Perhaps no other Binghamton Met has felt farther away from Shea Stadium in 2007 than reliever Lino Urdaneta.
The Mets gave Urdaneta, a hard-throwing right-hander who turns 28 in November, a second opportunity in the Major Leagues this May. He allowed two hits over two appearances, one a solo home run to San Francisco Giants catcher Bengie Molina, in a total of one inning of work.
Urdaneta had pitched in the big leagues with Detroit in September 2004, against the Kansas City Royals. He entered in the third inning with the bases loaded, walked the first batter he faced, Ivan DeJesus, and then allowed five consecutive hits. He was removed without recording an out.
On May 15, 2007, eight days after his second outing for the Mets, Urdaneta was sent to Triple-A New Orleans. The next day he was suspended 50 games for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance.
When he was ready to come back in late June, Urdaneta first made two scoreless appearances for the Gulf Coast League Mets, and then another two for St. Lucie. On July 12, he was back in Binghamton.
But after the New York Mets had two blown saves Friday and Saturday nights, who knows where Urdaneta is if not for the failed drug test—one that Urdaneta said was a false positive.
“I was really surprised with that test,” Urdaneta said. “They can test me any time they want—I don’t use any substance. I know, I believe in myself.
Urdaneta said he often thought over what he ate, what he drank, but said that he still did nothing that should have resulted in a failed test.
“I’m just trying to do the best I can to get back,” Urdaneta said. “I don’t care about the suspension, for me it’s in the past right now.”
Urdaneta’s first time in Binghamton, in August of 2005, he hurt his elbow—badly enough that it required Tommy John surgery. (He had been placed on the 60-day disabled list the season before due to elbow inflammation.) His injury made the 2007 season a greater comeback as he did not pitch again until August of 2006. making the suspension’s timing that much worse.
“He’s missed a lot of innings and he’s trying make up those innings,” said Binghamton Mets pitching coach Ricky Bones. “They still have hope for him in the organization. He’s a guy who’s going to be in late in the game—a real powerful arm with good movement.”
Urdaneta throws a mid-90’s fastball that has sinking action—preferring to throw a two-seamer rather than a four-seamer—a changeup and a slider that he is trying to refine. In his time around the Major League team, from spring training, where he posted a 3.00 ERA in ten appearances, to his call-up in May, Urdaneta has taken advice from Mets closer Billy Wagner on how to improve the slider.
“I’m working everyday with my slider,” Urdaneta said. “Now it’s really better right now, so I can throw it anytime, whenever I want. Before when I was supposed to throw it was like ‘Oh my God.’”
Urdaneta also spoke with Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson, and of course, Endy Chavez, a fellow native of Venezuela.
“Everybody tried to help me, but you know sometimes some guys want to talk to you a little bit more,” Urdaneta said.
In nine appearances with the B-Mets, Urdaneta has given up an earned run in three of them. However one of them was on July 28, when the B-Mets suffered a colossal ninth-inning meltdown against the Bowie Baysox. Urdaneta and closer Carlos Muniz combined to allow five runs each, erasing a 7-1 B-Mets lead to start the inning.
“I’m still doing well, just that day was kind of like a bad day,” Urdaneta said. “It happens to every pitcher sometime during the season. That day I had like four or five days [it was actually six] when I didn’t throw in a game, so when I came in to the game I feel good. It’s just my command was not really good, everything was high.”
Over his next three appearances, Urdaneta went one inning and allowed one hit in each—a brief streak before one run crossed in his appearance on August 14.
“He has been outstanding,” said B-Mets manager Mako Oliveras.
During his second shot against Bowie on August 11, with the B-Mets trailing 6-4 in the eighth inning, Mark Kiger’s error led to one unearned run, but otherwise, the meltdown was in the past.
So too, does Urdaneta hope, is everything else. As if he needed any more uncertainty, he is becomes a free agent at the end of the season.
“I want to be a Met again, I want to be a Met,” Urdaneta emphasized. “It’s not my decision, you know? I’ll go back to Venezuela and be in shape in winter ball, and after the season if I’m not going anywhere, I’m a free agent. So I mean I have to do my job in Venezuela.”
Urdaneta began his career by signing with the Dodgers as an international free agent in 1996. In 2003 he signed as a free agent with Cleveland and then was taken by Detroit in the Major League Rule V draft. A free agent once again in 2005, the Mets signed Urdaneta in mid-July after visa problems forced him to the Mexican League for half the season.
Somehow, through the suspension, Tommy John surgery, visa problems and a work-in-progress slider, Urdaneta still is focused on “doing whatever I can to get back.”
“It’s fun man, it’s fun. The big leagues are the best part in baseball,” Urdaneta said. “I’m really happy, and they know I can pitch in the big leagues because I was doing a great job in spring training. I’m doing the best I can. It’s really good, you have fun, you’re in the bigs, man, the best level in baseball.”