Inside Pitch: Sosa blossoms with Mets
Let go by St. Louis, right-hander reborn in New York
The next time you find yourself perusing the transactions page on MLB.com and upon discovering that your favorite team has signed some journeyman pitcher jettisoned by another team, before you voice (or scream) your incredulity, do your blood pressure a favor and remember this name.
That's Jorge Sosa, who has been a pleasant surprise for the New York Mets this season, and whose 4-1 record has helped the Mets get past some of the rotation issues the team faced coming out of Spring Training. It is the same Jorge Sosa who gave up 10 homers in 30 2/3 innings for St. Louis last season, and 30 in a combined 118 innings for the Cardinals and Braves.
That's Jorge Sosa, with a 3.64 ERA, nearly a full run better than his career number (4.57), the same right-hander who left-handed batters hit .288 against (including .326 last season) and had a career .875 OPS against during his employ with six previous organizations.
Sosa is apparently unfamiliar with the lyrics from "New York, New York," the song that claims if you can make it there you can make it anywhere. After failing to make it anywhere else -- and he's tried stops from Atlanta to Seattle -- Sosa's making it big-time in the Big Apple.
The Mets knew Sosa had something, but even they didn't predict this kind of performance. There's plenty of time for Sosa to revert to form, but based on what he's done in May, the Mets are like the lady who spent $5 on a painting at a garage sale and later discovered she'd bought a masterpiece worth millions.
"I don't know what happened," Atlanta manager Bobby Cox said. "He's got a great arm. It's just a matter of getting the ball out of the hot zone. It doesn't shock me that he's pitched good. He's a great kid."
Sosa signed a $1.25 million free agent contract with the Mets on Jan. 16 after St. Louis non-tendered him, as much for his power arm as anything else.
Most teams had seen enough of Sosa to pass when he became available. The book on him was he was in love with his fastball and that he was inconsistent, especially when pitching from the stretch. The consensus seemed to be that his career had evolved to the point where he was -- at best -- a situational guy.
Perceptions, however, aren't necessarily in line with reality.
Sosa's only 29, he is in good health and still throws hard. Some in the Mets organization felt that, if Sosa could start throwing his slider more often and throw it for strikes, he would prove to be an asset.
Sosa took the advice to heart. Instead of being a fastball pitcher who rarely uses his breaking stuff, Sosa now uses his slider to set up his fastball. A simple plan, and yet it has made a radical difference in Sosa's effectiveness.
Sosa pitched well enough in the Spring Training to earn at spot in the rotation at Triple-A New Orleans. The Mets recalled him from New Orleans on May 5 to start against Arizona, and he beat the Diamondbacks (6 1/3 innings, two earned runs), then followed that with a win against the Brewers (6 2/3 innings, two earned runs). He was superb in a win against the Cubs on May 16, limiting them to one hit and a run in seven innings.
"The first three starts, he was lights-out," Mets manager Willie Randolph said.
Sosa lost his fourth start at Atlanta, but bounced back with a win against Florida.
Sosa, through an interpreter, said the biggest difference for him this year has been a matter of "making his pitches."
"I'm more consistent with my pitch location now," he said. "That's the [difference]."
Pearls from the diamond
Fausto Carmona's blossoming in the Cleveland rotation is one of the factors behind Cleveland's rise to the top of the American League Central, and the right-hander's emergence doesn't surprise one scout.
"He's always had a super arm, it was just a matter of learning how to use both sides of the plate and learning how to pitch," the scout said. "He's got better control, but to me the big thing is he's using his offspeed stuff more effectively. He's not just out there trying to throw that fastball by everybody."
Ryan Braun's arrival in Milwaukee means the two players who were sharing third base, veteran infielders Tony Graffanino and Craig Counsell, will have other duties.
"My plan is to play [second baseman] Rickie [Weeks] five days a week, [shortstop] J.J. [Hardy] five or six days a week and move in Counsell and Graff in those two spots," Brewers manager Ned Yost said. "We'll have them available for double-switches, and with the 11-man [pitching] staff you're going to need to double-switch a little bit more, so we've got plenty of opportunities to actually double-switch anywhere in the lineup."
Braun, the fifth player selected in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, credits New York Yankees third baseman and fellow University of Miami product Alex Rodriguez for helping him make the switch from shortstop to the hot corner. A-Rod began working with Braun a few years ago.
"I went to the University of Miami and he lives really close to the campus, so during the offseason he was there working out with us. He kind of took me under his wing and mentored me a little bit when I made the transition from shortstop to third base because, obviously, he had gone through the same thing," Braun said. "Just to be able to pick up some small pointers from a guy of his stature was very helpful for me and provided me with some helpful insight."
Atlanta's 6-3 record against the Mets so far is noteworthy, even though the Mets have opened up a small cushion over the Braves in the NL East Division race.
"I don't think it's something we should downplay, it's something we can only use if we continue to play each series," said Braves right-hander John Smoltz, who joined the 200-win club on Thursday with his victory over Tom Glavine and the Mets. "All it does is give us a tiny advantage as we come down the stretch. That [Mets] team, you can see such a quiet confidence. They know what they've got. The key for us is to keep playing these types of games and knock it down a notch and know what we've got."
At least seven teams are expected to watch free agent right-hander Troy Percival throw this week, now that Percival has been released from his coaching contract with the Angels.
Outfielder Craig Wilson, who signed a $2 million, one-year deal with Atlanta during the offseason but was released by the Braves this past week, signed a Minor League contract with the Chicago White Sox on Monday.
Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.