Parnell excited to open season with Mets
By Bret Strelow
Bobby Parnell, confident he could earn a spot in the New York Mets' overhauled bullpen, understood the significance of unfailing relief as he left a meeting with general manager Omar Minaya and manager Jerry Manuel on Tuesday.
Minaya and Manuel, speaking to Parnell inside an office at the team's spring training complex in Port St. Lucie, Fla., informed the East Rowan High School graduate that he'd made the Opening Day roster.
Parnell debuted with the Mets last year as a September call-up, and breaking camp with the major league club is an even bigger honor.
"I had a smile from ear to ear," Parnell said in a telephone interview earlier this week. "It's something I've worked for all my life. Being called up in September was great, but take the September call-up, times it by 10, and that's how hard it is to make it out of spring training."
New York begins the regular season Monday at Cincinnati and faces San Diego a week later in the official home opener at Citi Field, which has replaced Shea Stadium. Parnell was the last Mets pitcher to record an out in the old park, which closed following a 4-2 loss to Florida.
An ineffective bullpen took most of the blame for a late-season collapse that cost New York a playoff berth, but the Mets have added J.J. Putz and closer Francisco Rodriguez to the mix. Parnell, who played with New York last spring and started the 2008 season at Double-A Binghamton, expects to fill a seventh-inning role.
"My confidence coming into this spring was a lot higher, and I knew I had a chance to go after a spot," Parnell said. "It's a dream I've had since I was playing ball at East Rowan. I had to go perform, had to go get hitters out."
A right-hander relying mostly on a fastball and slider, he has a 2.03 ERA in 131/3 spring innings. No Mets pitcher with a better ERA has thrown more than six innings.
Parnell has as many walks (10) as strikeouts, but he improved to 2-0 after taking over for Johan Santana in the fourth inning of a victory against St. Louis on Wednesday.
"I've had a good spring and been able to get groundballs when I've needed them," said Parnell, who has been effective against left-handed and right-handed hitters. "I've got a good defense, and they've been turning double plays behind me."
The guys behind Parnell in the bullpen ó notably Putz and Rodriguez ó give New York better options in the late innings.
Putz, who has helped Parnell develop a split-finger fastball, saved 40 games for Seattle in 2007. Rib and elbow injuries bothered him in 2008, and the Mets plan to use him as a setup man.
Rodriguez set an MLB single-season record by registering 62 saves last year for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
The only relief pitchers still with New York from September, when rosters were expanded, are Brian Stokes and Pedro Feliciano.
"We've got some fresh new faces, some great arms," Parnell said. "We've got great guys on the team and some good personalities in the clubhouse. That takes the edge off it.
"I've become accustomed to being open. You can't be shy or you'll be left behind."
That's no longer a concern for Parnell.
New York wrapped up its stay in Port St. Lucie with a win against Baltimore on Thursday, and the Mets are scheduled to face Boston tonight in an exhibition at Citi Field.
It's hard to imagine a passenger on that flight from Florida being any more excited than Parnell.
"Last year, being in big league camp, I walked in knowing I really didn't have a chance, but it was a learning experience for me to get in so many games and hang out with the guys," Parnell said. "It's been a fun expedition, and I hope I can carry the same success into the season."