John Maine may pitch again in the majors this season, but it's looking more and more as if he won't be doing it for Jerry Manuel, who suggested Saturday that there's no room for the rehabbing pitcher on the Mets.
Any relationship that existed between Maine and Manuel pretty much ended May 20 when the manager pried the baseball from Maine's hands after only five pitches against the Nationals. And now, with Maine eyeing a return from the disabled list after starting for Triple-A Buffalo on Friday, Manuel evidently does not want him on his pitching staff.
Manuel insisted Saturday that Hisanori Takahashi will remain as a starter after stretching his scoreless streak against the Yankees to 12 innings in Friday's 4-0 victory. Manuel also has made no secret of his support for R.A. Dickey, who is the first pitcher in Mets history to go 5-0 in his first six starts.
In addition, when asked about Maine in a relief role, Manuel replied that he doesn't "see him as a candidate for the bullpen.'' So that begged the obvious question: When can Maine pitch?
"On the off days," Manuel said, smiling.
Clearly, the Mets are in no hurry to activate Maine, who never wanted to be on the DL in the first place. But the team was forced to stash him there as an excuse to buy time, and with Maine's history of shoulder issues along with his diminished velocity, something appeared to be wrong with him again.
As Maine worked to strengthen his shoulder, however, Takahashi and Dickey tightened their grip on rotation spots.
Takahashi improved to 3-1 with a 3.12 ERA as a starter Friday and has lasted at least six innings in four of his six starts.
Manuel again was asked about the possibility of sending Takahashi to the bullpen, and he shot it down with his strongest language to date on the subject.
"No, I can't," he said. "I will not take him out of the rotation."
The same goes for Dickey, who has the flexibility of switching between starting and relief roles. But he and Takahashi have earned the manager's trust, which is something that Maine no longer has after twice bowing out of games with bizarre injuries this season.
Now that Maine has logged two rehab starts, neither one very impressive, the Mets plan to have him make a third this week. After that, they might have no choice but to designate him for assignment. Maine is out of options, so he can't be sent straight to the minors. Ultimately, the Mets might have to eat the roughly $2 million left on his $3.3-million salary for this season.
"We'll just have to make some tough, tough decisions going forward,'' Manuel said.
It's been a precipitous fall for Maine, who was a 15-game winner for the Mets in 2007 and started twice against the Cardinals in the NLCS that year. During his most successful period, Maine relied on a 95-mph fastball that was difficult to see because it appeared to catapult from his shoulder, thanks to his very easy arm action.
But that velocity mysteriously disappeared after Maine had surgery to remove a bony growth from the back of his shoulder after the 2008 season, and he's struggled to recover it since. When Maine was pulled that night in Washington, his fastball lagged in the mid-80s, and Manuel said last week that he didn't expect him to be activated until Maine reached 91 to 92 mph during his rehab starts.
Of course, Manuel knew that was a fantasy, and Maine's fastball stayed in the range of 86 to 88 mph during Friday's start. He allowed only one hit but needed 88 pitches to get through 41/3 innings, and the Mets don't believe he can be effective pitching like that.
Said general manager Omar Minaya, "We're going to have to sit down and talk about it when the time comes."