KISSIMMEE, Fla. - The Mets' projected setup man learned that his faulty command throughout spring training had earned him a ticket to Triple-A Las Vegas. And the team's incumbent closer may face early-season limits on his workload, meaning that save chances could fall to a veteran reliever who washed out of the big leagues last June.
But for better or for worse, the Mets' bullpen began rounding into shape Wednesday, when hard-throwing Vic Black was optioned to the minors and when Jose Valverde was added to the big-league roster. He likely will serve as an occasional stand-in for Bobby Parnell, whose inconsistent velocity following neck surgery has led the Mets to consider some limits.
The Mets still envision Parnell being ready for Opening Day, though there have been some games when Parnell's fastball reached only 92 mph, far below his average of 95 mph last season. Parnell may be given more rest and limited to nothing more than back-to-back appearances.
"I think two in a row is going to be fine," pitching coach Dan Warthen said, before the Mets' bullpen was charged with every run in a 9-6 loss to the Astros Wednesday night. "He might need a little more rest, at least for a while. Let's see how it all builds up."
If Parnell is unavailable early in the season, the Mets appear likely to give save chances to Valverde, who was informed Wednesday that he would make the team. The 36-year-old former Tigers closer made his case for a roster spot, posting a 3.08 ERA in eight spring appearances.
Valverde endured an infamous meltdown in the 2012 playoffs with the Tigers and found himself in the minors by the middle of the 2013 season. The Mets took a flyer on Valverde, offering him a minor-league deal. The veteran responded with a strong camp, surprising scouts with his velocity.
But Valverde has been more pleased with his control, which until Wednesday night had been sharp.
"I'm more focused on my command and my delivery," said Valverde, who allowed a run and three hits in one inning of relief.
Considering his experience as a closer, Warthen called Valverde, who has 286 saves, the most logical choice to step in for Parnell when needed. For manager Terry Collins, the difference in Valverde has been easy to spot.
"If he commands the fastball, he gets people out," Collins said. "He's commanded the fastball."
Collins said he envisions Valverde as the bridge to Parnell -- a role that appeared perfectly suited for Black.
Acquired in the August trade that sent Marlon Byrd to the Pirates, Black impressed the Mets, posting a 3.46 ERA in 15 appearances. Some even viewed him as a future closer.
But Black, 25, never straightened out his command issues. He walked 10 batters in 91/3 innings this spring, helping his ERA soar to 5.79. Collins and Warthen assured Black that he would be back, though neither had expected a demotion to be necessary.
"I think everybody came into spring training thinking he was a lock to make this club," said Warthen, who believes the reliever struggled with expectations. "He did not throw strikes the way we wanted him to."
The demotion opened the door for righthander Gonzalez Germen, who allowed two runs in one-third of an inning against the Astros Wednesday night.
"I know what I'm capable of," Black said. "They do. I think everybody does. But this was just not a good showing of it."
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