PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Mets righthander Bobby Parnell could begin the season entrenched as the team's closer, even if incumbent Frank Francisco bounces back from his elbow issues before the end of spring training.
Francisco ended last season shut down with elbow issues, prompting surgery in December to remove bone spurs. Various personal problems, including a death in his family, slowed Francisco's rehab after the procedure. "I'm disappointed, but unfortunately this is not unexpected," said Mets general manager Sandy Alderson, who was aware of Francisco's complications.
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As the rest of the pitchers began workouts yesterday, Francisco was confined to the sideline, participating in fielding practice even though he was not allowed to make throws. Manager Terry Collins said Francisco might not be able to play catch for another two weeks.
With his readiness for Opening Day in doubt, Collins named Parnell the closer in Francisco's absence. He informed Parnell with a phone call on Tuesday night.
"I definitely appreciate that," Parnell said. "I think that him just coming out and saying it is going to help me a lot."
On Wednesday morning, Collins followed up with Parnell, then discussed the decision with Francisco. "He said he totally understood," Collins said.
Even before the injury, Francisco's poor performance put his job in danger. In 48 appearances, Francisco finished with 23 saves and a 5.53 ERA. When Francisco was shut down, Parnell impressed as his fill-in.
Parnell finished 5-4 with a 2.49 ERA in 74 appearances, which included seven saves.
"It looked like he aged five years in two months," Collins said. "He just handled things different, he got prepared better, he made better pitches with his stuff, learned how to . . . pitch upstairs. I just saw some really, really positive things. I said this guy's getting close to being the guy."
Parnell, 28, has moonlighted as the Mets' closer in the past but admitted he's put pressure on himself in those situations, which has contributed to spotty results. But he insisted that he's a different pitcher now that he's developed a curveball to pair with his fastball.
"Every outing I increased my knowledge," he said. "I feel like I'm better prepared than I was."