Last game – Marlins 12, Mets 7: Jose Lima may have seen the final blow to his aspirations for making the Mets’ Opening Day roster. The Marlins batted around in the first inning against Lima, scoring five runs.
Lima – tabbed to pitch in relief until the bus ride down to Jupiter, when he was told he’d be starting in place of Aaron Heilman - settled in to hold Florida scoreless in the second inning but left on the hook for the loss, with the effort raising his spring ERA to 9.64.
Each New York reliever was scored upon in the game, which featured 19 runs scored and 24 hits between the two clubs. Jose Reyes paced the Mets offense with two hits and two runs scored in four trips, including a two-run triple.
A final decision: Manager Willie Randolph confirmed the expected on Tuesday, announcing that Brian Bannister has pitched his way into the starting rotation and that Aaron Heilman is headed to the bullpen.
When the Mets traded both Kris Benson and Jae Seo this past winter, it would have been difficult to imagine a scenario under which Heilman could start the season in relief – at least, one that didn’t involve a major trade like the rumored deal for Barry Zito.
But Bannister, who posted an 0.95 ERA in 19 spring innings, stated his case resoundingly this spring. While Heilman didn’t pretend to be thrilled with the decision – he went to the Dominican Republic to work as a starting pitcher in hopes of bolstering his chances to return to that role in the majors – he said he understood why the move was made.
With Heilman, who posted a Major League-leading 0.64 ERA in relief last season after the All-Star Break, helping to bridge the gap to closer Billy Wagner, the Mets’ relief corps are much less of a question mark.
"We just felt we had the best chance to win the game late with Aaron Heilman in the bullpen,” GM Omar Minaya told reporters. “… I think that's as good a bullpen as you're going to get in the National League."
The team appears to have confidence in setup man Duaner Sanchez and side-armer Chad Bradford, but hard-throwing reliever Jorge Julio appears to be something of a reclamation project.
Minor moves: The Mets moved the following players to minor league camp on Tuesday – pitchers Royce Ring and Juan Perez; outfielders Lastings Milledge, Tike Redman and Todd Self; catcher Sandy Martinez and second baseman Jeff Keppinger.
In the Bergen Record, Steve Popper notes that Milledge is expected to play all three outfield spots this season at Triple-A Norfolk, having tested out right field in Tuesday’s exhibition.
If both Xavier Nady and Victor Diaz prove underwhelming, Popper cites a member of the organization as saying that Milledge could be a candidate to step into the Mets outfield later this season.
The Journal-News’ John Delcos paints Keppinger, who was passed over in favor of Anderson Hernandez as the Opening Day second baseman, as being unhappy with his demotion.
“I think I did a good job. I thought I was pretty solid,” Keppinger told Delcos. “I guess I’m not in the category they are looking for.”
Knicks and knacks: RHP Pedro Martinez (toe) and LHP Billy Wagner (finger) each threw bullpen sessions on Tuesday and reported no problems. … 2B Kaz Matsui (knee) will begin the season on the 15-day disabled list and cannot be activated until April 8.
Coming up: Tom Glavine gets his final tune-up before Opening Day on Wednesday, traveling up to Lake Buena Vista for a 1:05 p.m. ET contest against the Atlanta Braves. Tim Hudson starts for the opposition.