Wagner: Heilman future closer
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
BY DAN GRAZIANO AND JEREMY COTHRAN
MIAMI -- Aaron Heilman's ninth inning may have been as impressive as any of the seven Johan Santana pitched. Heilman needed nine pitches to retire the side in order on a pair of strikeouts and a weak grounder back to the mound.
"Awesome," said closer Billy Wagner, who watched from the bullpen. "Heilman's the closer of the future. They just don't know it yet. Heilman will be the closer here in two years."
That may be the first time that's been suggested about Heilman, who burns to be a starting pitcher even when he thrives in the setup relief role to which the Mets have relegated him. But Wagner said watching Heilman use his fastball, slider and cutter to pick apart the Marlins yesterday was only one thing that convinced him he's right.
"He's got the stuff, but mentally he's got what it takes, too," Wagner said. "The people that do the evaluating in baseball, they've never pitched. They don't know what it takes. But he's got it. There's no doubt in my mind."
Yesterday used to be Pedro Martinez's day. While his name and Opening Day have long been synonymous, he's now adjusting to his No. 2 role with the Mets. But Martinez has long boasted this spring that when he pitches, he'll always be an ace.
Martinez will take his turn today as the Mets try to build on their impressive Opening Day win against the Marlins.
"He looks stronger, he's more refreshed," Randolph said. "He's not icing down, which is a good sign for him. ... We'll see how that translates to winning. He's had a great spring."
This is the first time in recent memory where Martinez has started a season with the Mets healthy. But now fully recovered from shoulder surgery in 2006, the Mets have high expectations he can be a strong No. 2 in their rotation.
In five games last season, Martinez went 3-1 with a 2.57 ERA.
The subject of trade rumors this spring, Jorge Sosa nevertheless can be an effective member of the Mets bullpen. The proof came when the reliever struck out Josh Willingham to end a threat in the eighth inning. Matt Wise started the inning, sandwiching a pair of singles around a Hanley Ramirez popup. Scott Schoeneweis then came on and induced a groundout from Mike Jacobs before giving way to Sosa.
If the score had been different, Randolph said he would have gone with a typical Heilman-Wagner combination. But he wanted to give his bullpen an early-season test.
"I still felt we had some room to wiggle with and I liked the matchups," Randolph said.
Angel Pagan knows his lease on left field is temporary. But after an eye-opening spring, the outfielder continued his solid play with an RBI double in three at-bats, which drove in the first Mets' run. It came as part of a six-run fourth.
"You've got to bring what you did in spring training, you have to carry that over to the season," Pagan said. "That's what I did."
Pagan said he wants to be an asset this April, not just as a stopgap player until Moises Alou returns.