Q: Much has been made of the lack of zip on Michael Pineda's fastball this spring. Is there a real reason to be concerned?
— Stan Marshall, Indianapolis
A: I think it's too early to tell. Pineda's first problem this spring was reporting to camp about 20 pounds heavier than he finished last season. So he was behind conditioning-wise, and it's taken time for him to catch up. That undoubtedly cost him several miles per hour in his early-spring outings.
But Pineda's fastball velocity has been picking up as the spring has unfolded, and that's a pretty typical thing. In his last start on Sunday, Pineda reached 93-94 mph, and while that's still a few mph's down from where he was at last season, it can be good enough.
So let's see where he's at in April and May before determining if this is a longer-range concern. My guess is he'll be in the 95-96-mph range by then.
A couple of things about fastball velocity: While it can be what separates a dominant No. 1 starter (think CC Sabathia, Justin Verlander) from a middle-of-the-rotation type, it's far from the determining factor in a pitcher's success.
Tim Lincecum is a great example of a pitcher who doesn't throw as hard as he used to, as he's gone from 95-plus pretty regularly to sitting between 90-94, and dialing it up higher on occasion. In these cases, command of secondary pitches takes on more importance, and Lincecum obviously has made that adjustment.
In Pineda's case, he also possesses one of the game's better sliders, so that gives him two plus pitches. A key will be developing a better off-speed pitch — in his case, a change-up — that will make his fastball that much more effective.
What everybody needs to keep in mind here is that Pineda is only 23, has 171 innings of big-league experience, and still is in the learning and developmental stage, so there are going to be rough spots in his development.
He does need to cut down on his pitch counts, but ought to be able to increase his innings total to around 200 this season. It's also a safe assumption that he will allow more hits per inning than the sparkling 7.0 total (133 hits in 171 innings) he posted last season.
But given the increased run support he'll receive, winning 13-15 games with an ERA in the 3.50-3.80 range is a reasonable projection. And who wouldn't take that season from a 23-year-old with upside potential?
Q: What do you think of reports of a rift between Bobby Valentine and Ben Cherington? Was this inevitable, or is it all a bunch of nonsense?
— Gary Woodson, Boston
A: Valentine already has shot down that Boston Globe story, calling it, 'lazy journalism'. And at least one of the issues supposedly in play has been resolved (at least temporarily), with Jose Iglesias being sent to Triple-A, giving the shortstop job to Mike Aviles.
So I have to think 'rift' was too strong a word. You could go through all 30 big-league organizations and find differences of opinions on their own players. It's part of the evaluation process that goes on every spring — all throughout a season, really.
In the case of Daniel Bard's conversion to the rotation, there are legitimate points to both sides of the argument about where he's needed most, as well as legitimate differences of opinion about how Bard's stuff translates to the rotation.
Nobody really knows for sure, and my guess is that since this was a major part of the Red Sox's off-season planning, Bard will at least get the opportunity to make the reliever-to-starter conversion.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
That can put him at odds with a manager who wants a young player such as Iglesias immediately at the big-league level, while the general manager believes the long-term organization needs would be better served if that player gets more minor-league seasoning.
So while Valentine did have issues with GMs Steve Phillips and Tom Grieve in his previous big-league managing jobs, let's not go there quite yet.
Q: With the recent news around the Mets' financial scandal, do you think they can turn things around more quickly than we first thought?
— Jasmine Olson, New York
A: While the Mets are gaining some certainty in their financial situation, it's still far from ideal. The recent developments have insured that the Wilpon family will be able to retain majority ownership of the club, but don't look for them to do any major free-agent spending again for awhile.
In fact, I think they're looking at the same type of payroll for the next few seasons — and in case you missed it, they were forced to slash about $50 million from their 2011 payroll to around $90 million this season.
The current problem is too much of their payroll is sunk into three players — Johan Santana, Jason Bay and David Wright — and it's likely to stay that way for two more seasons.
Santana is owed just under $50 million for the next two years plus a $5.5-million buyout in 2014. Bay has $32 million remaining on his deal plus a $3-million buyout in 2014. Wright is in the last guaranteed year at $15 million, but look for the club to pick up a $16-million option in 2013, and likely extend him.
But as Sandy Alderson recently said, the best solution is to build a strong core of young players coming through the system, and there is potential for that to happen. But Matt Harvey and other top prospects need to reach the big leagues and succeed, and the Mets also need to generate increased advertising and ballpark revenues. Time and patience still is required, Mets fans.
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