Norfolk report: Lima returns once again

Jose Lima was hit hard in each of his four fill-in starts for the New York Mets this season, but the mystery continued Sunday, as the veteran right-hander again proved to be quite capable at the Triple-A level.

The 33-year-old took his demotion from the big leagues in stride, proclaiming that he wouldn't quit after the Mets designated him for assignment on July 7.

The statement came just mere minutes after the Florida Marlins completed a 7-3 victory, one that included the added embarrassment of pitcher Dontrelle Willis hitting his first career grand slam.

"I'm not quitting, that's one thing. Trust me," Lima said then. "I don't care if I have to die on the field. I'm far from quitting. I'm 33 years old. They made a decision already, and I made a decision to go down (to Norfolk). I want to be a Met, and want to be a part of a championship."

True to his word, Lima accepted his assignment to Norfolk and re-joined the Tides, where he made his first start back on July 16. The effort was a good one, as Lima limited the Louisville Bats to one run and six hits over 6 1/3 innings, walking none and striking out two, and also contributed a triple.

Quite clearly, in 17.1 big league innings this year, Lima was unable to prove that his horrid 2005 statistics – a 5-16 record and 6.99 ERA over 32 starts for the Kansas City Royals – were much of an aberration.

He was tagged for five runs in each of his starts against the Atlanta Braves, Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals before returning from Triple-A and serving up seven to the Marlins.

But Lima – who is 6-5 with a 4.03 ERA in 15 Triple-A starts – has started to tinker with a split-fingered fastball in his bullpen sessions, a pitch he abandoned earlier in his career.

If the pitch proves effective, Lima could wind up returning to the big leagues at as a long reliever for the Mets.

His Triple-A numbers have been inconsistent to a point; he has allowed nine runs in a game, as well as eight and six, but he's also had great efforts, like an eight-inning, one-run performance on May 25 at Syracuse.

Don't be surprised if the Mets find just a little more Lima time this year, although his days as a starting pitcher in this organization is probably over.

Happy days here again: The Mets signed infielder Edgardo Alfonzo to a minor league contract on Saturday, and Alfonzo joined the Tides on Monday.

The 32-year-old Alfonzo had been playing in a brief stint with the Bridgeport Bluefish of the independent Atlantic League, looking to latch on with a major league organization after being cut loose by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the Toronto Blue Jays earlier this season.

Alfonzo was 4-for-14 with Bridgeport and will play a number of infield positions for the Tides.

Nostalgia of the 1999 and 2000 seasons aside, if Alfonzo winds up at Shea Stadium as a backup utility infielder, one would expect Jeff Keppinger - who has transformed himself into a utility player, learning the outfield in a last-ditch effort to impress someone in the Mets system - to have a legitimate gripe.

State of the Tides: Norfolk lost three out of four at Louisville last week, their first series back from the International League All-Star Break.

The series loss dropped the Tides' record to 36-58 (.383), a solid 23 ½ games behind Charlotte (59-34) in the South Division.

Norfolk leaderboard, offense: Jeff Keppinger's .297 average ranks him sixth in the system and third among players with more than 100 at-bats … As a team, Norfolk is batting .239, tied with Hagerstown for third-best in the organization. The Tides' 66 homers are best in the system.

Norfolk leaderboard, pitching: Willie Collazo has compiled a 3.27 ERA over 121 innings this season, which places him ninth among Mets farmhands … Evan MacLane's nine victories tie him for first with Michael Devaney (Binghamton) and Jose Sanchez (St. Lucie) among organizational pitchers … Royce Ring recorded his ninth save on Saturday, ranking him third in the system and on ahead of former teammate Heath Bell, who was again promoted to the big leagues … Collazo's 88 strikeouts are fourth in the system, 16 ahead of MacLane's fifth-ranking 72.

ON THE RISE

Tagg Bozied, who once merited a second-round selection of the Minnesota Twins and a third-round selection of the San Diego Padres, is proving there's some power left in his bat.

Bozied, who turns 27 on July 24, homered twice in the second game of Saturday's doubleheader against Louisville, giving him three for the season. He has four hits and four RBI in 11 at-bats so far in July.

Primarily a left fielder for Norfolk who has also played first base and right field, Bozied is batting just .253 in 99 at-bats for the Tides, though his month is off to a good start.

TOUGH TIMES

Yusaku Iriki's season started with a 50-game suspension for a positive steroids test, and the Japanese right-hander hasn't shown much since returning to action.

Iriki fell to 1-5 this season when he lost back-to-back starts against Charlotte and Ottawa to open the month, and opposing batters have hit .327 against him.


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