One Herniation, Coming Up

Well, it isn't as hysterical as the Cubs rotational problems with Wood and Prior suffering, but the Mets learned that starting pitcher Steve Trachsel's back problem may be MUCH more serious than the Mets initially believed.

In fact, initial speculation indicates that he may be suffering from a herniated disc.

This, as we know from all the stories of herniated discs, is not likely good news. There's a good chance that he'll need surgery and if Trachsel undergoes the procedure, he could miss at least six months. If surgery is not deemed necessary, Trachsel could miss as little as three months.

Of course, if he misses the first three months of the season, it's a pretty safe bet he'll be ineffectual for the majority of the season anyway.

So, immediate contingency plans became painfully obvious. If Trachsel were out for any length of time, the Mets would need a fifth starter. (This is to say nothing about Zambrano's horrific spring which would lead many to believe we need a fourth AND fifth starter).

To date, these "candidates" are Matt Ginter, Jae Weong Seo, Aaron Heilman and Mexican League loaner Francisco Campos. Oooooh. Not striking fear into anyone's heart, not even a mouse.

Of this quartet of questionable talent, Matt Ginter is probably the least painful option. He hasn't allowed a run in four innings pitched, including one start, this spring his habit of keeping the ball down could help him if the Mets new and improved defensive infield is indeed improved.

After Ginter, the "candidates" list is pretty watered down. Seo, as we know, in two big league seasons, has lost 22 of 36 decisions and produced a 4.22 ERA. Even as a fifth starter, this is dodgy. Let alone as a fourth.

Heilman, as we've all witnessed, is plainly ineffective. For the Mets, he's put up a 3-10 record and 6.36 ERA in 19 games (18 starts) in two summers split between the Major Leagues and Triple-A. He even surrendered two homers in the Mets opening spring training game of the season against the Nats, setting the stage for our disgust with his inability to match his skills with the expectations. In essence, he is no candidate. And Mexican League loaner Francisco Campos was essentially an unknown, as are many of the players in the Mexican League, until Tuesday, when he surrendered three home runs in three innings in the Mets' 7-5 victory against the Indians.

Sooooo, that doesn't leave us with much. In fact, it leaves the rotation in very poor shape.

With 20 days remaining in spring training, Pedro has one start and three innings under his belt.

Glavine and Benson have looked sharp. Our number four starter has a herniated disc and is likely to be replaced by Matt Ginter, and our number five is, painfully enough, Zambrano.

The way it looks, if we start the season as is, I wouldn't let too much time dawdle before we start thinking about replacements. Impact replacements.

Remember how the Mets handled Scott Kazmir with kid gloves and kept saying not yet, not yet and then the minute the Devil Rays got their hands on him, they threw him on to a major league mound and let him work and now the guy is their ace?

Well, thinkk about the next pitching hero of the Mets, Yusmiero Petit when you are thinking about potential replacements. Petit pitched the first two innings for the Mets in his first game appearance against Major League hitters two days ago, well, Cleveland Indians hitters, allowing a run on successive hits by Casey Blake and Jeff Liefer in the second.

As we recall, Petit is the 20-year-old, right-handed pitcher from Venezuela who never has pitched above Double-A. He had a 12-6 record and 2.80 ERA in 26 minor league starts last season, striking out 200 in 141 1/3 innings.

Two years ago, Dontrelle Willis made the jump from AA to the Majors and hasn't looked back since. Last year, Kazmir, who was bound for another two years of minor league pitching for the Mets, was given the chance and did well at the Major League level.

So let's not close the door on Petit just yet. For all we know, he could be the Mets story of 2005, ironically enough, after all these free agent pickups.

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