Heilman and Company's Struggles Illuminate Omar's Quiet July
If the Mets finish out of the money again this season, the finger can be pointed at their bullpen, or lack thereof. But it also can be looking past the players and directed at the general manager. Omar Minaya decided to let the trading deadline pass without even a minor move being made.
The weakness has been magnified since closer Billy Wagner went on the disabled list, but their middle relief has been a problem all year. An eighth-inning, set-up man search has run the gamut, and it should never have gone that far. Aaron Heilman, who held that role since Duaner Sanchez was out for part of 2006 and all of 2007, imploded this summer and currently has a 2-7 record with a 5.74 ERA, atrocious for any pitcher, let alone one who has taken on a big responsibility in today's specialized game.
It began to unravel early for Heilman, who gave up two runs in three straight outings from April 8 through 11. This month, he had three consecutive productive (zero runs) appearances, but they were sandwiched by ugly numbers of four, one, three and three runs given up, all in two innings or less.
After his last outing on Monday, in which he blew a save on a rainout makeup matinee versus the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates, his manager refused to put gasoline on the fire. "I think Heilman's fine," Jerry Manuel said to reporters. "He's throwing the ball great, velocity-wise." One would think that Manuel is not watching the same game that everyone else is.
In five blown saves (out of seven chances), Heilman has surrendered nine runs. Heilman has shown enough inconsistency to not earn the trust of his manager as a fill-in closer or set-up man, something not totally sold on Manuel.
"I think a lot of times, when you lose your closer - and you hope that other people step up or step into that - but the danger that is taking them out of what they're comfortable with...that's always a problem or an issue," the manager said. "But in our situation, someone had to get the opportunity."
Getting an opportunity and doing something with it are two totally different animals. No one has taken the reigns for Wagner, making Manuel contemplate putting a starter in there for the late innings. Rookie Eddie Kunz has even been considered as the closer, but lefthander Pedro Feliciano was able to make a one-run lead stand on Tuesday night in Washington as he warmed up.
The market may not have been flooded with middle men, but Minaya owed it to his interim manager to bring in some type of serviceable arm before July 31. The surprising Florida Marlins, who went into Wednesday trailing both the Mets and Philadelphia Phillies by one and a half games for the top sot in the National League East, picked up veteran lefty reliever Arthur Rhodes from the Seattle Mariners. LaTroy Hawkins went from the Yankees to the Houston Astros. Both trades involved a minor leaguer going the other way. Now, Rhodes and Hawkins are not exactly shut-down relievers, but their experience could have been helpful, and both have filled in as closers at some point in their careers.
A minor deal could have had major implications, and if the Mets are on the outside looking in come playoff time, make sure that you point two fingers at the guilty parties.