When Jerry Manuel went to the bullpen to start the eighth inning in Cincinnati on Tuesday night, you were probably left wondering if there was some new federal statute mandating the use of Fernando Nieve in every single baseball game the Mets play this season.
It was Nieve's 17th appearance in the first 27 games and he'd pitched three innings combined on Sunday and Monday. He's been very good out of the pen this season, but history shows that overused relievers are going to have diminished results over the course of a season and that's just what the Mets got on Tuesday.
Nieve has become the team's lead set-up guy for Francisco Rodriguez. He's gotten that job for good reason, which makes you wonder why Jerry Manuel pitched him in Sunday's blowout loss to the Phillies. If you're going to go the clearly defined bullpen roles route, you have to live up to the definitions. That might turn an 11-5 game into a 14-5 game and might mean an ugly bruise to the ERA of Raul Valdes or Manny Acosta but these decisions have ramifications down the road.
Why not Feliciano for Votto, a lefty power hitter who has struggled against southpaws this season? After the game Manuel said he would have gone to Feliciano if either of the first two batters of the inning got on base, but there may have been another consideration.
During an interview with Mike Francesa earlier on Tuesday, Manuel was asked why Hisanori Takahashi wasn't in the game to rescue Johan Santana before things got totally out of hand in Philadelphia. His response was that they were going to make a change, but that the guy they wanted to use had to take care of something before he could come into the game. Francesa pushed a bit and it became clear that the bullpen's decision to have a chili, coffee and cigarette party before the game backfired on them. Literally.
That makes you wonder if Nieve isn't just the one member of the Mets bullpen who isn't drinking water bottled from taps in Mexico City and/or isn't so cheap that he'll only buy meat from the half-off counter at the Kwik-E-Mart. He's pitched well, sure, but he's also got a sturdy gastrointestinal system.
At any rate, Feliciano got the out and Rod Barajas saved the day with his team-leading seventh homer in the top of the ninth. Hopefully, the result won't overshadow the lesson learned for a team that needs a fresh and sharp Nieve.
Oliver Perez is always a risk to be out of the game in the third inning and Jon Niese hasn't shown much to make you think he's going to gobble innings this season. John Maine pitched well for the second straight start but he's still not efficient -- 100+ pitches through six innings -- and is never going to be efficient. That's three-fifths of the rotation and the two Philly losses were reminders that emergencies pop up as well.
The Mets either need to manage their pen differently or acquire better pitchers to spread the work out because they don't figure to be so good this season that they can just hand games away the way they tried to on Tuesday night.