at Triple-A Norfolk, batting .271 with eight home runs, 40 RBI and 27 stolen bases in 129 games.

A fourth-round pick in the 1999 draft, Pagan was designated for assignment on Jan. 18 to make room on the Mets' 40-man roster for pitcher Yusaku Iriki.

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