Inside Pitch: Shopping season opens

Inside Pitch: Shopping season opens

Summer shopping for starting pitching has already begun, and it looks like it is going to be a sellers' market.

With more than two months to go until the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, it is still extremely early in the process, but events have accelerated things for several teams. These teams are aggressively looking for arms to replace pitchers either already on the disabled list or whose current health situations make it prudent to seek insurance.

The Yankees, who have already used 10 starting pitchers, signed Roger Clemens on Sunday. Across town, the Mets have been trying to fill in for right-hander Orlando Hernandez, who is on the 15-day disabled list due to right shoulder bursitis.

Hernandez, 37, was 2-1 with a 2.51 ERA in five starts when he went on the DL on April 30. The Mets recalled Chan Ho Park from Triple-A New Orleans, then sent him back and brought up Jorge Sosa. El Duque's setback came nine weeks after he had been diagnosed with arthritis at the base of the neck that radiates pain to his pitching shoulder.

With Hernandez out and Pedro Martinez (rotator cuff surgery) not expected back until late summer, and rookie Mike Pelfrey struggling, New York's starting pitching depth is uncomfortably thin at the moment.

Mets general manager Omar Minaya has had conversations with other clubs regarding pitching, though nothing is imminent. Like a lot of GMs, Minaya is just keeping the lines of communication open.

"They're hoping El Duque's [injury is] not serious," said an official with another team. "But they want to get an idea of who might be available if he's going to be out [longer]."

Not that the Mets are desperate. Their team ERA of 2.96 is the best in baseball. Tom Glavine and John Maine are a combined 8-1. Lefty Oliver Perez is 3-3 with a 3.48 ERA. If El Duque comes back strong and Martinez comes back at anything approaching his old self, the Mets should be OK.

In the meantime, it doesn't cost anything to go window shopping, and Minaya is not alone in that pursuit. Other teams known to be scouting arms recently include:

• The Dodgers, with starter Jason Schmidt out since April 14 because of bursitis in his right shoulder, the same malady that sidelined Hernandez.

• The A's, with starter Rich Harden (shoulder tightness) and Esteban Loaiza (back spasms) on the DL.

• The Padres, who will be without right-hander Clay Hensley for at least two starts because of a right groin strain.

• The Tigers, with starter Kenny Rogers and top setup man Joel Zumaya on the DL.

• The Phillies, with closer Tom Gordon joining Ryan Madson on the disabled list until at least May 17 and possibly longer due to rotator cuff inflammation.

• The Braves, with Mark Redman, Mike Hampton, Bob Wickman and Tanyon Sturtze all on the DL.

• The Blue Jays, with Gustavo Chacin and closer B.J. Ryan on the DL.

• The Astros, with starters Jason Jennings (elbow tendinitis) and Brandon Backe (elbow) on the disabled list, right-hander Fernando Nieve out (following Tommy John surgery), and having lost out on Clemens.

• And of course the Yankees, who despite adding Clemens are looking for more help.

Pearls from the diamond
Ryan Howard, who won the National League Most Valuable Player Award last season after hitting .299 with a league-leading 58 homers and 149 RBIs, is batting just .198 so far this season, including .105 in May with 11 strikeouts in his last 19 at bats.

"Right-handers haven't been giving him much to hit because he's chasing pitches out of the zone," one scout said. "And he's really struggling against lefties."

The Phillies slugger, who hit .279 against lefties last year, is batting just .125 (5-for-40 with 22 strikeouts) against them this season.

• The learning process continues for Pittsburgh left-hander Paul Maholm. The 24-year-old left-hander is 1-4 with a 5.51 ERA, but like a lot of young pitchers, he has struggled to find consistency. In his last three starts, Maholm pitched a three-hit shutout against Houston, allowed six earned runs on seven hits in four innings in a loss to Cincinnati, and was unable to make it out of the fourth inning in a loss at Milwaukee on Friday.

In the shutout win over the Astros, Maholm recorded a season-high 14 groundouts and walked just one batter.

"When he gets that cut fastball of his in on right-handed hitters, it makes him a much tougher pitcher," said one scout. "But he doesn't use it consistently from what I've seen."

• Arizona's Randy Johnson began using a split-fingered fastball a few years ago, but is apparently using it more often this season, and it's been an effective pitch for the left-hander, much as it has been for Clemens, who has used the splitter more effectively in recent years.

• One scout thought Josh Beckett should be the favorite to win the AL Cy Young Award this season, and that was before the Boston right-hander won his first six decisions.

"He's always had the good moving fastball, but he's really smoothed out his mechanics where he's throwing all of his pitches with the same motion and he's throwing his breaking stuff for strikes," the scout said. "He's not just a guy after strikeouts any more."

• As impressive as Miguel Cabrera's fine start (.349, 7 HRs, 21 RBIs in 29 games) has been, even more amazing is the fact that the Florida third baseman has been playing with a painful sore oblique.

"He lets me know if he can't go," Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez said.

Andruw Jones, 1-for-21 (.048) since the calendar turned to May, knows from reviewing videotape that he's landing on his back right knee at the end of a majority of his swings, but doesn't feel the need to change mechanics. Jones hit .400 (14-for-35) during the final 10 games of April.

"Who cares what happens after you make good contact?" Jones said. "Fred McGriff made good contact, but he had a helicopter swing. So it's the point of contact that matters."

Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.