Without throwing a pitch in New York Mets camp, Frank Francisco may have already lost his grip on the closer's job.
The Mets sounded committed to Francisco all offseason, calling him their closer even while they took hard looks at Brian Wilson, Jose Valverde and other established ninth-inning men on the open market. But general manager Sandy Alderson recently admitted that he feared all along Francisco would not be ready to pitch this spring following surgery to remove a bone spur from his right elbow.
That is exactly the case at Mets camp, where Francisco reported with inflammation in his elbow. As a result, manager Terry Collins asked Bobby Parnell to prepare to take the closer's role in the event that Francisco cannot pitch on Opening Day.
"It's not alarming, only in the sense that I suspected this might be the case for some time following his offseason," Alderson said. "I'm disappointed, but unfortunately this is not unexpected."
Francisco was unable to adhere to his rehab program over the winter due to personal issues, including a death in the family. He got a late start to his rehab because doctors did not discover the bone spur until December.
Whatever the timetable, Parnell now has a clear shot at the closer's role he has coveted for years. Though he struggled during ninth innings of an otherwise successful season in 2012, Parnell believes he has the experience necessary to thrive this time around.
"(Collins) just coming out and saying it is going to help me a lot get better in the future," Parnell said. "Sometimes it's kind of wishy-washy, and him coming out and saying it bluntly helps a lot."