Manuel and his staff safe -- for now
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Jerry Manuel and his coaching staff survived another dangerous point in the Mets' season Monday when the team's ownership, in consultation with general manager Omar Minaya, opted not to make any personnel changes - yet - after a 2-9 West Coast trip.
That thinking could change quickly, however, if the Mets continue their slide this week at Citi Field against the Cardinals and Diamondbacks. As one Mets official explained, the team's performance before the All-Star break merited more of an evaluation period than a difficult 11-game trip through San Francisco, Arizona and Los Angeles.
Even so, it marked the second time this season that the Mets' staff, along with Manuel himself, was called into question. On May 17, after a four-game sweep in Florida dropped the Mets to 18-20, chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon made a surprise visit to Turner Field for a sit-down with Manuel and his staff.
Despite speculation that Manuel could be fired in Atlanta, Wilpon apparently was satisfied with the answers he received that day, and the same holds true now after yesterday's round of conference calls and meetings at Citi Field.
The Mets are reluctant to fire Manuel even though he is in the final year of his contract, and it seems more likely that he will stay on through the end of the season.
Batting coach Howard Johnson is a favorite of ownership, and very close with David Wright, but the Mets will be forced to make a move if they don't pull out of the offensive tailspin that sabotaged them on the West Coast.
If Minaya has faith in this team as it is currently constructed, then something has to give if the hitting problems persist, and he suggested as much after Sunday's 1-0 loss to the Dodgers.
"I believe in this team, that it has the ability," Minaya said. "We play good against good teams. I think we have time. Right now our hitting isn't there, but we have guys that are proven hitters that will hit. They will hit. If we continue to pitch, we're going to be fine."
A person familiar with the situation said Monday that the Mets were not close on any potential deals and that the talks with the Royals had cooled. There had been conversations about possible trades that could send Oliver Perez, Luis Castillo or Jeff Francoeur to Kansas City for the likes of Gil Meche, Jose Guillen or Kyle Farnsworth, but that seems to have faded.
The Mets did make a roster move that should provide an offensive boost in two ways. They placed Rod Barajas on the 15-day disabled list with a "mild" left oblique strain. That allows Manuel to use Josh Thole as the everyday catcher and also let the Mets call up slugging infielder Mike Hessman from Triple-A Buffalo.
Hessman, 32, is the minor leagues' active leader with 329 home runs, and he was batting .274 with 18 homers and 58 RBIs in 64 games with the Bisons. As a corner infielder and righthanded hitter, Hessman also gives Manuel the flexibility to rest Ike Davis or even spell Wright for a day if necessary.
At this point, any little bit would help. The Mets averaged 2.18 runs per game on the road trip and batted .154 (10-for-65) with runners in scoring position. After starting the second half only four games behind the Braves and one game out of the wild-card race, those deficits have grown to 7½ and six games, respectively.
Regardless of the safe call for the staff, that can't continue - especially at home, where the Mets are 30-16.
"We feel that our ballpark, despite what people say, we feel like it's a hitting park," Manuel said. "And I just think once we score a couple runs, we'll be good to go for a long period of time."
Dickey improved. The Mets received good news on R.A. Dickey, who had to leave Sunday's game in the sixth inning with a sore upper left leg. Dickey reported no soreness in that hip area and will be re-evaluated today.