McHugh Named IL Pitcher of the Week. Big League Debut Soon after Santana MRI?

We’ve been spending a lot of time writing about off-field affiliation issues with the AAA Buffalo Bisons, so I wanted to return to what’s happening on the field, and focus on the starting pitching. This was the plan even before Monday’s late night news that Johan Santana was going to have a Tuesday MRI to check on his “tight” back.

And now a check on your AAA options to replace Santana, just in case.

On the strength of back-to-back good starts in which he allowed one run over 12.2 innings against the Pawtucket Red Sox, RHP Collin McHugh was named the International League’s Pitcher of the Week. McHugh was particularly sharp in Fenway on Saturday: 7 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K. It was his first walkless outing in 12 tries in the International League. McHugh’s adjustment to AAA is reflected in his strikeout to walk rate which has improved in the International League by month: June 1.9 (15 K/8 BB), July 2.3 (34 K/13 BB) and August 3 (18 BB, 6 K). It so happens that if Santana cannot take his start on Thursday, McHugh would be lined up. He’s generally 88-91 with his fastball, although he can touch 92 with a full arsenal that includes a curveball, a slider, a cutter and a changeup. I get the Dillon Gee comparison, they’re both right-handed pitchers from small schools without big fastballs, picked in 18-21st rounds, who could fit at the back end of a rotation. However, I think McHugh actually has more weapons than Gee did when he arrived in the big leagues.

The Mets would have to add Collin McHugh to the 40-man roster this off-season to protect him from the rule five draft, so there’s a real chance the 2008 18th round pick will be added in-season and make an appearance or three for the big club.

I watched almost all of Jeurys Familia’s start on Sunday. He’s doing better, but still having big-time trouble locating his fastball. It’s that simple. His line on Sunday: 5 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 5 BB, 4 K. His name keeps popping up as someone the Mets might bring up in September since he’s on the 40-man roster, and he has that big arm (94-96 regularly) but he’s just not ready to help an MLB team. The 72 walks in 124 innings (5.2 BB/9) should make that plain.

Monday, was the Chris Schwinden experience: 5 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 8 K, 2 HR. He’s only coming back to the big leagues in an emergency.

RHP Zack Wheeler is scheduled to throw in the Bisons’ day game on Tuesday, while RHP Jenrry Mejia is scheduled for Wednesday. Wheeler, the Mets top prospect is not ready either. He’s walked 7 batters in 15.2 innings in his three AAA starts and struggled to locate his fastball consistently. It’s a special fastball, and he has a hardbreaking slider and curve, but the Mets are not going to promote him to make a spot start after just three AAA appearances.

As for Mejia, his 1.05 ERA as a starter is a little deceptive as his line includes seven unearned runs so his total runs/9 is 2.89. More to the point he as a K/BB of 15/10 in 34.1 innings as a starter. He still needs the AAA innings to refine his location and his secondary offerings as he works his way back from Tommy John surgery and Jerry Manuel abuse.

Taken together, it’s pretty clear that if Santana cannot make his start on Thursday, Collin McHugh should make his big league debut.