El Duque set to make Grapefruit debut

El Duque set to make Grapefruit debut

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. -- The Mets know quite clearly what Mike Pelfrey can do. They've seen him pitch four times already this spring, and they're more acutely aware of his capabilities than anyone.

The Mets know what Orlando Hernandez can do, too. They've called him one of their own for almost two years now, and they've stood by him during that entire tenure. This spring, they've helped him tinker with a new wind-up and given him every opportunity to remain in the rotation -- even when that hope seemed lost.

On Sunday, the Mets will watch those two pitchers -- the two fighting for one open rotation spot -- juxtaposed as starkly as one afternoon will allow. Pelfrey and El Duque will face the same team, in the same game, on the same day. And the result might answer one of the few roster questions that has eluded them.

"Everything," Mets manager Willie Randolph said, "will be revealed tomorrow."

Though Randolph has already lodged a fair assessment of Pelfrey into his brain, he can't be sure of how El Duque might perform. Continually bothered by a bunion on his right foot, Randolph's eldest starter has since altered his wind-up, no longer lifting his left knee up near his chin. The results haven't looked spectacular during bullpen sessions -- his top velocity has only touched the low 80s mph. But El Duque has never been about speed, which is why the Mets couldn't truly assess his value until now.

Both pitchers will face the Cardinals on Sunday, with Pelfrey likely to pitch the bulk of the game. And that's another concern for El Duque, who might not have enough time to stretch out his arm before the regular season begins. There will be room on the Grapefruit League schedule for one more outing after this one -- assuming, of course, that the Mets decide to carry a fifth starter for the first two weeks of the regular season. They easily might not.

How El Duque performs on Sunday might just convince them one way or the other.

"With him, you just never know," Randolph said. "When the lights go on, or when he's on the spot, or when he's in the game and he's competing, he finds ways of getting it done."

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