2006 NEWS

2006 News > 2/27/06


By John Donovan, Sports Illustrated
Original Article HERE.

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Despite all the breathless optimism careening around Mets camp this spring, all those murmurings that this is the year the Braves finally are going down and New York finally will rise, the Mets have their problems. The major one is as plain as the head on Mr. Met's shoulders, a flaw that could submarine the team's chance at winning the National League East: a creaky rotation.

Pedro Martinez's sore toe. Steve Trachsel's balky back. Aaron Heilman's unpredictable youth. And, of course, Tom Glavine's fast-closing birthday.

Of the five starters the Mets will roll out at the beginning of this season (Victor Zambrano, 7-12 with a 4.17 ERA last season, is the other one), it seems Glavine is the least of the rotation's worries. He may not have the talent of Martinez or the future of Heilman, and he can't blow anybody away (he never could), but his left arm is fine and the legs are strong, making him as much of a given as anybody can be and way more than the other guys are. The Mets can be assured that Glavine will be pretty much the same pitcher he's been every season in his 19-year big league career.

"His approach hasn't changed, not that I've noticed," said his new teammate and longtime observer Billy Wagner. "This is how he's going to pitch. This is how he's going to do it, win or lose. He's got a plan and he's going to stick to it."

Said teammate and onetime nemesis Cliff Floyd, "He's a lot smarter. But he still does the same thing. It's all about location and spotting that fastball, down and away."

It's a strange situation when a soon-to-be 40-year-old -- the big one is March 25 -- with a shaky record over the past couple of years is the most stable part of the rotation. Glavine hasn't had a winning season since he left Atlanta. His first two years in New York were pretty much disasters. His first month of last season was even worse: 1-3 with a 5.67 ERA.

After that bad start in 2005, though, Glavine stopped trying to get too fine on the corners and started pitching like a 27-year-old again. After the All-Star break, Glavine went 7-6 with an impressive 2.22 ERA, finishing with a 13-13 record and a 3.53 ERA. His second-half ERA was the third best in the league, behind Houston's Andy Pettitte and Pittsburgh's Zach Duke.

Forty? Like he cares.

"I feel better in a lot of ways than I did when I was 27," Glavine said at the Mets' spring training camp. "The last two years my arm's felt as good as it's felt in a long time. I haven't had any issues with it. That, to me, is what I judge everything by. I still feel like I can do everything on the field that I've always wanted to do."

The Mets need Glavine -- and Martinez and Trachsel and Heilman and Zambrano -- to stay healthy if they have any shot at toppling the Braves. But there's concern with Glavine simply because he's been at it so long. He's started at least 30 games every year for the past decade. No lefty in the game today -- and that includes 42-year-old Randy Johnson -- has more innings on his arm. At almost 4,000 of them, Glavine is eighth on the career list of innings pitched by left-handers.

Unlike the Yankees' Johnson, though, Glavine is not a hard thrower, which has helped him remain healthy. He's always nibbling around the plate, which drives fans bonkers -- especially Mets fans. It drives his teammates to the edge, too, when he misses.

But when he's on, as he was for the second half of '05, it's extremely effective. Floyd has seen it.

"You think to yourself, I can crush him," said Floyd, who pretty much has owned Glavine during his career (.394, two homers in 33 at-bats, a 1.018 OPS). "He's one of those pitchers who can get into a hitter's head. All you get from him is nip, nip, nip, and so you get ready for him to make a pitch that's not nip, and then he nips again."

After his horrible start last season, Glavine decided to quit messing around -- "I was kind of hoping to make pitches versus just going up there and saying 'Screw it. Here you go,'" he said -- and finished the year with one of the best walk rates of his career (2.60 walks per nine).

In a lot of ways, he is getting smarter and more economical -- clearly letting an improved Mets defense work for him -- and that bodes well for a rotation and a team that badly needs him to perform in 2006. If Glavine makes all of his starts, and if he pitches like he did last September (3-2, 1.71 ERA), he could easily win 15 or more games with the Mets' hopped-up offense. That would put him on track to win his 300th career game (he has 275 now) sometime in 2007.

"We're no different than anybody else in that if our rotation stays healthy, a lot of these questions are going to go away," Glavine said. "People want to question me because of my age. Eh, well, I guess that's understandable, but from my standpoint, it's like I've said all along: It's only a number."