Special delivery: Feliciano back in familiar place
After unique two-year hiatus, veteran southpaw ready to answer call for Mets again
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- More than one Pedro has returned to a familiar Florida camp this week. The one who is readily identified by only his first name is in Fort Myers -- where the Red Sox train and where he is most likely holding court and raising the roof on a regular basis. The other requires a full name to be properly identified.
He is Pedro Feliciano, back with the Mets, and seemingly more likely to help their bullpen than Pedro Martinez is to help the Red Sox's rotation. Feliciano quietly dresses in a locker near a clubhouse corner that allows him to fly below all radar.
Two Pedros as different as left and right, reliever and starter, reserved and outrageous.
After an enriching, two-year sabbatical that involved no big league pitching but prompted big-time consternation on both sides of New York City, Feliciano is ready to resume his tour of duty as a left-handed specialist with the only team that appears on the back of his baseball card.
"Really ready," he said Tuesday morning. "Nothing to hold me back."
At age 36, Feliciano is 17 months removed from surgery that repaired the capsule and rotator cuff in his left shoulder and prohibited him from throwing one pitch for the club that signed him eight months earlier. He is two years removed from the unbecoming back and forth involving the Mets and Yankees.
Feliciano prefers to leave his recent history in the past -- he doesn't duck the topic, though -- and again be an integral component of the Mets' bullpen.
Angst has no place in Feliciano's life these days. He says his arm has recovered, and that he feels strong. Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen, judging from a few days of observation, says Feliciano is throwing harder and with greater ease than he had anticipated. And the $8 million Feliciano was paid by the Yankees for his extended inactivity does tend to limit angst.
"I want to pitch. I want to pitch a lot," he said, as he did in the spring of 2010.
At that point, Feliciano had produced two seasons that labeled him a workaholic. A third was about to happen. He appeared in 92 games in '10, a Mets record, the fourth-most ever and the most by a left-handed pitcher. And by the time the Mets' campaign ended, Feliciano held these distinctions too:
Most appearances in three consecutive seasons
1. Feliciano, Mets: 266 (2008-2010)
2. Mike Marshall, Expos, Dodgers: 263 (1972-74)
3. Kent Tekulve, Pirates: 263 (1978-1980)
Most appearances in four consecutive seasons
1. Feliciano, Mets: 344 (2007-2010)
2. Paul Quantrill, Blue Jays, Dodgers, Yankees: 341 (2001-2004)
The Mets had no great interest in re-signing Feliciano; they speculated how much strength and resilience the heavy workload had siphoned from his arm. The Yankees didn't detect the risk. They needed a left-handed specialist and were quite willing to pay for him. Feliciano felt pain in his shoulder during his fourth Spring Training appearance of 2011. He was done.
"I still don't think it was wear and tear," he said Tuesday. "I just happened [to think] it was a one-day thing."
He completed the inning -- of course.
"The day I signed, I felt good. I was healthy," he said. "They checked me out. There was no reason to think I was injured. I wasn't. It happened that day. You can't blame the Yankees."
But the Yankees blamed the Mets -- as if the concept of "buyer beware" was novel. When the extent of Feliciano's injury had been determined, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman accused the Mets of having abused the pitcher. The Mets responded.
"He volunteered to throw every day," Warthen said at the time. "We'd ask if he was able to go, and he'd say, 'Yes,' every day. He wanted to pitch more than we even pitched him. ... So I feel badly that someone feels that way, but that was part of the reason that we decided not to re-sign him, because we knew we had used him 270 times over three years."
The Yankees might have been offended. Feliciano clearly was wounded by the verbal shrapnel. He shot back at Warthen: "When I strike out Ike Davis and I jump on the mound, I'll be like, 'That's for you,'" he said.
The back and forth is over and done, and pitcher and coach are smiling with each other again. Warthen agrees that from 2008-2010, no Mets player handled his responsibilities more competently than Feliciano handled his. Call it a left-handed compliment -- Warthen was a left-handed pitcher too.
None of that will help Feliciano earn a place on the Mets' 40-man roster this season, much less in the work-in-regress bullpen. Manager Terry Collins knows little about him other than the numbers of those years and the words directed at Davis. But the manager and Warthen acknowledge that one more left-handed reliever would have fit nicely into a number of games in the last two seasons.
Now with bullpen unsettled and R.A. Dickey having taken 230 innings through customs to Toronto, a greater burden may fall on all the relievers, and the need for matchup assignments may be greater. The Mets have Josh Edgin, Robert Carson, Scott Rice and veteran Aaron Laffey to provide left-handed relief. Edgin and Carson auditioned well enough at Citi Field last summer. But Feliciano has more big league innings than all of them combined.
"And I want to pitch more," he said.
"How many games?" is the question.
"Seventy's OK with me," he responded.
"Ninety-three? Want to break your record?"
"Sure," he said. "I can do that if I'm healthy."