Soler ready for big league debut

NEW YORK – Alay Soler said he never doubted the fact that he'd get to New York -- eventually. But even the 26-year-old right-hander was surprised that his call to Shea Stadium came after just eight professional starts, his progress through the Mets' system accelerated by a dearth of pitching options at the major league level.

Soler joined the Mets from Double-A Binghamton on Tuesday, stepping in line to make his major league debut Wednesday against the Philadelphia Phillies.

"I thought I'd spend a longer time (in the minors)," Soler said, with coach Juan Lopez serving as an interpreter. "The time has arrived, and I'm ready to compete."

Originally signed by the Mets in September 2004, Soler's journey from Cuba – where he was a standout pitcher for the country's National team - to the major leagues has been marked by hindrances.

Unable to secure a visa for entry into the United States and held up in a dispute with his former agent, Soler spent two years under political asylum in the Dominican Republic, living in Santo Domingo before finally reaching U.S. soil in late 2005.

Later, he was joined by his wife Ana Laura and his young son, Alain, who took up residence near the Mets' Triple-A club in Norfolk, Va.

Through his ordeal, Soler said he never considered the chance that he might never get to the United States or live out the chance he'll have on Wednesday.

"The things that happened, they happened for a reason," Soler said. "You have to be patient. I can see now that the patience is going to pay off to be here."

Soler's introduction to major league life follows five starts with Class-A St. Lucie of the Florida State League and just three appearances at Double-A Binghamton.

Speculation had been widespread that the Mets would consider promoting 22-year-old Mike Pelfrey to make a start in place of journeyman Jose Lima, who was designated for assignment last week, but Pelfrey lasted just two-thirds of an inning in his May 20 start against the Altoona Curve.

Soler, by comparison, was 1-0 with a 2.75 ERA in three starts for the B-Mets. In his last effort on May 18 at Connecticut, Soler allowed two runs and five hits in seven innings, striking out eight, and had fanned 22 batters in 19.2 Double-A innings.

"He seems like a nice kid, a confident kid," said Mets manager Willie Randolph. "We'll see how he responds. … He might pitch a gem for us. [He could] give us a shot in the arm and be around for a while."

Soler's performance Wednesday could actually have further ramifications on the Mets' pitching staff. The Mets have not officially decided between left-hander Darren Oliver and right-hander Jeremi Gonzalez to start Thursday's game against Philadelphia, and if Soler fails to last long enough to keep one of the pitchers out of the game, it could dictate Randolph's next move.

For his part, Soler doesn't appear to be planning on any such situation. He said the topic that concerned him most at Binghamton was simply the cold weather, which he said he'd already made adjustments to.

The weather should be similarly chilly on Wednesday, but Soler said he would be able to handle the conditions – which, one would imagine, include the requisite emotions that flow along with making a major league debut.

"Anytime you go from the minor leagues and come up to the big leagues, there's always those butterflies," Soler said. "You've always got a little bit of pressure. But as soon as [I] take the mound, that pressure, [I'm] going to forget about it and do the best [I] can."

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