PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Bobby Parnell's failed audition to become the Mets' full-time closer helped set in motion a series of December moves.
After all those moves to find alternatives to Parnell, what Alderson got was a better Parnell. And if spring training is any indication, his resurgence could shake up the bullpen in this final week of camp.
"I think the key thing is providing options," Alderson said. "We're not all in on anybody. We expect Frankie will be the [closer], but we'll see how it goes. The nice thing is that I think by bringing in the additional pitching, it's taken a little bit of the pressure off of Parnell and [Manny] Acosta, for example."
It was assumed that Francisco would be the closer, with Rauch the setup man and Ramirez slotted for the seventh or later. But Parnell has pitched impressively in the Grapefruit League, throwing 8 1/3 scoreless innings (five hits, eight strikeouts) in nine appearances.
Terry Collins and Dan Warthen plan to discuss the bullpen roles this weekend, and Parnell has forced himself into the late-inning conversation. When asked about the back three spots, Warthen replied, "Don't assume anything."
Although the Mets don't see Parnell as a closer yet, he's pitching a lot more like one now than he did last season, when he converted only six of 12 save opportunities. "Throwing in those situations, it wasn't really the pressure of the game but the pressure I put on myself that really was devastating to me," he said. "I'm harder on myself than anybody. I expect a lot out of myself and I didn't perform the way I wanted to . . . But this spring has shown me that sometimes if you just take a step back and relax, look at yourself in a new light, get a new pitch. Sometimes it's better to work smarter and not harder."
Parnell is perfecting the curveball that Jason Isringhausen taught him last season, and he credits that addition for his turnaround. Previously, Parnell really didn't have a decent change-of-pace pitch. His fastball is 95 to 97 mph, with a 93-mph splitter and a 90-mph slider. But with a curveball in the low 80s, Parnell is less predictable.
"What it's done is given me a speed adjustment," he said. "If a guy is looking for hard stuff, he can just throw the bat out there. Now with the curve, it's a big enough gap where it gets them off balance and it gives them something else to think about in the back of their head. It's not just hard, hard, hard."
Parnell learned the hard way that 100 mph down the middle of the plate can be hit, which is why Warthen has him dialing back on that fastball in an effort to improve his control of the pitch. "It's more than throwing 99," Parnell said. "It's not just about throwing hard, and that's what my game was the last few years, throwing the ---- out of the ball. That's all I had, and I was having success early because guys didn't know. I'm a pitcher now instead of a thrower."
As for getting another shot as a closer, he thinks he will be better prepared next time around. "If I can learn to relax and get that confidence back," he said, "I could do it. I feel like I'm on a good roll right now."