CHICAGO -- There's no doubt that Bobby Parnell looks like a closer.
The Mets' reliever, who turns 26 on Wednesday, is a lanky 6-foot-4 and has worn out radar guns with his blazing fastball. Parnell topped out at 102.5 mph on Aug. 18 during an appearance against Houston, which was the fastest pitch thrown in the Majors at the time. (It's since been eclipsed by Reds phenom Aroldis Chapman.) Lately, Parnell's results have matched his imposing exterior and with the Mets' closer job in flux, he may get an audition.
"I think he'll get that opportunity," said manager Jerry Manuel.
Parnell has not allowed an earned run in his last 12 appearances. During that stretch, he's struck out 11 and walked two over 11 2/3 innings, allowing nine hits, a pair of unearned runs and has held opponents to a .214 average. Against the Cubs on Saturday, he kept the Mets in the game by snuffing a bases-loaded situation in the eighth inning, striking out Aramis Ramirez and Xavier Nady with a string of fastballs registering in triple digits.
Parnell has always been a hard thrower, but his move this season to full-time bullpen work has proven to be a boon for his velocity. Last year, when Parnell vacillated between the rotation and the 'pen, he averaged 94.5 mph on his fastball, according to fangraphs.com. He's upped that to 96.5 this season, and has seen a similar boost in his slider. The changeup that Parnell used as a third pitch when he was in the rotation has been all but abandoned. However, despite the sparkling stuff, Parnell's strikeout rate hasn't been quite what you'd expect.
"What we continue to look for in Bobby is the swings and misses," said Manuel. "That's what's commonly lacking from him. We've seen plus-plus fastballs, we've seen that type of stuff. When you see that dominant of a pitch, you need to see swings and misses, and we haven't seen that consistently."
What they have seen from Parnell has been an improved ability to keep the ball down in the strike zone. He's inducing ground balls at a rate nearly 9 percent higher than last season and has not allowed a home run in 31 1/3 big league innings. Last year, he allowed eight homers in 88 1/3 innings with the Mets.
Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez is on the disqualified list pending a grievance filed on his behalf by the Major League Baseball Players Association. His season ended Aug. 11 when he injured his thumb in a postgame incident at Citi Field. Rodriguez is under contract for the 2011 season, but the discord has left his future with the club uncertain. Parnell sees himself as a good fit in the role.
"That's where I see myself in the future," he said. "As many opportunities as I can get early on in my career, it's going to help me later on."
Johan better, but won't make Tuesday start
CHICAGO -- On the third day of the Johan Santana Watch, the Mets decided that their ace hurler will not make his next start Tuesday in Washington.
Santana threw off the mound Sunday for the first time since leaving his Thursday start in Atlanta with a pectoral muscle strain. While the lefty didn't report any problems stemming from his bullpen session, the team was not ready to declare Santana fit for his next start.
"It's recommended that he skip this start," said Mets manager Jerry Manuel. "He wants to pitch, he feels like he can pitch through it, but I don't feel it's worth it to push him at this particular time. It's not in the best interest of the organization to push him at this particular point.
"He wants to pitch in the worst way. He's one of those guys that will fight you tooth and nail to get out there on the mound. We're taking it out of his hands."
Santana left his start against the Braves after five innings and 65 pitches complaining of discomfort, which was later called a strained pectoral muscle. The Mets were leading the Braves, 2-1, when Santana departed and he ended up getting the win, improving to 11-9. Manuel said before the game that if Santana experienced any hint of further soreness, he would be scratched.
"They want to be very careful with everything, and I agree with that," said Santana. "I'm a competitor and every time I have a chance to go out there, I'm going to go out there.
"I thought today was fine, but you have to get into a game situation and go 100 percent and see how it reacts.
"I feel all right, but at the same time, you have to be very careful, too. There are times when you feel good and everything [doesn't go well]. There are times when you don't feel so good, and everything goes fine. That's the way this game is. I could go, but they said no."
Mets general manager Omar Minaya said that the team still isn't concerned that the injury is something more serious than a strain, such as a shoulder injury.
"That's not what we've heard," said Minaya. "Like I said before, it's the pec area, which is part of the chest. We just felt [skipping him] was the safest way to go."
Manuel said that Dillon Gee will be recalled to take Santana's place in the rotation. Gee, 24, will be making his big league debut Tuesday against Washington. He was 13-8 with a 4.96 ERA for Triple-A Buffalo this season and led the International League with 165 strikeouts.
Manuel hopeful Reyes can play in DC
CHICAGO -- Ailing Mets shortstop Jose Reyes played catch and took batting practice before Sunday's game against the Cubs, his first activity after taking a couple of days off. Reyes is battling a strained oblique, a notoriously slow-healing malady that wasn't showing improvement and led the club to shut him down.
"It's still there, but it feels pretty good," said Reyes.
Reyes stretched with the team, played catch, and hit from both sides of the plate in the cage, before chatting with Mets manager Jerry Manuel for a few minutes, then heading upstairs to the Mets' clubhouse. After seeing Reyes work out, Manuel is hopeful he might get his star player back as soon as this week, when New York opens a three-game series in Washington.
"Reyes is better," said Manuel. "He indicated to me that he thinks he can start one of these games in Washington. He did not say which game, but he felt like he could start one of those games. Won't be [Monday], that's too soon."
Reyes has hit .287 with 25 stolen bases and 73 runs scored, but has missed 24 games because of injury. General manager Omar Minaya said that the club hasn't considered shutting down Reyes for the season even though the Mets are out of contention.
"Guys like to finish the year playing," said Minaya. "We're going to keep that open. It's not something that will have a long-term effect. If he can play, fine. He's going to play when he feels ready to play."
Mets third baseman David Wright was out of the lineup Sunday with a previously scheduled day off. ... Infielder-outfielder Nick Evans returned to the Mets on Sunday, rejoining the squad after the season ended for Triple-A Buffalo. Evans was with the club briefly in July, went he went 0-for-2 in a couple of pinch-hitting appearances. Manager Jerry Manuel said Evans, who hit .300 with 23 home runs in the Minors this season, will serve as an extra bat off the bench. ... With the Mets in Washington this week, they'll make their annual trip to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center on Tuesday. They'll chat with the soldiers and have lunch at the facility. ... Ike Davis' homers on Saturday and Sunday gave him 17 on the season and moved him into a tie for third all-time in homers by a Mets rookie. He's even with John Milner (1972) and Jay Payton (2000). The club record was set by Darryl Strawberry in 1983 with 26.
Bradford Doolittle is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.