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Already without Martinez for the postseason, the Mets might not have Hernandez, whose calf injury would leave a hole in rotation

October 04, 2006|Tim Brown | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — The reward to the juggernaut is to arrive at October fit and rested, its starting rotation set precisely, its position players able to again take the dugout steps two at a time.

So it was with some gravity that New York Mets Manager Willie Randolph began his Tuesday afternoon news conference by saying, "I have some news."

Six days before, the Mets had ordered tests on an ineffective Pedro Martinez, the staff ace, and learned he would not be able to start Game 1 of the National League division series, but instead would have rotator cuff surgery.

And the day before they would open their best-of-five series against the Dodgers, they learned their next-best choice -- Orlando Hernandez -- probably would not be able to pitch either.

Hernandez, the 40-something Cuban right-hander who won nine of 12 postseason decisions for the cross-town Yankees, injured his right calf while running in the Shea Stadium outfield during Mets batting practice Tuesday. He was taken to a hospital for an MRI test and was to be examined again Tuesday night, then reevaluated today.

Randolph said several times that he hoped the ailment was simply a cramp, and then Hernandez told Newsday, "It's not a cramp."

At the end of a 97-win regular season in which their offense and bullpen frequently carried their fragile starters, the Mets might have become thinner still, and will be forced to choose their Game 1 option from among:

* Hernandez, depending on how he comes through his various examinations, and how effective they decide he can be.

* Right-hander John Maine, who threw six decent innings Friday in Washington, would make his playoff debut on regular rest and is the early favorite.

* Left-hander Tom Glavine, who threw 71 pitches Saturday and then, in preparation to start Game 2 Thursday night, his normal between-starts side session Tuesday.

* Left-hander Dave Williams, who made two starts in September, none in the final three weeks.

Another starter, Steve Trachsel, left the team Saturday to tend to family business in San Diego and did not return until Tuesday afternoon, though in time to throw on the side at Shea. He last pitched Sept. 24, but he said afterward he could not be ready to start tonight.

Beyond Hernandez in Game 1 and Glavine in Game 2, the Mets had been vague on their starters for the remainder of the series, primarily because of Trachsel's status.

Now, with Hernandez questionable, it appears they will have to piece together their rotation, as they did frequently during the regular season, and perhaps skip Hernandez early and bring him back later. Mets General Manager Omar Minaya has until 10 a.m. today to submit his 25-man roster.

"It's life," Randolph said. "It's the way it goes."

It is for the Mets, whose patchwork starting rotation was a constant trouble spot in an otherwise breakthrough regular season. Minaya's off-season acquisitions -- Carlos Delgado at first base, Paul Lo Duca at catcher -- helped drive the Mets to their first division title since 1988, ending the Atlanta Braves' streak at 14 consecutive titles. They clinched the NL East two weeks ago, and then tried to ease Martinez back to the mound, only to have him falter again.

"It's not great news," Randolph said. "That's for sure. We'll wait and see what happens first. We'll just take things first and regroup and see where we are."

The Dodgers learned of Hernandez's injury on the ESPN crawl from the clubhouse down the hall, while the Mets waited for word to drift through their hitting groups, then into their clubhouse.

"Well, we don't know, so we don't want to get ahead of ourselves," Delgado said. "I mean, we all wish he is well and he can come back in and start [today]. If that's not the case, hopefully somebody will come in and step up."

Third baseman David Wright said they would lean on the same philosophy that drove them through the regular season.

"We've been doing this all year," he said. "With Pedro being out at times, we've had young guys step up. We've acquired some guys via trades. So, it just depends on [that]. ... This isn't anything new.

"I mean, obviously, you feel for El Duque because he's a big-time pitcher. He loves that big game. Obviously, his record in the playoffs speaks for itself. You're concerned for him. You know how upset he must be; he wanted the ball, he wanted to be in that situation.

"But after we figure out what exactly is going to happen after these tests come back and we figure out who our starters are going to be, we're going to step up and get the job done. You can't feel sorry about yourselves. You can't feel sorry about anybody."

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