Wednesday, April 29, 2009

It's like Willie Randolph never left

Prior to about 4 PM today, I was not too worried about the Mets. Yes, they've gotten off to a slow start. But David Wright isn't going to strike out in a third of his at bats for the whole season. Oliver Perez is going to get his ERA under nine at some point. Getting a bunch of runners on base will eventually lead to a lot of runs being scored. But now I'm wondering if any of that matters given that the team's manager is clearly out of his mind.

Down 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth, the bullpen having stolen another win from Johan Santana, the Met offense didn't give up. They loaded the bases. Sure, it took two walks and a hit by pitch, but they loaded the bases. With two outs, loaded bases and a one-run deficit, Ramon Castro was scheduled to bat. Castro had two hits in the game already and a career's worth of evidence that he is a decent hitter. Still, Jerry Manuel decided to pinch hit for Castro. Did he bring in the team leader in home runs, Carlos Delgado, to face Matt Lindstrom and his 100 MPH fastball? Or maybe the owner of a .433 OBP on the season, Luis Castillo? No, he had Omir Santos, who had been out in the bullpen warming up pitchers all day, run down to the dugout to hit for Castro.

Omir Santos has had a hot week. That hot week has included zero walks and a .280 OBP, but still. He's had a few hits and a grand slam. He's looked good. He's also spent eight years in the minor leagues, amassing a career OPS of .651. Omir Santos is not a great hitter. He is not better Ramon Castro. He is not the kind of guy who's likely to spend the whole day squatting in the bullpen and then come in and rope a game-winning single against a flamethrower like Lindstrom.

The idea to choose lesser players over Castro isn't a new one for the Mets and it didn't start with Jerry Manuel. But pinch hitting for him with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth with another catcher on a day when he already has two hits is among the most baffling instances this side of Paul Lo Duca's entire 2007 season. Manuel's explanation is that Santos's "shorter swing" would give him a better shot against the hard-throwing Lindstrom. Yeah, I guess Castro's never had any success against any other hard throwers.

Now, a 9-12 record isn't the end of the world. And all of this could be forgotten if the Mets win two or three games in Philadelphia this weekend. But in the early going, Jerry Manuel's ability to determine who his best players are and allocate playing time accordingly is not inspiring a lot of confidence.

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