Mets acquire El Duque for Julio

Mets acquire El Duque for Julio

NEW YORK -- Not content with simply leading the National League East, the Mets wanted to get a leg up on the rest of the division, too; so they have imported Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez from the Diamondbacks.

The pitcher with the most distinctive kick and nickname in the game became a member of the Mets' rotation on Wednesday night when the club gave up -- on -- Jorge Julio and acquired the veteran right-handed pitcher with an unquestioned postseason pedigree and a date of birth that often prompts question.

General manager Omar Minaya, always enamored with Hernandez -- that has almost become El Duque's pseudonym -- completed the deal when he offered Julio, the reliever the Mets had insisted was critical to the summer plans. Because of a spate of injuries to starting pitchers and lackluster performance by their replacements, Minaya no longer clung to the idea of keeping the bullpen intact.

El Duque, hardly the consistent performer he was with the Yankees, need only pitch a level higher than that attained by Jose Lima and Jeremi Gonzalez to be an asset to his new team. And Minaya expects at least that much from the officially 36-year-old Cuban defector, who began his Major League career in 1998 and who brings a 72-53 career record with him.

"He will helps us on days he pitches and days when he doesn't pitch," the general manager said shortly before another Cuban national, Alay Soler, made his big-league debut with the Mets. Minaya also suggested Hernandez, an American League lifer, would be more effective in the National League because of the weaker batting orders. He said "Pedro [Martinez] is a good example."

The GM likened Hernandez's veteran presence to that of Julio Franco and said he believes his pitching will solidify the rotation and not be a mere stop gap. Minaya also acknowledged the deal makes it less likely the club will promote highly-regarded prospect Mike Pelfrey.

When Hernandez will pitch is an unknown. His first start won't bump Martinez or Tom Glavine from their Friday or Saturday starts against the Marlins. There was an indication on Wednesday that El Duque could pitch on Sunday if the Mets decide to split him and the eventual fifth starter -- whether it is Gonzalez or Soler. Because Hernandez pitched on Monday night -- he allowed one run in seven innings in a no-decision against the Pirates -- he won't join the Mets until Friday, when they play in Miami. And because the Mets bullpen was short without Julio, the club promoted Heath Bell from its Triple-A Norfolk affiliate rather that add Hernandez to the 25-man roster. Speculation was that Bell would remain with the team when Hernandez is added, and either Soler or Gonzalez would return to the Minor Leagues after Thursday's game.

Hernandez had a 2-4 record and 6.11 ERA with the first-place Diamondbacks, who play at Shea Stadium next week. He had started nine games and pitched 45 2/3 innings, allowing 52 hits and 20 walks and striking out 52. He has allowed one run in his last two starts, but the first of the two -- May 16 against the Padres -- lasted two innings because he strained a muscle in his side.

Minaya said he watched Hernandez start against the Pirates and that his friend of 18 years appeared quite healthy. Injuries have been an issue for him. He has pitched more than 190 innings and started at least 25 games twice. He started 22 times in 24 appearances with the White Sox last year, pitching merely 128 1/3 innings. He had an 8-9 record and a 5.12 ERA. He made two relief appearances in Chicago's postseason run, including his memorable escape from a bases-loaded, no-out predicament against the Red Sox in Game 3 of the AL Division Series.

Hernandez said in a brief conference telephone call that he was "excited" to return to New York and he is "ready for [his] role." He said, "I'm happy" or "I'm very happy" seven times, and that he has good relationships with Minaya and, from his days with the Yankees, Willie Randolph. He also characterized the Mets as "a good team."

"We're a better team now, with him," Minaya said.

Marty Noble is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.