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Q&A: Mets Hobbling But Remaining Positive

During Spring Training I provided a Mets preview featuring a Q&A with Anthony DiComo, Mets beat writer for Today, he has answered some more questions about the Mets as they come into Philadelphia — with more than a dozen games to take in, it’s a good time to assess where our chief rivals stand. So I thank Anthony for his time, and here we go:

PN: Aaron Heilman seems to be great unless he pitches against the Phillies (26 G, 8.00 ERA). Any reason for this, and is it possible Heilman doesn’t get the big spots this series because of his numbers against the Phils?

DiComo: Well Heilman has struggled in general to start the season, and I’m not sure that has anything to do with the Phillies specifically. I’d be shocked if Willie Randolph withholds one of his best relievers from tight spots just because of some recent history. Randolph made a point of saying he’s not going to plug Duaner Sanchez right back into his old setup role, so there’s really no alternative. Heilman is too important to this bullpen.

Pedro Martinez says he can come back before April is out, but there are reports he won’t be back until maybe June. What’s most likely?

It’s hard to speculate on Pedro, because frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if he returns in two weeks, nor would I be surprised if he returns in July. What’s clear is that the Mets aren’t going to rush him, even if that means continuing to plug Nelson Figueroa or even Claudio Vargas into the rotation. They can’t really afford to risk further injury.

How much stock can you put in Ryan Church’s early success (2 HR, 9 RBI, .340) and how long does he remain an option at the No. 2 hole?

Well the surprising part is what he’s done against lefties: a .350 average with two homers in 20 at-bats. I think it’s clear that his struggles against lefties were a bit overblown this spring. He’s not necessarily a platoon-type player, but then again, he also won’t hit this well against them all year. The real Ryan Church is probably somewhere in between. As for the two hole, Randolph loves to shuffle around his lineup, so it’s always an option — he tried Wright, Beltran, numerous guys there last year. But he also knows he’s got a good two hitter already in Luis Castillo, so he should still see the vast majority of at-bats there. If his health falters, that may change, but Church isn’t the only option to bat second. Endy Chavez and Angel Pagan can do it, too.

What should Phillies hitters look for when going up against Johan Santana Friday?

The same thing everybody looks for: pitches to drive. He proved last weekend that he can still be homer-prone at times, so knocking a few over the fence is probably the best way to beat him.

Since Mike Pelfrey had to start with the Mets sooner this year, how happy is the team with his performance so far?

I think they’ve been nothing short of thrilled. Pelfrey could have gone either way this season, and certainly still can. But he’s still got as much raw talent, and maybe even more, than John Maine and Oliver Perez. With as little depth as the Mets have in their rotation right now, they’ve really counted on Pelfrey perhaps more than they anticipated, and so far he’s been great.

Like Ryan Howard over here, Carlos Delgado seems to be off to a slow start. You said he was most integral to the offense’s success. Looking at the offense after a dozen games, is Delgado still that important?

Yeah, because it’s still unclear if he can produce like he did in his prime. Don’t get me wrong — it’s not like he alone is what makes this offense tick. But if he can produce some power in the middle of the lineup, the offense goes from being very good to extremely dangerous.

So far this season, who has been the most pleasant surprise? And who has been most disappointing?

The surprise, certainly, has been [Angel] Pagan. He’s really been hitting the ball well, and taking most of the sting out of missing Moises Alou. The most disappointing aspect has been the lack of Pedro, because the Mets really hoped that this might be the year when he could give them 30 starts, or at least something in that neighborhood. It wasn’t a happy day in Mets camp when he went down.

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