Mets' Key Is Health...Even in Spring Training

Floyd Believes Mets Can Surprise in '04

The Mets revamped their team during the winter, adding shortstop Kazuo Matsui from Japan, center fielder Mike Cameron and closer Braden Looper. They also got run-producers Mike Piazza and Cliff Floyd back healthy. The problem is the Mets didn't get much of a chance to see the bunch in its entirety. Matsui injured his right middle finger just before the exhibition season started and missed 10 days. When he returned, 2B Jose Reyes strained a hamstring and was forced out of the lineup.

"It would be nice to get everybody in the lineup at once," manager Art Howe said. "But we'll get there." The Mets, after two years in last place, are hopeful of playing "meaningful games" late in the season. That could mean anything. But they clearly have improved after last season's 95-loss debacle.

Matsui is a classic leadoff hitter with exceptional defensive skills. Cameron is a presence in the middle of the order and is the best outfield glove in the game. In the vast expanses of Shea Stadium, he should be particularly valuable. If Piazza and Floyd stay healthy, the Mets will have a formidable lineup. But their bench is thin, leaving the team susceptible to injuries.

The starting pitching is also aging -- two 38-year-olds, Al Leiter and Tom Glavine, are being counted on for 200 innings each. That will put pressure on second-year starter Jae Weong Seo to deliver. Spring training did reveal some pitching depth as youngsters Aaron Heilman, Orber Moreno and Grant Roberts all performed well.

"We're stronger up the middle, and we seem to have more options offensively," general manager Jim Duquette said. "Now we have to translate that into victories."

Notes

* INF Ricky Gutierrez was acquired from Cleveland on Sunday (March 28) for a player to be named later. The Mets' middle-infield depth has been a problem with both 2B Jose Reyes and SS Kaz Matsui sidelined for much of spring training.

* LHP Al Leiter skipped his turn in the rotation on March 24 because of a sore left shoulder. "After 20 years I know my arm and body, and it felt a little bit different than normal soreness," said Leiter, who added that he would have pitched as scheduled were this the regular season. "(I'm) just being cautious."

* SS Kazuo Matsui, a switch-hitter, hasn't had a chance to face many left-handers hitters this spring and is rusty from the right side of the plate. To correct that, the Mets plan to have him play in a few simulated games and get live at-bats against left-handers. "The more live pitching he sees, the faster he will make the adjustment," manager Art Howe said. "He's going to be fine, but he needs to over the ups and down and gain that consistency."

* Mets manager Art Howe shook up his coaching staff two weeks before the season started, moving bench coach Matt Galante to third base and shifting Bobby Floyd into the dugout.

* 3B Ty Wigginton had seven extra-base hits and three stolen bases through 23 games, both team highs. "Power and speed," Wigginton said, laughing. "I have it all."
Quote of the Day: "It's all about health with us. I probably only played three weeks with Mike (Piazza) last season, and you can't win that way. If we keep everybody healthy we can surprise people." -- OF Cliff Floyd.

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