Neither Orlando Hernandez nor Mike Pelfrey, thought to be the lone candidates for the fifth slot in the Mets' rotation, has distinguished himself; together they have created an opportunity for Sosa. A person in the Mets hierarchy indicated Tuesday that the club is considering Sosa for the seemingly unclaimed No. 5 assignment, noting that the recently improved relief work of Joe Smith and the swing-and-miss pitches of Brian Stokes have the Mets thinking they can afford to remove Sosa from the bullpen alignment.
Chances are Sosa, were he to become a starter again, wouldn't necessarily retain the assignment for an extended period. The club still wants Pelfrey to develop and realize his potential. At the same time, the image of Hernandez pitching effectively remains fresh enough in the minds of the Mets' decision-makers that they are willing to ignore what they have seen from the 40-something-year-old pitcher -- not very much -- in his limited time on the mound.
Hernandez remains uncomfortable with his revised delivery and has lacked velocity and precision the last two times he has faced batters. Pelfrey has been unable to command his slider to such a degree that scouts from other club and even Mets staff members have discussed having him abandon it.
"He could pitch [like] Kevin Brown with the natural sink he has," a scout said Tuesday.
Although Sosa has pitched exclusively in relief this spring -- 12 innings and a 0.75 ERA in six appearances -- the club believes his work as a starter in winter ball in the Dominican Republic will allow him to change roles without stamina being an issue.
Sosa, 30 and about to begin a seventh season with big league time, won each of his four Triple-A starts with the Mets' New Orleans affiliate last year before he was promoted to the Mets for a start in Phoenix on May 5, 10 days after bursitis forced El Duque to the disabled list. He won that start and five others before his season executed a Joe Hardy U-turn. His ERA for 36 1/3 innings stood at 2.64 after he shut out the Tigers for eight innings in Detroit on June 8. But his subsequent seven starts produced one victory, five losses and a 7.50 ERA and prompted another assignment to the bullpen.
How he might respond to starting again is an unknown, of course, though something less than 100 percent reliance on his slider probably would make him effective. Moreover, the club isn't convinced El Duque will regain the velocity that the change of delivery seemingly has taken from him or that he will be strong and/or healthy enough to resume starting on a regular basis. Moreover, the work of Smith and Stokes, a surprise late candidate for the bullpen, affords the Mets an alternative that wasn't particularly evident three weeks ago.
Since Smith has remodeled his delivery and regained some confidence, he has forced himself back into the club's thinking.
"He's just about where he was last spring," general manager Omar Minaya said Tuesday, a reference to Smith's rookie spring when his sidearm stuff and his gunslinger swagger made him a must for the Opening Day 'pen.
Smith has options remaining on his contract; Stokes, purchased from the Rays in November, does not. But with Duaner Sanchez unlikely to begin the season on the big league roster and Sosa possibly being assigned different duty, the bullpen may have room for Smith and Stokes as well as Matt Wise, Pedro Feliciano, Scott Schoeneweis, Aaron Heilman and Billy Wagner.
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Johan Santana threw 81 pitches in six innings against a Minor League lineup Tuesday. It was his last start before Opening Day. ... The club decided it will have John Maine pitch in the Civil Rights Game on Saturday.
The Mets might try to outright Ruben Gotay to the Minor Leagues, though they are fully aware they could lose him through waivers. The number of surplus middle infield reserves available is down because of injuries to front-line second basemen and shortstops. So his value to other teams as a switch-hitting -- left-handed dominant -- reserve is high. The Mets, though, are not comfortable with Gotay's defense and his hitting from the right side.
Whether he clears waivers and is assigned to Triple-A or he is claimed, Gotay's absence from the big league roster would enhance the chances of Fernando Tatis earning a roster spot. Tatis' presence would reduce the chance that Angel Pagan and Brady Clark will be on the Opening Day roster.
The Mets' season-opening five-man bench could include Marlon Anderson, Damion Easley, Tatis, Pagan or Clark and the reserve catcher -- Ramon Castro or Raul Casanova. Castro's right hamstring remains an issue, so Casanova's chances of going North -- actually South because the first series is in Miami -- are improved. The chance remains the club will get its hands on Juan Rivera because of the Angels outfielder surplus. But trading with the Angels is a difficult exercise. They put a premium on their talent, even the players who don't fit.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.