Notes: Valentin covering his bases
Veteran upping value by prepping as understudy at first
VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Before Jose Valentin became the Mets' second baseman and played the position more than adequately in 2006, he had no more than a smidgen of experience at the position -- none of it in the preceding 13 summers. So when the club contacted him this offseason and urged him to bring a first baseman's glove to Spring Training, Valentin hardly was fazed by the possibility of a new assignment.
Why, it was just two years ago that the erstwhile shortstop had played first base in the big leagues, May 10 against the Phillies, and handled three chances in three innings without incident -- or grace. So what if that cameo appearance was his big league debut at the position. The green hue of Valentin's glove was inconspicuous.
That hardly was the reason the club asked him to give first a whirl this spring, though. The reason was need. The lack of an understudy for Carlos Delgado on the Mets' depth chart became conspicuous Saturday when general manager Omar Minaya ran through the list of replacements. Even with three innings and a still-rehabbing right knee, Valentin was as good a candidate as any.
He had played first enough in winter ball -- "maybe 20 times" -- to know the position is far more challenging than many baseball folks assume when they routinely shift aging stars to first. Even the great Willie Mays had trouble. And let us not forget Mike Piazza in 2005.
No matter, Valentin already has taken ground balls at the still-unfamiliar position -- and to some degree, he bases his hopes of finding a summer job with the Mets on his ability to play first.
"If I can play," he said, "I can play there."
That Yogi-esque statement applies in this way: Valentin, 38, still is recovering from September surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. With Luis Castillo in place at second base, and Ruben Gotay -- injured Sunday -- or another more defensively gifted infielder likely to serve as a middle-infield sub, Valentin has limited value to the Mets in that particular reserve role. But if he can play first base and provide some pinch-hitting swings, his value increases significantly -- especially with Willie Randolph, who has high regard for all that Valentin brings to the clubhouse.
Valentin has begun running the bases, and he has learned that stopping is more difficult than starting or running. "It's easier to keep going," he said. The club is unsure, but some members of the staff believe he will be able to play by Opening Day. The way things are going now, he may be among the healthier veterans.
Met-ical update: Gotay sprained his right ankle scoring the winning run in the Mets' 6-5 victory against the Dodgers on Sunday. He needed help to get off the bus in Port St. Lucie, Fla., and to walk into the clubhouse. ... Castillo began running on Sunday. ... Carlos Beltran has been running for three days. ... Endy Chavez is not yet running.
No Church this Sunday: One day after suffering a Grade 2 concussion -- Grade 4 is the worst -- in a collision with Marlon Anderson, Ryan Church remained at his home in Viera, Fla., rather than make the hour-long trip to Port St. Lucie. The Mets provided no update in his condition, saying he won't play again until the symptoms of the concussion are gone.
Crash diet: By Saturday night, Anderson realized he had suffered more than a bruised sternum. He figured his chin had collided with Church's head. And that impact affected his jaw. "I took a punch from somebody's head," is how he put it. "Eating last night was the most excruciating thing I've ever done. My jaw's out of whack, I think. Chewing hurt. I'm probably not going to eat normally for a while. I can handle ice cream, but nothing that takes chewing."
Discretion: Billy Wagner's football sometimes finds its way into teammates' hands. He and David Wright tossed it back and forth a few times Sunday morning. Wright stepped back and urged Wagner to "to put something on it." But aware of the spate of injuries that have hit the Mets, Wagner took his ball and went home.
Wright protested facetiously, "With these hands?"
Said Wagner, "Exactly. All I need is for you to break a finger."
Catch of the Day, that's all: Ezekial Carrera, a Minor League left fielder the Mets brought to the big league side on Saturday, made a game-saving catch to take a home run away from Dodgers rookie John Lindsay. Minor Leaguers were discussing the catch with Chavez on Sunday morning. Without jumping, Chavez demonstrated how he made his brilliant catch in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS.
Later, he was asked which catch -- his or Carrera's -- was more difficult. Chavez offered no verbal response, but raised his arms in the Bruce Jenner's pose and walked away.
Up next: With Orlando Hernandez well behind the other starting pitchers, the start-by-start preparation of Mike Pelfrey looms larger in the Mets' thoughts. Pelfrey is to make his second exhibition game start against the Braves on Monday afternoon in Port St. Lucie. Billy Wagner and Aaron Heilman are to follow him. Jo-Jo Reyes is to start for the Braves in the 1:10 p.m. ET game to be carried on MLB.TV and by SNY.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.