Are the New York Mets Prepping Hisanori Takahashi for a Starters Role?

In Tuesday night’s New York Mets game against the reeling Los Angeles Dodgers, Hisanori Takahashi came in relief of Oliver Perez, tossing 3.1 innings of two-hit, one-run baseball, while striking out five Dodgers.

Takahashi has the looks of a strike-out machine, fanning 21 hitters in 14.1 innings. While allowing only 11 hits, he has also issued 10 free passes, all good for an ERA of 3.77.

Those 14.1 innings have accumulated during eight relief appearances, and in each appearance Takahashi throws a similar or increased amount of innings as the prior appearance. His first appearance on April 7 was 0.1 innings (a loss), and he threw 3.1 innings last night.

In-between, he appeared for 1.0 inning (April 8), 1.0 inning (April 9), 1.2 innings (April 13), 2.0 innings (April 17), 2.0 innings (April 21), 3.0 innings (April 23), and 3.1 innings. (April 27 – last night).

When innings allowances increase that much, there is a very good chance the organization is seeking to transform that pitcher into a starter. While I do not believe GM Omar Minaya is intelligent enough to initiate such a plan, it has fallen in his lap. Takahashi’s appearance Tuesday night saw him throw 75 pitches.

Do the Mets need starters?

Well, their top two starting pitching prospects are already in the major leagues. Jonathan Niese is currently in the Mets rotation, and 20-year-old Jenrry Mejia is a middle reliever. Niese is finally been given his full opportunity (I do have to credit Omar for this), and it appears Minaya and field manager Jerry Manuel are the only two people who believe Mejia shouldn’t be down in Double-A Binghamton building his starting resume.

Unless you count Dillon Gee (4 starts, 3-0, 2.77 ERA), there is nobody else on the horizon. With the 2010 season starting terribly Oliver Perez and John Maine, the Mets do need starting pitching depth. Perez has a case of strikeaphobia (a fear of throwing the ball over a 17-inch home plate), and despite Wednesday’s impressive performance Maine has a strong injury history. He is one pitch away from an injury and also has a slight case of the strikeaphobia.

That is where Takahashi comes in to play.

He was a starting pitcher in Japan before he signed with the Mets, and he appears to have the ability to throw lots of pitches. Most Japanese pitchers do, it is just the American system of pitch counts that affect the Japanese hurlers. He did not seem to be laboring at all in Tuesday nights game, even after 70+ pitches.

And because he is 35, you can ride Takahashi hard, every fifth day for at least seven or eight innings, up to 120 pitches. It’s not like he is among the prized young starters whom organizations like to limit in their effectiveness .

Only Mike Pelfrey has shown the Mets that he can consistently throw at least seven innings, doing it twice in four starts. Johan Santana has gone seven only once and in Maine and Perez’ eight combined starts, they have pitched six or more innings only twice.

There are calls for Perez to be removed from the rotation, just days after Maine’s spot was in jeopardy. However, it has been reported Manuel will stick with Perez in the rotation for the time being, as he has with Maine.

But the time is now to move Takahashi into the Mets rotation, and move Perez or Maine into the bullpen. Let Takahashi piggy-back Perez in his next start and allow him to go four-plus innings. 

There are concerns that pulling Takahashi from the bullpen will affect the surprisingly effective relief pitchers on the Mets roster. However, it is much more important to have good starting pitchers who can pitch at least seven innings, so you do not overwork your bullpen.

And besides, Jenrry Mejia is down in the bullpen to save the day.

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