KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Manager Terry Collins said that he will announce his Opening Day starter "in the next couple of days," making official what has already been apparent for at least a week.
Because Johan Santana has not thrown off a mound since mid-February, left-hander Jon Niese will earn his first career Opening Day assignment. The Mets had no other obvious candidates, with Matt Harvey yet to pitch a full season in the big leagues and Shaun Marcum and Dillon Gee both coming off injury-shortened seasons.
Niese, by contrast, is fresh off his best year as a big leaguer, having set career bests in victories (13), innings (190 1/3), strikeouts (155) and ERA (3.40). He also posted the best walk rate and strikeout-to-walk ratio of his career.
"It'd be great," Niese said when asked last week about the potential assignment. "It would be an honor. It's great that the Mets have put their trust in me."
The Mets still have no timetable for the return of Santana, who has been extending the distance of his long-toss program in Port St. Lucie, but there are simply not enough days left for him to prepare for Opening Day.
"His arm still feels better, so he's continuing to back up," Collins said. "As his throwing program gets better, he increases his distance, and he gets closer to the mound."
Marcum to miss next start with shoulder impingement
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The closer the Mets edge toward Opening Day, the longer their injury report seems to grow.
The latest to sustain an injury is starter Shaun Marcum, who on Tuesday received a cortisone shot to combat an impingement in his right shoulder.
Manager Terry Collins downplayed the seriousness of the injury, calling it something Marcum experiences "every spring, pretty much."
Collins added that he expects the right-hander to make his final Grapefruit League start next week.
"He just wanted to get it cleaned up and get it done early so he could take a couple of extra days now," Collins said, "and he can go into his last start in the spring and extend himself a little bit."
Jeremy Hefner will start on Thursday in Marcum's place.
Marcum came to the Mets with a history of arm trouble, including a bout of shoulder stiffness last spring and an episode of elbow tightness that cost him two months last summer. He made his Grapefruit League debut on Feb. 23, then skipped a turn in the rotation to concentrate on his long-toss program. He last pitched on March 16, giving up two runs in four innings.
If Marcum misses any significant time, the Mets could face some serious rotation issues. Hefner is already filling in for Johan Santana, who is a lock to miss Opening Day. Jenrry Mejia is battling tendinitis in his forearm, leaving left-hander Aaron Laffey as the obvious choice to replace Marcum.
Even before learning of Marcum's injury, the Mets planned to begin stretching Laffey out as a starter; he will now make his rotation debut on Sunday.
In addition to Marcum and Santana, other Mets questionable for Opening Day include third baseman David Wright, second baseman Daniel Murphy and closer Frank Francisco.
Gee rebounds to give strong finish to shaky start
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Perhaps Dillon Gee's brief mound nightmare has come to an end. Saying that he "felt normal again," the right-hander rebounded from another rough beginning on Wednesday to close with two scoreless innings, striking out the final three batters he faced.
"All I needed to look for was that last inning -- that was me," Gee said. "I was aggressive. My tempo was better. The ball was coming out great. Something clicked that last inning, and I felt like my old self."
From the first pitch of his previous outing, against the Tigers, through the second inning on Wednesday, Gee gave up 11 runs in four innings, walking five batters, hitting two and throwing three wild pitches. Manager Terry Collins said last week that Gee was struggling to find his release point, something that usually comes naturally to him.
But with two clean innings now fresh in his memory, Gee does not foresee any similar problems arising.
"I didn't really know until that last inning hit me what I should feel," he said. "The first couple of innings were tentative, feeling for things, and that's just not me. I'm not getting caught up in all this. I know I've just got to keep working, and that last inning was definitely something to build off of."
Mets to begin season with multiple lefties in 'pen
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The Mets plan to carry multiple left-handers in their Opening Day bullpen, manager Terry Collins said on Wednesday, significantly increasing Pedro Feliciano's chances of making the team.
Left-hander Josh Edgin had been a roster lock since the early days of Spring Training, based on his performance last summer and his status on the 40-man roster. But despite Collins' preference for a second lefty in the bullpen, there were never any guarantees that the Mets would be able to carry one.
Apparently, they will find a way. Mainly because of the glut of left-handed sluggers in the National League East, Collins said the team "most likely" will carry multiple lefties on Opening Day.
"I want two lefties in the 'pen due to the fact there's some key guys you've got to get out in some big situations, and they're left-handed," Collins said.
The leading candidate to join Edgin appears to be Feliciano, who has enjoyed a successful spring despite his velocity topping out in the low to mid-80s. If Feliciano falters, next in line is Robert Carson, who has shown flashes of excellence this spring and is already on the 40-man. Scott Rice, the other lefty reliever in camp, remains a long-shot.
The presence of a second lefty will come at the expense of a right-handed reliever -- most likely Jeurys Familia. With 11 strikeouts over 8 2/3 spring innings, submariner Greg Burke is on track to beat Familia for the final spot in the bullpen.