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Friday, March 29, 2013
Pitcher preview with scout's take

By Adam Rubin

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- With the realization Johan Santana likely will never pitch for the Mets this season, let’s take a look at what the pitching staff coming north does look like, with scout comment:

ROTATION

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Niese
Jonathon Niese becomes the 22nd Opening Day pitcher in franchise history. He enters Monday’s game against the San Diego Padres off a very solid Grapefruit League showing that further increases the optimism he is about to enter the upper echelon of left-handed pitchers. Niese had a 1.23 ERA during spring training.

Game 2 starter Matt Harvey now tries to prove he can sustain his 10-start success as a rookie last season over a full year. Harvey enters a final Grapefruit League start today with 29 strikeouts in 23 1/3 innings. His K total is fourth-most of any major league pitcher this spring training. Harvey can aim for Julio Teheran’s MLB-leading 35 this afternoon.

Dillon Gee slides up to No. 3 in the rotation because of Shaun Marcum’s health issue. Gee underwent season-ending surgery at last season’s All-Star break to repair a damaged artery in his pitching shoulder that was causing alarming numbness. His rust showed in spring training. Gee produced an 8.31 Grapefruit League ERA over his first four starts. But Gee allayed some fears by dominating the Atlanta Braves on Monday at Disney. He tossed six scoreless innings.

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Hefner
Jeremy Hefner, initially a short-term plug for Santana, now looks in for the long haul provided he produces. Scouts have been pleasantly surprised this spring training, even if the former waiver claim only profiles as a No. 5 starter/pitcher to shuttle between the majors and minors. Hefner has improved the cutting action on his slider, which is making him more effective.

As for Marcum, the Mets’ rotation desperately is in need of him reestablishing his health. Marcum’s velocity has been in the low-80s all spring training, which is alarming. He received a cortisone shot in his shoulder last week, then developed neck discomfort this week.

The Mets are targeting Game No. 6 of the season for Marcum to pitch -- the day he would be eligible to return from a backdated DL stint. However, Marcum still must get through a Saturday bullpen session, then some sort of minor league game Tuesday. There are no guarantees. So it’s conceivable Aaron Laffey ultimately is summoned from Triple-A Las Vegas for that start. The other members of Las Vegas’ rotation are expected to be Collin McHugh, Chris Schwinden, Carlos Torres and Zack Wheeler (who is not a consideration to start the year, the Mets insist).

Scout’s view: “I think Niese is ready to get to the next level in his development. He pitched like a No. 4 starter the last few years. I think he’s ready to take a step up. He’s pitched with a lot of confidence. His stuff looks good.

“Harvey, I love him. Bulldog. Very aggressive early in the game with his fastball. Those two guys, I’m very optimistic.

“I think  Marcum, Hefner and Dillon Gee are all very similar. They don’t have electric stuff. They all have a good feel for pitching. They need to stay off the middle of the plate and change speeds and throw their secondary pitches for strikes.”

BULLPEN

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Parnell
With Frank Francisco opening the season on the disabled list with elbow inflammation, Bobby Parnell becomes the closer. The flame-throwing Parnell probably will never return the role to Francisco, who is owed $6.5 million in the second season of an ill-fated two-year deal.

The Mets revamped the setup staff during the offseason. Gone are Jon Rauch and Ramon Ramirez. In their place are veterans Brandon Lyon, LaTroy Hawkins and Scott Atchison.

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Edgin
Josh Edgin still serves as the primary lefty, and Terry Collins has promised help from a second lefty. That figures to be Robert Carson, although fellow southpaw Scott Rice -- who is not on the 40-man roster -- remains in camp.

Submariner Greg Burke, who converted to that style of delivery a year ago under the tutelage of Rick Peterson, may provide the Mets with a different look.

Scout’s view: “I’ve been waiting for them to give Parnell a chance to close for a while. I think he’s ready to take it. I think he figured out he doesn’t need to throw every pitch 98 mph, that he can throw 93-95 as long as he stays down in the zone.

“Look, they brought in a lot of non-roster guys to upgrade over last year, when it obviously didn’t go very well. I think a guy like LaTroy Hawkins will really stabilize things down there. I thought Atchison has thrown really well. Lyon has a track record. The thing for those three is staying healthy.”