PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Aside from ravaging his left arm, Adam Loewen's professional pitching career sapped him of his athleticism. It was not until Loewen converted to the outfield full-time in 2009 that he noticed his inability to cover the same type of ground he did during a standout high school career.
"There's not a lot of change-of-direction-type-stuff on the mound, and that's really what you lose," said Loewen, who was also a strong volleyball player in high school. "You lose all those little muscles that fire and react."
Initially, Loewen played basketball to try to reclaim some of his athleticism. He has since become more comfortable with his range, playing a career-high 19 games in center field last season after beginning his outfield transition on the corners.
That versatility may be the edge that Loewen needs to make the team. Competing directly with Mike Baxter, Loewen must prove that he can cover enough ground in center field to be Andres Torres' primary backup, in the event that Scott Hairston starts the season on the disabled list. If he can do so, Loewen may hold an advantage over Baxter, a natural infielder who has been working with first-base coach Tom Goodwin on developing his center-field skills.
For both men, much work remains. Loewen misplayed Donovan Solano's single into an error in the fourth inning Sunday, after committing two errors in 19 games as a center fielder last season. Baxter, meanwhile, has yet to appear in center, though he would have done so Sunday had rain not interfered.
"Loewen and Baxter both we've got to see in center field, because that's going to be part of that [backup outfield] role if something should happen," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "So we're going to run them both out there at times."
As Johan progresses, Mets won't take chances
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- It spoke to Johan Santana's value that, less than an hour before the left-hander's scheduled start on Sunday, the Mets considered scratching him due to pockets of rain in the forecast.
"That bothered me a little bit," manager Terry Collins said.
Sunshine prevailed for long enough, allowing Santana to pitch 2 2/3 innings of one-run ball against the Marlins in his second start of the exhibition season. But his bosses spent late Sunday morning scratching out contingency plans in the event of significant rain.
"He wasn't going to go through his pregame ritual, get all set to go and then wait for 35 minutes more," Collins said.
Instead, Santana would have pitched in a covered structure beyond Digital Domain Park's left-field wall. The Mets simply refuse to take even the smallest risks with Santana, knowing he is one mushy landing away from another season on the disabled list.
"We were prepared," Santana said. "If it was going to rain, we had a Plan B. But fortunately everything went OK with the weather while I was there."
It was not until the third inning that rain began falling heavily at Digital Domain Park, prompting Collins to hustle to the mound after a two-out walk. By that time, Santana had already thrown 42 pitches, just eight fewer than his prescribed limit. So Collins ushered him off the mound, knowing he has a bullpen session awaiting him Tuesday and a third Grapefruit League start Friday.
In that outing, Santana should increase his pitch count as high as 60, throwing as many as four full innings against the Tigers. And as those figures continue to climb, the Mets will pay closer and closer attention to his between-starts bullpen sessions, making sure that Santana's left arm is responding as planned.
"What I'm seeing right now is a guy who's starting to get comfortable on the mound," Collins said. "He knows what he's doing. He felt great when he came out of the game [Sunday], and those were big signs."
Olson among lefties if Byrdak's injury lingers
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- In the unlikely scenario that Tim Byrdak is not healthy enough to begin the regular season, Mets manager Terry Collins mentioned Garrett Olson first amongst a pack of left-handed relievers sitting behind Byrdak on the depth chart.
Technically, Olson is already competing with Chuck James, Daniel Herrera and Robert Carson for a job as a second lefty in New York's bullpen. But given the strong chance that two members of the right-handed trio of Bobby Parnell, D.J. Carrasco and Miguel Batista make the team, it is unlikely that the Mets will have room to carry multiple left-handed relievers on Opening Day.
Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch, Ramon Ramirez, Manny Acosta and Byrdak are all assured bullpen roles if healthy, leaving two open spots for everyone else.
Though no lefty has thrown enough innings to distinguish himself through the first week of exhibition games, Olson has allowed just one baserunner in two shutout innings. James, meanwhile, has given up one run in 1 2/3 innings, while Carson and Herrera have both missed time with injuries.
Collins also showered compliments on left-hander Josh Edgin, who is not technically in Major League camp, but has made two scoreless Grapefruit League appearances.
Byrdak, who signed a $1 million contract extension before last season ended, traveled to New York on Sunday for an examination of his stiff left knee. Collins said after Sunday's game that he still expects Byrdak to be ready for Opening Day.