Pitching coach Dan Warthen has helped the Mets and himself...

Pitching coach Dan Warthen has helped the Mets and himself stay out of angry fans (and owners') crosshairs. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

In spring training, Jerry Manuel said, the Mets "placed an emphasis on pitching and defense. Hitting, for the most part, fluctuates."

Take a moment to absorb that, and you realize such a statement carries little logic.

But with these Mets this month, it's actually working. The Mets' lineup has fluctuated with run production. And the team's pitching has provided consistent effort that no one outside the organization would have anticipated, even in this small a sample size.

Which means that just as Manuel has worked his way slightly out of the crosshairs of Mets power brokers and fans, so too has pitching coach Dan Warthen.

"We all feel that we were very fortunate to be back here, and very happy for a chance to come back and redeem ourselves," Warthen said Monday after rain postponed the Mets' game against the Dodgers at Citi Field. ". . . I give the front office credit, to the ownership, for keeping us around and giving us this chance."

The Mets' 3.17 ERA ranked fourth in the National League entering last night's action. With a 3.51 ERA from the starters and 2.66 from the relievers, the Mets are managing to stay in games despite a .668 team OPS that put them in 12th place in the NL before yesterday's action. Their 10-9 record makes them relevant, which wasn't the case back at 4-8.

Manuel and Warthen share more than one link. They received their promotions at the same time as a result of the infamous Midnight Massacre of June 17, 2008. They replaced Willie Randolph and Rick Peterson, who had built up such ill will that it's fair to wonder how much of the '08 rebound could be attributed simply to the ejection of those two.

Removed from that haven of small expectations last year, neither Manuel nor Warthen came off well, as we know. Which is why it's interesting that Warthen insisted Monday that he recommended bringing back the status quo for 2010. "We were happy with everybody we had," Warthen said. "If we weren't able to go out there and compete for John Lackey, then we felt our guys were equal to all of the other guys out there on the market, and then we could make ourselves better in other areas."

On the other hand, Warthen said, he pushed strongly for the Mets to sign both Rod Barajas and Henry Blanco, catchers with excellent reputations for working with pitchers.

Mike Pelfrey is the star pupil, of course. His performance in Sunday night's 1-0 victory over the Braves, throwing 106 pitches in five innings, exemplified a newfound confidence.

Jon Niese has been surviving shaky outings, yet Warthen said, "He has too good stuff to be in trouble." Progress to come, the coach vowed.

Whereas Peterson propped pitchers up and subsequently wore some down with his massive data and long analogies, Warthen tries to keep it simpler: "Change speeds, work fast, throw strikes."

He views his job security with the same matter-of-factness. Having reached the 10-year mark as a big-league coach in 2007 with the Dodgers, Warthen draws a pension in addition to his Mets salary. If he is let go, he'll be all right.

"But I love it here," he said. "I love New York."

With 143 games to go, no one should celebrate Warthen or his pitchers yet. Nevertheless, their redemptive powers have injected early life into this Mets season.