Mets Intrasquad Edition: Victor No Victim

The eagerly awaited 2005 intrasquad debut of our most controversial pitcher not named Pedro finally took place yesterday.

Pitching in a game for the first time since August's elbow problems, the Scott Kazmir-for-Victor Zambrano Trade Experience benefactor experienced no pain in his arm. That's a plus.

But Zambrano reportedly did not appear as strong as he did in the past. Probably to be expected and probably nothing to break out the worry beads for just yet seeing as how he hasn't really pitched in a "real" outing since the elbow blowout and there seems little sense in blowing out the arm before the first exhibition game has even taken place. His fastball was reportedly clocked between 87 and 91 miles an hour, 3 or 4 m.p.h. off his usual pace. He did not throw his signature slider in two innings of work. He faced 11 batters, gave up 2 hits, 2 walks, made an error and allowed 3 runs.

"I'm not happy about it," he said. "Every game for me is very important. It was in my mind that I hadn't pitched in a long time."

Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson, on the other hand, said it was typical to lack velocity early in spring training and told Zambrano not to throw his slider until exhibition games begin. So in effect, this was just and elbow and shoulder loosening session.

It's huge," Peterson said of Zambrano's debut. "It's the first time he's been in a game in seven months. Imagine going out to play golf after you hadn't played in seven months? He threw one pitch that got away from him. Other than that, the balls he threw were at the bottom of the strike zone, which is what you're looking for."

Considering the biggest knock on Zambrano before the injury and after the trade was his lack of control and his wildness around the plate, this might well be encouraging. Once we see his elbow hold up for 100 pitches in a real game, of course.

Until then, just speculation and typical spring-like optimism.

Have Legs, Will Travel

Aggressiveness and speed is Manager Willie's Big Plan for getting the Mets off and running early this season so you have to wonder how encouraging it is when Hamstring Jose started off with a bang, or a whimper, depending on how you look at it. He was picked off TWICE from first base in two tries: once by Big Bob Keppel and the other time by Matt Lindstrom. Ignorantly eager would probably be a fitting description as his leads off first were so big to have been laughable.

Victor Diaz also was picked off and David Wright and Marlon Anderson were caught stealing. Repeat and Rinse. It's only spring, it's only spring.

The good news on the other hand, is twofold. First of all, Reyes managed to run around in a Mets uniform without hurting himself. That's always a positive where Hamstring Jose is concerned. And secondly, although he shows no baserunning IQ, at least he has Carlos Beltran to teach him how it's done, proper. Beltran has the highest success rate on steals in MLB history of anyone with at least 100 tries (89%)and apparently, Beltran is someone Reyes is willing to listen to.

Oh Lawdy. IF he stays healthy, that Hamstring Jose, what hoseannas we will sing in his praise!

Kaz Man Bobbling Glove

Meanwhile, Kaz Matsui's first effort at his new second base position, after flubbing shortstop so badly last season he had to be moved, didn't look very encouraging. Ron Calloway sent a grounder to Matsui's glove side that took a sweet, belt-high hop, but the ball glanced off the glove and scooted into right field.

A generous scorekeeper saved him from the Big E on his first effort of the spring and yes, it's early still, but it isn't THAT early.

"I think he just took his eye off the ball for a second," the former second baseman and current manager Randolph said. "It was a catchable ball."

The Kaz Man has to step it up in the field quickly and if he has to stand out there until sundown every night fielding grounders then he should, until he gets it right. After all, it's half of what he's paid to do.


As we all could foresee, Camp Randolph is nothing like Camp Howe. Manager Willie has allegedly spent alot of time talking about the importance of little things, things Howe's squads never did, like moving over runners, even in Spring Training games. He wants his players to treat the games this March as if they count, even if they don't. He wants them to get ready to win.

"The challenge is changing the mindset toward winning," Randolph said. "When you walk out on the field every day, you got to expect to kick butt -- or they're going to kick yours. It's not all about talent."

That's good news for the Mets, that it's not all about talent. Especially in the NL East, already crowded at the top with expectations like the perennial Braves, the Phloundering Phillies and the Marlins. Especially not considering the Mets bullpen and dodgy rotation.

In the interim, at least the Mets have agreed to terms with every player on their 40-man roster.

Meanwhile, if you were still wondering, here are some things to know about Manager Willie.

AND LASTLY but not leastly, The Mets Kick It Off Today Against the Nats in the first "real" exhibition of the season where Tom Glavine will start against Tony Armas Jr.

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