Jerry Manuel Aces One Test But Fails on Another

Joseph DelGrippoAnalyst IMay 11, 2009

NEW YORK - APRIL 28:  Jerry Manuel #53, Manager of the New York Mets, runs off the field during the game against the Florida Marlins on April 28, 2009 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

During the New York Mets win last Wednesday night (May 6, '09) over the rival Philadelphia Phillies, Mets manager Jerry Manuel learned something about his closer, Francisco Rodriguez.

"I found out how resilient Frankie is," Manuel said to WFAN's Mike Francesca on Thursday afternoon. "I came into the clubhouse today figuring I needed to give him a day, but he told he was good to go and wanted the ball."

This is good news for Manuel is that he has finally figured out that a manager needs his best pitcher on the mound during the "crunch time" of a game. Someone as talented and durable as K-Rod wants and needs the ball early and often.

That is part of the competitiveness of a major league player and the one job in baseball now which needs their fires consistently stoked is that of a closer.

K-Rod is the perfect example of the emotional closer who needs the ball more, not less.

While Manuel learned that his top relief pitcher is resilient, he hasn't learned that the best starting pitcher in all of baseball, Johan Santana, is also resilient and should be on the mound more during the later innings.

In last night's game, the Mets were leading 1-0 with Santana throwing a gem through seven innings, allowing only two hits while striking out 10. He was only at 101 pitches when Manuel, knowing that his eighth inning specialist JJ Putz was unavailable, lifted Santana for a pinch hitter.

What is it with that "magical" 100-pitch mark that leads managers to take out effective starting pitchers? The problem with relief pitchers is that you don't know how they are on a particular day. If they are on, they are great, but if they are not on their game, they can turn a sure victory into a quick defeat.

But a manager knows how his starting pitcher is throwing and Santana was throwing great. How can you take him out?

Why turn to a middle reliever in an important game against the defending World Series Champs when you have the ace of aces on the mound? 

Since his July 22 start last season, Santana has started 20 games, and has a 12-1 record, 1.23 ERA and a WHIP of 0.849. His only loss was this season, a 2-1 defeat to the Florida Marlins where he went seven innings, struck out 13 and allowed ZERO earned runs. 

If Zack Grienke can do that, then MAYBE he can be considered the best pitcher in baseball! C'mon JoePo, you are better than that!

Manuel was lucky last night that Pedro Feliciano stranded the eighth inning double by Shane Victorino. Manuel appears not to have learned from last year when he pulled Santana late in a game last year against the Phillies, and the Mets lost.

The golden rule in pitching is not the 100 pitch count or bust. It is having your best pitchers pitch the most innings, especially when they are dominating. It appears that Santana is one of those long grooves where he is dominating almost every time out.

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He should be allowed to pitch longer each game. The Mets will have a better chance to win that game and those just before and after when Putz and K-Rod can work their magic.

If Manuel finally passes that second test, the Mets could cruise to the NL East title.