March 18 -- Port St. Lucie

11:06 AM

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Watched Jon Niese pitch yesterday against the Braves at Disney, and he looked basically fine, but the fact that he walked the opposing pitcher in a spring training game clearly gnawed at his manager, who mentioned several times in his postgame that Niese's command wasn't "where it needs to be right now."

Livan Hernandez goes today against Braves mega-prospect Tommy Hanson here in the PSL. The prevailing feeling around this place is that Livan has the inside track on the fifth starter's spot, and really it makes sense when you think about it. Unless Niese just went off and had a monster spring and clearly won the spot, you'd keep the reliable (if unspectactular) veteran and send Niese to Triple-A to keep working at it. If you keep Niese on the team, you lose Hernandez -- he goes somewhere else, and you deplete your inventory. If you keep Hernandez, you get to keep Niese and stash him at Triple-A for a rainy day.

The Twins last year kept Hernandez on their team until Francisco Liriano was ready to return from injury, then they traded him. For whatever it's worth, Twins people I've talked to mention that Hernandez was a good guy to have on last year's team. He's personable and well liked, and there's some sentiment around that organization that the Twins' young pitchers benefited from having a guy like him around and watching the way he went about his business.

I've known Livan since 1996, and seeing him this morning I thought he looked good, physically, for Livan. He'll never be trim, but I've seen him a lot fatter than he is right now. And while his fastball might not be able to break glass, he certainly knows how to pitch.

One interesting note from Niese yesterday: Apparently, Sandy Koufax made his annual visit to Mets camp recently and worked with Niese. Niese said the big lesson was about "the mentality of my curveball -- just basically throwing it as hard as I can and not babying it." Koufax's message was to use the same arm speed and arm action on the off-speed pitches as you do on the fastball and trust the grip to take care of the change in speeds. Sounds simple, but with everything a pitcher has to think about on the mound, having a guy like Koufax crystallize something like that for you has to be a big help.

In other news, Daniel Murphy is a beast. Kid is hitting long line drives off the center-field wall in mid-March, hitting .400 for the spring. Having him in the lineup every day might be a good thing.

And how good did JJ Putz look last night in that WBC game against Puerto Rico? Nasty, nasty stuff. Mets fans have reason to feel optimistic. If they're so inclined. Which they are generally and justifiably not.

More later, I promise.

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