JUPITER, Fla. - Kiko Calero owns the best track record of the many setup men in camp, so his name has to at least be part of the conversation regarding who will pitch the eighth inning for the Mets.
Signed to a minor-league deal a week ago, Calero made his first appearance in a Grapefruit League game Sunday against the Marlins and did not make a strong first impression. He loaded the bases by allowing a walk, a single and a hit batsman, but he pitched out of the jam without allowing a run.
Calero's out pitch - his slider - was rather flat Sunday, which manager Jerry Manuel said is understandable given that he has been in camp for only a week. "I'll wait until he gets his arm in good shape to see if it is creating enough depth to be competitive at this level," Manuel said.
Calero, 35, is coming off his best season in the majors, as he posted a 1.85 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 60 innings for the Marlins. But he is two years removed from a torn rotator cuff and threw 1,011 pitches last season, which is just six shy of his career high set in 2006. That helps explain why teams were hesitant to give him a guaranteed deal during the offseason.
While Calero relies heavily on his slider, he said he began throwing a changeup again late last season and was encouraged by the results. He believes that pitch is a big reason why he finished the season strong, allowing only six hits in his final 13 innings.
Mets catcher Rod Barajas said players in the opposing dugout used to joke about Calero's out pitch when he came into the game, saying, "Here comes his slider." But when Barajas faced Calero in batting practice early last week, he was surprised - and impressed - by the changeup.
"I saw him warming up with it and thought, 'He doesn't really throw it. It's probably his third-best pitch,' '' Barajas said, "but he threw some and he had me out in front . . . It's going to be a big pitch for him."
Pedro Feliciano gave up two runs and two doubles in one inning and took the loss as the Mets fell to the Marlins, 7-1, in a "B'' game earlier in the day on a back field at Roger Dean Stadium.