Commentary

Mets' Plan B pitching staff A-OK again

Takahashi is strong for six innings as Amazin's hang another shutout on Phillies

Updated: May 27, 2010, 11:56 AM ET
By Adam Rubin | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- Back in March in Port St. Lucie, Fla., if you had asserted that in a four-day span, the New York Mets would start R.A. Dickey, Hisanori Takahashi and Fernando Nieve, you would have gotten some interesting looks.

Well, until Jon Niese makes a rehab start and then is activated from the disabled list sometime late next week, that is apparently three-fifths of the Mets' rotation.

And you know what? It's working out fine.

A night after Dickey tossed six scoreless innings in the Mets' series-opening win against Philadelphia, Takahashi matched that performance Wednesday night. The Japanese left-hander combined with Jenrry Mejia, Ryota Igarashi and Nieve as the Mets shut out the Phillies, 5-0.

"That's quite an accomplishment -- for the fact that we used two starters that we didn't originally leave spring training with to start games," Mets manager Jerry Manuel said. "Takahashi is a pretty good pitcher, a very good pitcher, with great instincts, great command of pitches. He has a great feel for that part of the game. ... There's no doubt that he will definitely get start after start after start until something goes wrong."

The Mets (24-23) moved over .500 for the first time in two weeks.

The Phillies (26-19) were shut out by the same opponent on consecutive days for the first time since Sept. 11-12, 1999, against the Arizona Diamondbacks, when Andy Benes and Todd Stottlemyre did the honors. The last time the Mets blanked the Phillies in consecutive games was a year earlier, in '98, behind scoreless efforts from Hideo Nomo and Al Leiter.

Overall, the past four starting pitchers to face the Phillies -- Boston's Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield as well as Dickey and Takahashi -- have combined to hold Philadelphia scoreless for 28 innings.

All of that prompted Phillies manager Charlie Manuel to call a 10-minute team meeting after Takahashi's effort to express discontent about a lack of energy.

"I wanted to say something and I felt like it was time," the Phillies skipper said. "I'm not upset that we lost four in a row. I'm upset to see what's been happening."

Said center fielder Shane Victorino: "It's not about losing or winning. ... It's about conducting ourselves the right way. It was nothing more than that."

Takahashi has now produced two six-inning scoreless performances since moving into the rotation. The outings are even more impressive given that they came against the Yankees and Phillies, last year's World Series combatants.

Not too shabby for a 35-year-old rookie pitcher who signed a minor league contract with the Mets in February, after pitching 10 seasons for the Yomiuri Giants in Japan.

Back in spring training, Jerry Manuel marveled when Takahashi threw better than 90 percent of his pitches for strikes in a bullpen session -- the kind of accuracy Mark Buehrle used to display when Manuel managed the Chicago White Sox.

Still, Manuel was concerned about Takahashi's mediocre velocity in spring training. That's no longer an issue, with Takahashi now flashing a more-than-serviceable 89-91 mph fastball.

On Wednesday, Takahashi's defining moment came in the sixth inning, with the Mets leading 2-0 thanks to Jose Reyes' first homer in 385 days.

With Victorino on second base and one out, Chase Utley singled to right field. Victorino sped around third, but coach Sam Perlozzo did not want to test Jeff Francoeur's arm with Ryan Howard due up next; Victorino put on the brakes.

"I would say two outs he's probably going," Francoeur said. "But when you've got one of the best hitters in the game coming up and it was 2-0 at that point, that's a tough call. It was hit hard."

Victorino never crossed the plate.

Takahashi struck out Howard on a 1-2 changeup. The southpaw then retired Jayson Werth on a fly out to right field.

The Mets added three runs the following half-inning, two on a double by catcher Rod Barajas, who had three RBIs and continues to torment his former club.

"I'm the type of guy who likes to pitch to my pitcher's strength and not necessarily the hitter's weakness. And his strength is his changeup," said Barajas, whose right wrist was hurting and wrapped after being struck while blocking a Mejia curveball. "So we're going to throw it regardless of who is hitting up there."

"I know he's one of the biggest hitters here in the league," Takahashi said through an interpreter regarding Howard. "Rod Barajas had a good plan. I just stuck with his plan."

Adam Rubin covers the Mets for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Adam Rubin has covered the Mets since 2003. He's a graduate of Mepham High School on Long Island and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He joined ESPNNewYork after spending 10 years at the New York Daily News.
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