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Mets pitchers get to face metal bats

Ah, spring training. The "POP!" of gloves, the "PING!" of bats.

Ping?That's right. The Korean National team was allowed to use aluminum bats in an exhibition game against the New York Mets Wednesday. Major league teams are not allowed to use aluminum bats, which are popular in college and Little League.

Mets manager Bobby Valentine doesn't care what kind of bats the Koreans use.

"I don't think there's any doubt that this team won't get many hits," Valentine said as he perused a scouting report. "They shouldn't. They have to fill in a lot of good hitters to be the kind of team that's going to win the Asian tournament."

Mets Korean pitcher Jae-Weong Seo, who is slated to pitch against his former teammates in another exhibition on Thursday, said hitters are definitely more fearsome when wielding aluminum.

"You can tell the type of hit with a wooden bat's crack," Seo said through an interpreter. "With the aluminum, you can't tell if it's a solid hit or not. It could be a bloop single or a home run - same sound."

The Korean team knows Seo, but they may not recognize his pitches. The 20-year-old right-hander has added something to his arsenal of pitches during spring training.

"I'm going to throw in some forkballs and change-ups," Seo said.

Valentine planned to use six pitchers in each of the games against the Koreans.

"I hope the only cutoffs and relays we work on are in practice," Valentine said.

At Fort Myers, Fla., Jeff Frye's knee punctuated Boston's spring training camp with a big, loud pop.

In the middle of a rundown drill, the second baseman fell to the ground, his left knee apparently damaged.

"I heard something pop," said Darren Bragg, the runner on the play. "It definitely didn't sound good. It definitely didn't look good."

Frye, coming off his best season and signed to a $7 million, three-year contract, was driven off the field on a golf cart. About a half hour later, he left the clubhouse on crutches and was driven away to undergo X-rays and an MRI.

"I saw him go down and grimace. He didn't get right back up," manager Jimy Williams said. "I knew it wasn't good."

John Valentin began last season as the second baseman but was shifted to third, where Williams wants to keep him.

"It's going to be a great loss," Mo Vaughn said. "We were really looking forward to him getting on base for us and starting the whole thing off."

In Tampa Fla., New York Yankees right-hander Hideki Irabu pitched two hitless innings in an intrasquad game Tuesday, using a two-seam fastball that he hopes will keep his home-run totals down from last year.

"I definitely want to use it more because last year there were a lot of home runs hit off me," Irabu said through an interpreter.

Although struggling with his curveball, Irabu threw 17 of 31 pitches for strikes and didn't allow a hit or a run to a lineup of Yankees regulars.

"I was a little wild today," said Irabu, a disappointment for the Yankees last season after coming over from Japan. "I'm trying to be very cautious when I throw the curveball. The pitching coach (Mel Stottlemyre) spoke to me about it."

Irabu gave up two walks and struck out none.

Andy Pettitte also went two innings, allowing one run and three hits. The lefty, who had experienced back pain late last season, sailed through his 34- pitch, 22-strike performance.

"My back felt good, and my arm feels great," said Pettitte, who struck out two and walked none.

David Cone's next hurdle following offseason shoulder surgery comes Wednesday when the Yankees play another intrasquad game.

With spring training well under way, Cuban defector Orlando Her-nandez is getting anxious about signing a major league contract.