PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The Mets' ongoing search for starting pitching depth has led them to a familiar surname, Hernandez. No "El Duque" this year, but Livan Hernandez is coming. The club has agreed to a Minor League contract with El Duque's younger -- of course he's younger -- half-brother and invited him to Spring Training.
Mets manager Jerry Manuel mentioned Hernandez as a candidate for the fifth spot in the rotation Saturday morning during a state of the team address. Indeed, Manuel mentioned the 12-year veteran before he mentioned Freddy Garcia, Tim Redding or Jon Niese. Unmentioned was Pedro Martinez, who general manager Omar Minaya essentially dismissed as a potential Mets.
Hernandez, who will turn 34 next Friday, is to be reunited with Minaya, who engineered the trade that moved the veteran right-hander from the Giants to the Expos in the spring of 2003, when Minaya was Montreal's GM. Since his 3 1/2-year tenure with the Expos/Nationals franchise ended in August 2006, Hernandez has pitched for the Diamondbacks, Twins and Rockies.
The contract that could earn Hernandez a $1 million salary if he wins a place on the big league roster, belatedly accomplishes something Minaya wanted to do in the summer of 2006. El Duque already was pitching for the Mets, and Minaya was close to importing Livan from the Nationals as the July 31 Trade Deadline approached. But the injury to Duaner Sanchez led to a different deal, with the Pirates, that brought in Roberto Hernandez and Oliver Perez.
"I just feel we need to have numbers," said Minaya.
The Mets have 29 pitchers in camp, and Minaya said a need for greater inventory exists because the World Baseball Classic will siphon off pitchers next month, but also that he prefers to have eight to 10 starters available at any given time once the season begins.
Minaya said Hernandez could serve as a mentor/pitcher in the Minor Leagues if he is not with the big league team and noted the impact other former big league players -- Mike Di Felice, Fernando Tatis -- have had in similar roles in recent years. Minaya also mentioned that Jose Valentin, recently signed to a Minor League contract, probably will serve a similar role.
Once a virtual lock to pitch 200 innings, Hernandez pitched 180 innings with Minnesota and Colorado last season, making eight starts with the Rockies after an eight-start stint in his first foray in the American League. Hernandez produced a composite 13-11 record with a 6.05 ERA last year to put his career ERA at 4.37. He had pitched at least 200 innings in the preceding eight seasons, leading the league in innings each year from 2003-05, and he fell one-third of an inning short of 200 in 1999.
Hernandez has won at least 11 games in each of those nine seasons and produced a 120-112 season in that period. His career record is 147-139.
"He's our new Pedro," one Mets player said. "Or our new Duque."
Another voice said, "He gives us another right-handed bat off the bench."
In his career, Hernandez has a .233 average with nine home runs and 75 RBIs.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.