Francisco hurt, leaving Mets’ bullpen in flux

Port St. Lucie, Fla. - Even on the day before their first spring training workout, the New York Mets had bad news.

Closer Frank Francisco is bothered by the same elbow inflammation that ended his 2012 season on Sept. 16.

Mets manager Terry Collins said Tuesday that Bobby Parnell and Brandon Lyon will be given the first chance to take over the closer's job.

"There is some inflammation in there. It was something the training staff was prepared for," Collins said. "They thought it might happen, so we just want to quiet the swelling down before he plays catch. Frank told me last week, "I'll be ready."'

Francisco had 23 saves in 26 chances last year in his first season with the Mets. Parnell has 14 in 31 opportunities during his Mets' career.

Collins and pitching coach Dan Warthen have a schedule for Francisco to meet.

" Dan and I have picked some dates of importance that we think are going to be important so we know he'll have the innings necessary to be ready for the season," Collins said. "If he meets those dates, I think he'll be on track. If he doesn't, we'll have to look in other directions."

Coming off four straight losing seasons and four consecutive years of declining home attendance, the Mets are still in a rebuilding mode under general manager Sandy Alderson and Collins.

After going 77-85 during Collins' first season in 2011, the Mets were 43-36 last July before an injury decimated lineup skidded to a 74-88 record. Collins is entering the final year of his contract.

"It's tough in New York," he said. "It's the biggest stage there is. But we can sit there tomorrow when I have this meeting with the pitchers and catchers, or next week with everyone, and I can give you a list of a number of teams nobody expected anything of. ... A lot of things have to happen, but it can happen and there's no reason it can't happen here."

The Mets' major moves during the offseason were to give a $138 million, eight-year contract to All-Star third baseman David Wright, to trade NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey to Toronto rather than give him a deal beyond 2013 and to jettison oft-injured outfielder Jason Bay.

New York failed to land outfielder Michael Bourn, who agreed Monday to a $48 million, four-year deal with Cleveland, pending a physical.

The Mets would have had to give up their first round draft pick - No. 11 - to get Bourn.

"The coaching staff has been down here for a week already, and we sat and looked at the roster, and Michael Bourn wasn't a part of it, but we didn't worry about it," Collins said. "We worried about the names on that board, what we're going to do, how we're going to use guys in spring training, the holes we think each and every one of them can fill, and we're going to go from there."

For now, the Mets' starting outfield could be Lucas Duda in left, Kirk Nieuwenhuis in center and Mike Baxter in right, a trio that produced 102 RBIs last year. Collin Cowgill, obtained from Oakland, could platoon in center. Marlon Byrd, Andrew Brown and Jamie Hoffman - all at spring training on minor league contracts - could compete for time.

"Obviously there's some youth in the future, close, which is exciting for a lot of people," Collins said. "But right now, 2013 is the only thing I'm worried about."

There was little depth last year to prevent the tailspin following injuries, and there appears to be the same or less this year.

"Certainly we've got to make adjustments in midseason to continue, but I tell you what, we've got to get out of the gate again," Collins said. "I don't care what anyone says. Had we gotten off slow would we have tapered off? Who knows? But I know one thing. It was fun playing those first three months. We created some excitement and we need to continue to do that. I credit my coaches and Guy Conti, who runs spring training for us, we come out of spring training ready to play, and we need to do that again."

Johan Santana pitched the first no-hitter in Mets on June 1 against St. Louis and went 6-9 with a 4.85 ERA over 21 starts in his return from September 2010 shoulder surgery.

After throwing 134 pitches in the no-hitter, the 33-year-old left-hander was 3-7 with an 8.27 ERA. He went on the disabled list in late July due to an ankle injury, had lower back inflammation when he returned and made his last start Aug. 17.

"He's going to be the guy," Collins said. "If he's the guy we know he can be, you are going to look up and he's going to have 190, 200 innings and keep us in games and give us a chance to win games as he always does, every year of his career. That's how good he feels."

Santana is due $25.5 million in the final guaranteed season of his $137.5 million, six-year contract, and it's hard to envision the Mets exercising a $25 million option for 2014 that carries a $5.5 million buyout.

Could he be the next Mets' star traded?

"I don't think about it," Santana said. "I'm more about my health than anything. I just want to make sure I play throughout the whole season and help as much as I can. What's going to happen in the future I don't know. I just have to stay healthy and see what the future will bring."

Jon Niese, Shaun Marcum, Dillon Gee and Matt Harvey also figure to be in the rotation. Beyond them is a bullpen retooled from the unit that had a 4.63 ERA last year - 29th in the majors, ahead of only Milwaukee's 4.66.

"Our bullpen has to get better," Collins said.

In addition to Lyon, the Mets have added veterans LaTroy Hawkins, Scott Atchison and Pedro Feliciano - all in camp on minor league deals.

Lyon said he isn't out to compete for the closer's spot but was intrigued by the Mets because of the opportunities to pitch late innings. The 33-year-old right-hander went a combined 4-2 with a 3.10 ERA in 67 relief appearances last season with the Houston Astros and Toronto Blue Jays.

"I'm not saying, "Hey, I want to be the closer,' or anything like that. That's not where I'm at, and that's never been my idea as a player," he said. "I just want to go out and help the team win. I let other people decide. I can't control any of that. I just go out and pitch and hopefully everything works out and I can help this bullpen, late in the game wherever it may be."


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