Nelson Figueroa got his final tune-up of the spring on Wednesday against the Florida Marlins, as he took the mound to fight for his big league career.
Figueroa—his start against the Marlins five days ago aside—has looked very strong this spring, but he indicated that he may head across to Japan should he not make the 25-man roster.
He threw six scoreless innings in his first three outings this year, allowing just three base hits, striking out nine, and walking three. The last time he faced Florida on March 26, however, Figueroa got roughed up for seven earned runs on eight hits in 2.2 innings of work.
Things were much better the second time around against Hanley Ramirez and Co. on Wednesday as he pitched in his fifth and final spring game. He threw three scoreless innings of work, and I fully expect Figgy to make the trip back to Citi Field on the Mets' big-league squad.
His command was sharp (zero walks), and although a few balls got hit hard, he looked comfortable throwing all of his pitches. He is also an excellent defensive pitcher, which only adds to his appeal when you’re comparing him to Bobby Parnell and Pat Misch, who will start the season at AAA Buffalo.
Figueroa turns 36 in a few months' time, but he could still provide a lot of value as a middle reliever and spot starter.
The 6’1” right-handed pitcher is the perfect guy to eat innings for the Mets. He challenges hitters, and he is able to pitch on consecutive days, whether that is as a long guy out of the ‘pen or as a ninth-inning guy when the game is out of reach.
As he showed in 2009, he is also capable of filling in at the back end of the rotation. That could prove vital this season, considering the uncertainty over just how productive Fernando Nieve or Jon Niese will be in the fifth spot.
Figueroa started 10 games last season after joining the Mets in August, making eight consecutive starts as a regular down the stretch. He pitched at least five innings in all eight of those games between Aug. 25 and Oct. 4, highlighted by a four-hit shutout against the Astros on the final day of the season.
Figueroa, a draft pick of the Mets back in 1995, has only pitched 377 total innings in his Major League career, having spent a number of years in the minors, most notably for three years between 2005 and 2007, when he never even had a sniff of the Show.
He has never been a star, and he won’t grow into a star. He looked solid pitching for the Dominican Republic this winter, and he did nothing but help his candidacy this past fortnight. He could earn more in a single season in Japan than he has made in his entire career, but right now he is focused on pitching in Flushing in 2010. I think he has done enough to make the team.
If the Mets want to be competitive in 2010, it’s players like Figueroa who will need to step up. Everyone knows what David Wright and Jason Bay can bring to the party, but it will likely be New York’s pitching that defines their season.