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PLAYER TO WATCH
Where will the power come from? That was the question facing the Mets after their home run total cratered from 172 in 2008 to 95 in '09 because of injuries, off years and an expansive new ballpark. The answer, in part, was the signing of free-agent leftfielder Jason Bay, whose 36 homers for Boston last season were 24 more than any Met had. In addition, the club expects Carlos Beltran to return from knee surgery in May, David Wright to get back to socking 30 homers after hitting only 10 last year and everyone to benefit from the centerfield fence at Citi Field being lowered from 16 feet to eight. One more thing: added pop from 25-year-old first baseman Daniel Murphy.
"He's going to surprise a lot of people this year with some big numbers," hitting coach Howard Johnson says. Murphy, who hit a total of only 26 homers over three minor league seasons, came up as a gap-to-gap hitter and went deep 12 times in 508 at bats with New York last year. But, Johnson says, if Murphy pulls the ball more, some of his hits that went for doubles (38 in '09) will turn into dingers. "He's got the potential to double his [home run] total," says Johnson.
Murphy, who started last season in leftfield before relocating to first after Carlos Delgado went on the DL, is out to prove that he's more than a placeholder for top prospect Ike Davis. "Last year was a kind of crash course," says Murphy. "This year I'll be ready for everything that comes my way."
Percentage of pitches thrown to Mets hitters that were fastballs in 2009, the highest in the majors. There was no great peril in challenging New York's lineup. While the Mets led the league in batting (.270), they had the NL's fifth-worst slugging percentage (.394).
The Mets have a number of options for their fifth starter. One who got very little attention during the spring was knuckleballer R.A. Dickey; New York reassigned him last month to minor league camp. Dickey spent the last two seasons throwing in low-leverage relief and making spot starts for the Mariners and the Twins. A former first-round pick who was born without an ulnar collateral ligament, he started using a knuckler full time in 2005 in an effort to salvage his career. Last year with Minnesota, Dickey had his lowest ERA (4.62) and highest strikeout rate (5.9 K's per nine innings) since he started using the pitch. Like most knuckleballers, he is a fly ball pitcher, making him a good fit for the vast expanses of Citi Field. At 35, Dickey is old for most players, but he's a baby in knuckleball years.