Camp Report: Rules to be relaxed?

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- For the pitchers and catchers who reported to Mets camp this week, any facial growth that might have existed during the club's January caravan has long since gone down the drain.

But for those who favor a little stubble, a mustache or a goatee, there is hope. Mets manager Willie Randolph isn't ready to call off the clean-shaven era just yet, but he is willing to keep an open mind.

Randolph officially kicked off his second season in control of the club Friday, meeting with reporters for an hour-long conference session.

Feeling as though he has the attention of his roster, Randolph will consider relaxing some of his 'standards' - rules imposed last Spring Training to eliminate distractions and garner team unity - for the 2006 campaign.

"From year to year, I might change different things," Randolph said. "But right now, I'm just going to play it as it comes."

Last spring, Randolph surprised the Mets by mandating that no player was to wear facial hair - a shock for veterans like Mike Piazza, for whom the look had become an iconic statement - or play music in the clubhouse without the use of headphones.

Strict as the rules seemed to some players, they may have worked. Baby-faced and playing music only after victories, the Mets posted an 83-win season in 2005, their best finish since the club last made the postseason in 2000.

"I think the tone is set, put it that way," Randolph said. "I think [the players] got a good feel of how I want the game to be played."

Preparing for the upcoming season, Randolph said he hopes to expand on concepts, especially the teachings delivered to young players like shortstop Jose Reyes and third baseman David Wright. With the Mets' lineup built around speed, it is instrumental that players put balls in play and cut down on strikeouts if New York is to mount a serious playoff run - a challenge Randolph believes his club is up to.

"We've still got a lot to learn about each other, a lot to learn about winning," Randolph said. "It just feels good to get that first year out of the way. It feels good knowing coming into this camp that you know your personnel better and feel more comfortable with what you expect."

Randolph said he considers his 2006 club, on paper, stronger than the third-place team from last season. Buoyed by veteran imports like Carlos Delgado, Billy Wagner, Paul Lo Duca and Julio Franco, Randolph said the experience and influences could play a major role in helping him decide to lighten regulations on players.

"I'm not saying we're going to change anything," Randolph said. "We're just talking about being flexible."

  • Discussing his potential starting rotation, Randolph strongly indicated that only the first three spots - belonging to Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine and Steve Trachsel - are relatively firm.

    That means both Victor Zambrano and Aaron Heilman are on the bubble entering the spring, with a slew of potential contenders arranged to provide competition. That group includes veterans Jeremi Gonzalez, Jose Lima and Darren Oliver, as well as younger pitchers like Brian Bannister and John Maine.

    "We've got three or four guys on the depth chart who might step up and knock my socks off," Randolph said.

  • Expanding on the competition idea, Randolph also said it was open season for both second base and right field. Kaz Matsui will need to ward off a gathering that includes Anderson Hernandez (who has earned high praise from both Randolph and GM Omar Minaya this week), Bret Boone and Jeff Keppinger to keep his starting job at second base, while right field is up for grabs between Victor Diaz and Xavier Nady. Randolph said no player has an advantage over any other as camp begins.

  • Even though he turns 40 on March 25, Glavine sees no reason he can't replicate the second half of last season, when he posted a 2.22 ERA in 15 starts. "It's just a number," Glavine said. "In many respects, I feel as good as I have in a long time. I'm excited about it."

    25 wins shy of 300, Glavine all but guaranteed he will pitch again in 2007, barring the unlikely situation that he racks up all of the necessary victories this year.

    "Unless my arm falls off, I'm not planning on getting this close to 300 wins and shutting it down," Glavine said.

    Contact Inside Pitch's Bryan Hoch at metsinsidepitch@aol.com.


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