PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - With Bobby Parnell's velocity skimming along in the low 90s, as the radar gun showed during Wednesday's Triple-A game behind Tradition Field, it's probably good news the rehabbing closer is another five weeks away from joining the Mets.
But that's also the bad news.
With the team already scouring their own system for one adequate lefty reliever, and Vic Black's shoulder problem now making him sketchy for Opening Day, the Mets' bullpen has turned into a major concern since the start of spring training.
Parnell, only 11 months removed from Tommy John surgery, was delayed further by a mild hamstring strain earlier this month. And Wednesday's trip to the mound was only his second minor-league game, and not all that different from his first in terms of velocity -- the key to Parnell's effectiveness.
Parnell threw 17 pitches during his one-inning stint, with one strikeout. He also allowed a booming double into the rightfield corner on a fastball that registered 92 mph -- his max point of the afternoon.
At his peak, before snapping the ulnar collateral ligament on Opening Day last April, Parnell's fastball averaged 95.2 and maxed out at 99.1 during the 2013 season -- down a few ticks from 95.8 and 100.4 the previous year, according to PITCHf/x. As for Wednesday's performance, when his velocity ranged from 88 to 91, Parnell explained that was partly due to using more two-seam fastballs, a slightly slower pitch than the four-seam.
"I went in to this outing trying not to overthrow, so I knew the gun wasn't going to be anything outstanding," Parnell said. "I backed off and wanted to work on my two-seamer because it wasn't there last game. It's more of a 'go out there and knock the rust off' kind of thing more than overthrow."
Parnell's breaking pitches looked sharp as he spun a few curveballs, but lighting up the gun again is going to take time. For now, he's going to be satisfied with better command, with the expectation his velocity will return if he remains healthy.
"The last time out, it was the first time seeing batters in a long time," Parnell said. "The intensity went up when the batters stepped in, and everything kind of moved a little fast. I was able to slow it down this game and work on a little bit more stuff to go in the right direction."
Parnell was 22-for-26 in save attempts with a 2.16 ERA during his last full season in 2013. He struck out 44 and allowed one homer in 50 innings. With the Mets committed for now to Jenrry Mejia as their Opening Day closer, the team has been vague about its plans for when Parnell does return, which could be as soon as early May. That probably will have a lot to do with how Mejia is pitching -- and Parnell's timetable.
"I want my body to tell me when to go," Parnell said. "I don't want to look at the calendar to tell me when. I want to be 100 percent. I want to help the team more than just being there."