By Rich Coutinho
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All we heard throughout spring training from the so-called “experts” was that the Mets’ starting rotation would be their Achilles’ heel.
My take on it was the presence of Johan Santana would change everything. Santana is an upgrade on the days he pitches, not to mention the pressure he takes off the other four hurlers. And I certainly think that has played a huge role in the efficiency of the starters, who have gone twice now through the rotation.
But the biggest change has come from the notion that these pitchers need to “trust their stuff,” which is something both Terry Collins and pitching coach Dan Warthen have been preaching.
The Mets are 7-3, but most impressive is they have outdueled some pretty good starting pitchers. The list includes Jair Jurrgens, Cliff Lee and Tommy Hanson — not once but twice. The team has taken six of seven from the Phillies and Braves, who have generally treated the Mets like rag dolls in recent years.
Santana and R.A. Dickey are veteran pitchers, so they needed less mentoring to “trust their stuff.” But Jonathon Niese, Mike Pelfrey and Dillon Gee needed more convincing from Dan Warthen.
Take Gee, for instance. He had a tremendous amount of success early last year, but as the season wore on he hit a wall.
Or did he?
Warthen felt Gee abandoned his curveball, and that contributed to his poor results in the second half. If you break down Monday night’s win, you can see Gee featured the breaking ball close to 30 percent of the time. That’s vital for him. And that was clearly illustrated when he struck out Eric Hinske in a key situation when the batter was clearly looking for a curve and was instead blown away by a very “pedestrian fastball.”
Pelfrey has also learned that the curveball is important for his game. It changes the eye level of the hitter, making them more susceptible to both the sinking fastball and the splitter.
In Niese’s case, Warthen had to convince him that his 12-to-6 curve is pretty lethal. He simply had to use it more–especially in fastball counts like 3 and 1, or 2 and 0.
We’ve already seen adjustments made in all three cases, which has improved their results. For Pelfrey, we saw the adjustment in the middle of a game on Sunday that helped turn a lackluster start into an effective one.
It’s still early in the season. Certainly 10 games is far too small a sample to generate any conclusions. But make no mistake about it: the Mets are 7-3 due in large part to the way their starters have pitched.
And that’s the quickest way to turn a mediocre team into a contender.
Do you think this rotation is for real? Be heard in the comments below!