NEW YORK -- Daisuke Matsuzaka grinned Wednesday evening when asked if he would relish an opportunity to close games for the Mets. He appreciated the insinuation -- that manager Terry Collins had enough trust to consider him a late-game option. But with veteran closers Kyle Farnsworth and Jose Valverde on the roster, Matsuzaka said he did "not see that happening in the near future."
One day later, Collins surprised Matsuzaka with the first save opportunity of his career. With Farnsworth unavailable after appearing in three of the Mets' previous four games, Collins called down to Matsuzaka, who breezed through a 1-2-3 ninth to finish off a 4-1 win over the Cardinals.
"It couldn't have worked out better," Collins said. "I just wanted to get him used to it, because I don't know what's going to happen."
Farnsworth is still the Mets' closer, and will pitch most days when he is available. But because he is 38 years old, Collins understands the reality that there will be many nights when he is less than 100 percent.
With Valverde struggling and most of the Mets' other closer candidates -- Vic Black chief among them -- in the Minors, that means potential opportunities for Matsuzaka.
Prior to last weekend, Matsuzaka had pitched in relief just once in his big league career. He earned a single save with the Seibu Lions in Japan, otherwise spending most of his life as a starting pitcher.
The Mets started him out that way at Triple-A Las Vegas this season, but, needing bullpen help, converted Matsuzaka to relief last week. All he has done since is allow one run in 5 1/3 innings, striking out eight and walking two. If he was not thrilled with the role before, he rapidly seems to be growing comfortable in it.
"I wouldn't say I've enjoyed my time out of the bullpen," Matsuzaka said. "I'm still trying to figure things out by seeing how the game progresses and seeing where I might be called upon. I just have too much on my plate right now to enjoy the process."
Abreu gets first outfield start in two years
NEW YORK -- Bobby Abreu ran out of the dugout Thursday afternoon as a starting outfielder in the big leagues for the first time in two years.
In an effort to keep Abreu fresh, Mets manager Terry Collins started the veteran in right field, giving Curtis Granderson a routine day of rest.
"I still think as we go down the road here, he's going to be a huge bat for us," Collins said of Abreu, who made his season debut as a pinch-hitter Tuesday night. "I just wanted to get him some at-bats. He had some consistent at-bats in [Triple-A Las] Vegas and that's how he got here. He showed he can still hit."
All Abreu did at Vegas was hit .395 with a 1.068 OPS in 15 games, proving there is still some thump in a bat that produced two All-Star seasons and one Silver Slugger over 17 years with the Astros, Phillies, Yankees, Angels and Dodgers. The Mets do not expect Abreu to be the same type of player that he was then, particularly in the field, but they do expect him to hit. To that end, Collins hopes to give Abreu roughly one outfield start per week to keep his bat fresh.
"He's 40 years old," Collins said. "He probably doesn't move like he once did. I'm sure he can still throw. He's never had arm issues."
The lineup change temporarily forced first baseman Lucas Duda into the cleanup spot, a move that Collins had been trying to avoid. That should change back Friday.
As for Granderson, his rest came one day after snapping a career-long 0-for-22 funk at the plate, finishing 1-for-3. Collins was particularly impressed with the 12-pitch walk that Granderson drew in the seventh inning against left-hander Randy Choate.
"I don't think Curtis Granderson is afraid of anything," Collins said. "I don't think he needs a day to clear his head. His mentality is not like that. This guy wants to play, loves to play.
"Curtis isn't afraid to fail. He's been in this market. He knows what it's like. He knows if you don't perform, people let you know it. He doesn't let it affect him, so he's a pretty easy guy to manage."