It was three years of waiting for Nelson Figueroa since his last call-up in 2004. He waited on the sidelines for the entire 2005 season while rehabbing his torn rotator cuff. He waited in the Pacific Coast League in 2006, playing for New Orleans in the Nationals organization. He waited outside of the country in 2007, playing in the Mexican League and Chinese Professional Baseball League.
But after joining the New Orleans Zephyrs this year, he would wait just hours before getting the call.
"It was actually 36 hours into the season," said Figueroa. "No one expects that to happen so soon."
The right hander signed with the New York Mets in the off-season hopeful that he'd make it to the Major League club quickly, considering the team's lack of depth of pitchers.
Not even he thought that it would happen after just two games into the season. After Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez both fell to injuries, the Mets needed another arm to act as a stopgap until either one of the two returned or until the team signed a free-agent.
Mets fans just wanted him to keep the team in games. As it turns out he did that – and more.
He had a 4.08 ERA in April despite not having played in a Major League organization in over a year and a half. It wasn't pretty as he walked nearly six batters per nine innings, but he managed to scrape through. The Mets won three out of the four starts he made in that month.
The next month wasn't so rosy. After a rocky two starts in May and the arrival of Claudio Vargas, Figueroa was sent back down to New Orleans.
"I got my little taste of it, but it was good to know that it was possible and that part of my dream is attainable. Now it's a matter of getting up there and staying there," Figueroa said.
Since joining the Zephyrs he has mainly worked out of the bullpen as he gets back into a comfort zone after a lengthy waiver process, though he should start on Tuesday, he said.
Right now he's working on making sure that he's hugging the edges of the plate more consistently, as too often in the majors he would either leave it over the middle or too far off.
"I think while I'm down here, I'm really just [trying to] pound the strike zone and get out as quickly as possible and keep my pitch count down. That was another thing in the big leagues. I was getting up to 100 pitches around in the fifth inning. That's not something normally I would do," Figueroa said.
Despite not having a dominant pitch, his selection allows him to give hitters plenty of looks. He has a whopping six pitches in his repertoire, or "kitchen sink," as he calls it. He has a four-seam and two-seam fastball, slider, change-up, curveball and forkball.
None of those pitches is going to reach 90 with regularity, as his fastball averaged just 87 miles per hour this year, but that doesn't bother him.
"When I try to throw 94, my fastball instead of moving stays still, and it stays on that same plane and hitters take good hacks at it. Especially with big league hitters," Figueroa said. "If you're not throwing a hundred, you're not getting it by them. I learned that location is much more important."
He'll also give hitters different looks with his mechanics by making adjustments on the fly. He can do a slide-step or hold his rotation a little longer. While he can get hammered at times by going to quickly with his arm – something that he said will make him hang his breaking pitches – it's important for him that he compensates for his lack of velocity with a nice mixture of looks.
Most importantly, though, is that he felt comfortable in the Majors. In a large-market team like New York, that's going to be important.
"I felt that I was better than I had been the previous three years, when I was up with the Pirates," Figueroa said. "I felt stronger. I felt I knew myself more. I knew what I could do and what I couldn't do."
Figueroa Shows Hitters Different Looks
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