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Mussering Up Strength

NEW YORK–The stress of minor league baseball can undermine a career, or at least a season.

See what it did to lefthander Neal Musser, the 22-year-old who the Mets thought had begun to assert himself last year. Musser developed a stress fracture in his right foot, and it became a stumbling block.

The first player the Mets selected in the 1999 draft–he was chosen in the second round–Musser had made steady progress in his first three seasons as a professional. The club thought he might reach Double-A by the end of last summer.

The fracture changed all that. Musser twice was shut down and pitched just 32 innings, albeit with good results. He developed bad mechanics while trying to pitch through the pain in his foot, and his progress slowed. He had a 0.69 ERA in 13 innings with short-season Brooklyn and went 2-0, 1.42 in 19 innings with high Class A St. Lucie.

"You really don’t know what causes a stress fracture," director of minor league operations Kevin Morgan said. "So it’s a difficult injury to deal with. In Neal’s case we think it might have been a previous injury that just decided to act up last year. But we don’t know. It took a while to get him healed. But now it looks like he is, and his development has resumed."

Musser began this season with St. Lucie and was 3-0, 4.67 in 35 innings, with 41 hits allowed, including five homers. The organization promoted him for an emergency start at Double-A Binghamton and he surrendered two runs on five hits in seven innings in a tough-luck loss against Harrisburg. His work was good enough to earn a spot on the roster.

"The Arizona Fall League and spring training helped him a lot," Morgan said. "And (St. Lucie pitching coach) Dan Warthen was able to keep the mechanical things from interfering. That was key."


• Righthander Wayne Ough (seven innings) and lefthander Mike Cox (two) combined to throw a no-hitter for St. Lucie against Tampa. The St. Lucie rotation got a little older shortly thereafter, with 40-year-old David Cone and 42-year-old John Franco making rehab starts the next two nights.

• The Mets expected Triple-A Norfolk shortstop Jose Reyes to miss at least two weeks because of a hamstring pull. He was batting .257-0-8 with eight extra-base hits and 19 stolen bases in 109 at-bats.

• Previous organization report: Ron Acuna

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