Maine, Williams on standby
Rookie righty or veteran lefty would start if El Duque can't pitch
NEW YORK -- As the Mets prepared for their workout at Shea Stadium on Tuesday morning, it was as if they'd forgotten Pedro Martinez wouldn't be around to assist their charge toward the World Series.
There were no apparent signs of disdain or "woe is us" declarations. Even though Martinez had missed most of the season's final three months, this was the same bunch that compiled a National League-best 97 wins.
Thus, there was reason for them to possess a remaining confidence that was only enhanced with the comfort of knowing Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez was capable of the being big-game pitcher like Martinez. With Hernandez, the Mets have somebody who has risen to the occasion in many previous October games.
But the only October afternoon of any current consequence is the possibly destructive one that unfolded at Shea Stadium on Tuesday. While running in the outfield during batting practice, Hernandez tweaked his right calf muscle and was sent to an area hospital to undergo an MRI.
While Hernandez's status won't be officially announced until Wednesday morning, there's seemingly a good chance he won't be able to make his scheduled start against the Dodgers in Game 1 of the National League Division Series. Instead, the Mets could be trotting either John Maine or Dave Williams out to the mound on Wednesday afternoon.
Suddenly the mighty Mets don't seem as mighty, entering this best-of-five Division Series against a Dodgers team that possesses a less-publicized, but just as effective lineup. But having endured adversity created by the slew of injuries suffered by their starting pitchers this year, it's not as if the men of Queens haven't faced this type of adversity before.
Martinez and Tom Glavine combined for just six wins after July 1, and still the Mets managed to win nine more games than any other NL team over the course of the regular season.
"You have to put all of that behind you," left fielder Cliff Floyd said. "It's not what you want to do, but it's what you have to do."
Early Tuesday evening, the Mets announced they wouldn't name their Game 1 starter until Wednesday morning. They weren't releasing the results of Hernandez's MRI and were truthfully praying that the veteran right-hander wakes up on Wednesday feeling strong enough to make the start.
"This last month he's been the hottest pitcher we've got," veteran right-handed reliever Roberto Hernandez said in reference to El Duque, who went 2-2 with a 2.01 ERA in his five September starts.
With his recent success, El Duque has made Mets general manager Omar Minaya looked masterful. When Minaya acquired the Cuban right-hander in late June, he did so with the belief that the 37-year-old still had the potential to be a big-game pitcher.
During his 19 career postseason appearances (14 starts), Hernandez is 9-3 with a 2.55 ERA. He's not proven to be as dominant as he was when he won each of his first eight career postseason starts, but he's still somebody who has proven to have the gift that allows him to rise to the occasion when necessary.
"He knows what to expect," Floyd said, "and you know when the crunch time comes, you can count on him, regardless of whether he wins or loses."
Unfortunately for the Mets, they're now not sure whether they can count on Hernandez's health. They don't want to bring Glavine back on short rest, and as of Tuesday afternoon, Steve Trachsel still hadn't rejoined the team. He left because of an undisclosed personal reason this past weekend.
Thus if Hernandez is unable to pitch, it seems the most likely option is Maine, who has just 27 career Major League appearances, none of which have come in the postseason. The 25-year-old right-hander went 6-5 with a 3.64 ERA in 15 starts this year.
"It would be awesome," Maine said on Tuesday afternoon, during one of the early hours of deliberation and speculation. "I never thought it would have been a possibility."
When Maine completed five innings against the Dodgers on Sept. 8, he allowed them four runs -- two earned -- surrendered six hits and issued three walks. It was one of the four starts he made in September in which he allowed two earned runs or less.
If there is a knock against Maine, it's his lack of consistent control. He issued 15 walks in his final 28 1/3 innings, but he's also shown stretches of dominance, like when he tossed 26 consecutive scoreless innings after the All-Star break.
Still, he's never pitched in this type of pressure-packed situation, and it's safe to say that the Mets will be crossing their fingers if they're forced to send him to the mound.
"You still have to go out there and throw strikes," Maine said. "You still have to go out there and get guys out."
If Hernandez isn't available, the Mets could also choose to go with Williams, who also has never pitched in the postseason. The 27-year-old left-hander went 3-1 with a 5.79 ERA in the five starts that he made for New York this year.
Williams has made just one relief appearance since lasting just three innings and allowing the Marlins nine earned runs in only three innings on Sept. 11. In his four previous starts, he'd gone 3-0 with a 3.24 ERA.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.