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Mets Thoughts: Rotation Situation

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Brian Bannister had another great Spring Training outing on Sunday, leaving him with the following pitching line in games that allegedly don't count:

IP ERA     H     HR     BB     SO
14.0   0.64     5      0      1      9
Not too shabby, even if it is against minor leaguers, washed up veterans and even some real pros who aren't quite in regular season form just yet. Nothing wrong with a 9:1 K:BB ratio, regardless of the context. Bannister's hot spring is good news for everyone, except for Aaron Heilman.

Heilman had a terrific "rookie" season in 2005 coming out of the bullpen, but while he was shutting down opponents in the late innings he was quietly pondering a return to the starting rotation. He made those wishes clear in the offseason, and word leaked out that he had designs on starting for the Mets in 2006. Once the Mets traded Jae Seo (Dodgers) and Kris Benson (Orioles), they had an immediate need for at least one solid rotation arm. Despite his success in the bullpen, Heilman was sent to play Winter League ball as a starter and, perhaps reluctantly, was given a chance to earn a spot in the rotation this spring.

Heilman hasn't disappointed, putting up the following line in Grapefruit League action:

IP ERA     H     HR     BB     SO
9.0    1.00     7      1      0      8
Outstanding, possibly even better than Bannister. The problem is that Bannister may be pitching his way into the starting rotation picture, allthewhile forcing the Mets to re-evaluate Heilman's role on the team. If Bannister were to make the team when it leaves for New York at the beginning of April, they will effectively have six starters for five spots. It seems inevitable that, in such a scenario, Heilman would be returned to the bullpen and Bannister would fill out the #5 spot in the rotation.

For whatever reason, and despite not actually doing anything to have earned a spot, it appears to be a foregone conclusion that Victor Zambrano will be the #4 guy this year. Zambrano probably isn't a good enough pitcher right now to start or relieve, and I would be inclined to send him down to AAA to work on some things (like pitching, for one), and rounding out the rotation with Heilman and Bannister. This won't happen, of course, so I hope for Heilman's sake that Bannister is given a ticket to Norfolk, at least for the start of the season, and that Heilman is given a chance to start. Given what Bannister has done this spring, the Mets will be confident in calling him up to The Show at the first possible opportunity, be it the continued struggles of Zambrano or an injury to one of the aging starters. I think Bannister has a promising future as a starter in this league, I just hope it doesn't come at the expense of Heilman's.

Related Links...
- Bannister looks like fifth-starter material (Journal News)
- Bannister starting to crowd Heilman (Daily News)
- Bannister earning serious consideration (Mets.com)