By Rich Coutinho
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New York, NY (WFAN) – For the past three years, I went down to Port St. Lucie and was wowed by the bullpen sessions of Bobby Parnell. The ball explodes out of his hand and has serious late movement but for some reason it never translated into success on the field. A big reason for that was his lack of control but this year Parnell came to spring training with a new weapon–a knuckle curve ball he learned from Jason Isringhausen.
“Jason taught me the pitch last year and I now have the confidence to throw it in fastball counts”, says Parnell,”but I believe what it really taught me was that command is much more important than hitting triple digits on the radar gun.” Too many times last year, Parnell threw fastball after fastball and major league hitters are too smart for that even if that heater approaches 100 MPH. I also think it has allowed Parnell to relax and with that, he has gained more confidence.
Little by little, Terry Collins has given him more responsibility in that Met bullpen and the more he responds, the more he will pitch. “Terry has always been more than fair with all of us”, says Parnell, “because if you perform well, you get playing time. In a funny way, we decide our playing time and that is all you can ask from the manager”. I had a chance to talk to Terry Collins about that and he told me that roles are not etched in stone in his bullpen. In other words, guys like Parnell might be headed for more prominent roles.
Frank Francisco is 5 for 6 in save chances but we all know he has been spotty at best. It can not hurt to give Parnell a save opportunity here and there especially on those nights when Francisco is not available. For Parnell, it could be a good litmus test to see if he can handle it and it could also give Terry Collins some late inning flexibility as the spring turns to summer. It would be ironic if after re-tooling the bullpen with Francisco, Ramon Ramirez, and Jon Rauch the Mets might be turning to the fire-balling righthander most said could not close.
If that happens, Met fans should all thank an old friend–Jason Isringhausen–who took Parnell under his wing last year.