The state of the Mets, as far as we can tell from watching them on the field, is strong. How strong? Delgado strong. They're a first place team, a first place team repelling encroachments from their nearest challengers every week for two weeks running. That we can say with clarity clear up to 7:10 tonight when they get to prove it all over again. (We can also say with trade-deadline, white-flag-waving clarity that the Mets have only two challengers remaining in the N.L. East this season…aaaahhhh.)
But boy am I worried about the state of John Maine, diagnosed as he is with the deceptively innocent-sounding mild strain of the right rotator cuff. Jerry Manuel said it could be something serious, it could be nothing much. He could pitch Sunday.
He's not gonna pitch Sunday. There's no reason to pitch him Sunday even if he can. Off days being temporarily plentiful, he's not gonna need to see a regulation mound until a week from Saturday, August 9. That is contingent on Pedro Martinez going out and pitching on Friday and then five days later. Pedro returned to the team after traveling to the Dominican for very sad business. I heard him say he just wants to help the ballclub. He can help the ballclub by pitching Friday and then five days later.
Pedro is why I worry about John. How many times have we heard since June of 2006 that whatever is ailing Pedro is something that needs a little rest, maybe not very much rest, that he could be out on that mound when his next turn comes up? And how many times has he actually been out there to stay? Pedro knows from rotator cuffs and we know from Pedro's extended recovery times. Pedro says it will help that Maine is younger. I don't doubt that. Less mileage on the rotator cuff would imply less wear. But I do doubt that this is pie-easy recovery for John Maine. Even if he is pitching soon, do you really want him to be? It's a rotator cuff, for crissake. We wouldn't know what those are if not for pitchers straining them or tearing them.
Any time a Met is injured, I fully expect him to descend into a deep vacuum from which he will never be heard again. As recounted the other night, there has developed a ghost taxi squad of Mets who need a couple of days, maybe just a precautionary stint on the DL and they'll be back as good as new. Then they disappear into the ether, materializing for no more than innings at a time, maybe with the big club, maybe on a rehab field in some distant precinct. Then they disappear again. I feel for those who have spiraled into that black hole. I'll feel worst of all if John Maine joins them for the balance of 2008 and has to climb out of it to get to 2009. And it's not purely out of a sense of altruism for John Maine's well-being, decent fellow that he seems to be notwithstanding.
This team's starting pitching has become its calling card: Pelfrey, Santana and Perez — in that order — have made the Mets formidable. They've had among them no more than two discouraging outings in the last month, nothing you could label truly dreadful or alarming. You'd expect that from Johan. You've come to from Mike and Ollie. Their excellence has become so close to routine that you have to step back from it to realize how amazing it really is.
Pedro is still Pedro, which cuts both ways. If we receive a slightly enhanced version of what we saw out of him during the last month of last season (I'm not able to use the phrase “September 2007″ with any kind of positive connotation), that would contribute greatly toward solidifying this rotation. That would mean four effective starters. We have no idea what Pedro Martinez represents for the final two months of 2008 because we haven't experienced any sustained, healthy contribution from him yet this year. That's the way Pedro being Pedro cuts uncomfortably. But he is Pedro Martinez and all that implies based on what you know about the man. That's the way Pedro being Pedro cuts reassuringly. I'm willing to lean just a little in that direction until completely disabused of the notion.
But you need a fifth starter, as the span between August 5 and August 27 presents 23 consecutive games with zero off days. John Maine has pitched like a fifth starter quite often these past couple of months. We now understand why, perhaps. The rotator cuff. You wouldn't ask anybody who makes his living with his arm to keep pitching with a strain, no matter how mild. You hope it unstrains on its own. You are dubious that it will. You try not to strain your fingers even as you cross them.
Retread Brian Lawrence pitches for the Richmond Braves, so that's positive. Prospect Jonathon Niese has jumped to Triple-A, so that's intriguing. Olympian Brandon Knight is on a fast plane to China, so that's way it goes. John Maine's status is as much up in the air as Team USA's Beijing-bound flight. That's what's discouraging, alarming and could be dreadful. You're in first place. The state of your Mets is strong. But you need John Maine to keep it that way.