The futures of the Mets and Nationals will be on display Sunday in Viera. Highly regarded pitching prospect Matt Harvey opposes already established Stephen Strasburg, while Dillon Gee stays behind at the Mets' spring-training complex to pitch in a minor league game. Gee is avoiding Washington because he is scheduled to face the Nats in Game 5 of the regular season, on April 10 at Citi Field. Gee already has faced Washington twice in Grapefruit League play. Strasburg, the Nats' Opening Day starter, will face the Mets for a second straight Grapefruit League appearance. His second start of the regular season appears to line up opposite Johan Santana on April 11, in Game 6 of the season.
Sunday's news reports:
• Sandy Alderson outlined the state of center field for the Mets this way: Andres Torres is the Mets' starting center fielder on Opening Day if his left calf strain allows, but it's "touch and go" whether the former San Francisco Giant will avoid the disabled list. The next consideration for center field would be Scott Hairston, who plans to take batting practice Sunday for the first time since getting shut down with a strained left oblique. If Torres and Hairston are not ready for the April 5 opener against the Atlanta Braves at Citi Field, Kirk Nieuwenhuis -- who already is on the 40-man roster and has Triple-A experience -- is next on the list. Nieuwenhuis has been slowed by his own oblique injury, but Alderson expected him to play in minor league games by midweek. If Torres, Hairston and Nieuwenhuis all are unavailable, the GM indicated the Mets still would carry a bona fide center fielder and not primarily rely on the likes of Mike Baxter, Adam Loewen or middle infielder Jordany Valdespin, who is scheduled to start in center Sunday against the Nats. So that means the next option -- No. 4 -- is Matt den Dekker, who only has a half-season of Double-A experience. Read more in the Star-Ledger, Times, Post, Daily News, Record and Newsday.
• Mike Pelfrey's velocity was solid while allowing five runs in six innings and Frank Francisco blew the save as the Mets tied the St. Louis Cardinals, 6-6, in 10 innings Saturday at Digital Domain Park. Ike Davis had an opposite-field three-run homer, while Lucas Duda had a mammoth blast to center. Terry Collins noted Davis' homer probably would have stayed in the ballpark under the old Citi Field dimensions, but would be a homer with the revised dimensions. Read more on Pelfrey's performance in the Daily News, Times, Record, Star-Ledger, Post and Newsday. Read more on Davis' homer in Newsday.
• Davis did a Q&A with Steve Serby in the Post. It included:
Q: How scary was it when you learned you had Valley Fever (a lung infection)?
A: The worst-case scenario was I’d have to stay home and miss the season, which I don’t want to do. It’s better than a lot of people’s alternatives that they get.
Q: Your lung could have collapsed and you would have been sidelined for a second straight season, which would have been difficult on you.
A: Knowing you’ll at least be alive is a good thing.
• Baxter, who is outplaying Loewen for the lefty outfield bat off the bench, sits down for a Q&A with Andy McCullough in the Star-Ledger. The dialogue centers on Baxter playing a season at Columbia, then transferring to Vanderbilt. "When I wasn’t recruited that much, I was kind of like, 'I better make sure I focus on academics, and put myself in the best situation I can for life after college,'" Baxter told McCullough. "After one year there (at Columbia, where he hit .368), I just felt like I needed to take advantage of the opportunity, and kind of maximize whatever years I had left. I wasn’t even going to try to play professionally. It was just to try to get more out of playing collegiately."
As for not being recruited much out of Archbishop Molloy in Queens, from which he graduated in 2002, Baxter said: "I was a skinny little slap-hitting shortstop who couldn’t really play shortstop. I wasn’t really a great player, to be honest with you. I could hit a little bit, but there wasn’t really any power behind it. That’s really it. I think I was recruited to the level I was at in high school. But I think it was fair."
• David Wright could begin Grapefruit League play as soon as Tuesday.
• Cory Vaughn homered for the third time in five Double-A spring-training games, but Binghamton lost to Springfield, 13-6. Read the minor league recap here.
• Ken Davidoff in Newsday (and soon to be of the Post) quotes statistical analyst John Dewan as saying the Mets' fielding got better with the defection of Jose Reyes to the Miami Marlins. Writes Davidoff:
Reyes cost the Mets 13 runs with his glove last year; replacement Ruben Tejada is projected to be responsible for only one run against the Mets' ledger. The best defensive player in New York ? That's easy. Yankees left fielder Brett Gardner saved 23 runs last year. Given that 10 runs equals a win or loss, depending on which side of the ledger, that means Gardner helped the Yankees win two-plus games before he even picked up his bat.
• D.J. Carrasco, whom pitching coach Dan Warthen hoped would appear in a minor league game Sunday, will be unable to do so. Carrasco still has discomfort in his right ankle. He is expected to open the season on the disabled list. Carrasco is owed a guaranteed $1.2 million this season, in Year 2 of his deal.
• Collins shares with Andrew Keh in the Times his old-school method for tracking spring-training at-bats. The manager uses a yellow legal pad. He estimates players need 50 to 60 at-bats to be sharp for Opening Day. Writes Keh:
The list, essentially, is a spreadsheet that a basic computer program could accomplish with greater ease and efficiency. But Collins seemed incredulous when asked why he would not log such notes on a computer or just track the statistics online. “A computer?” Collins said. “Why would I want to use a computer?” Collins, 62, a baseball lifer, does not quite remember when he started taking these notes, only that it was a long time ago. With some thought, he surmised that it must have just been one of the many habits he absorbed in the early 1990s while coaching with the Pittsburgh Pirates and watching his mentor, Jim Leyland, go about his day.
• McCullough profiles R.A. Dickey, whose autobiography hit bookstores Thursday. Writes McCullough in the Star-Ledger:
This is R.A. Dickey’s time, the moment of his entrance into the national sporting consciousness. He arrived at the Palm City Grill on St. Lucie West Boulevard after an off day filled with interviews. He spent the morning speaking to ESPN cameras, then flinging knuckleballs at Jeremy Schaap. His publisher, Penguin, has sold an excerpt of his book, “Wherever I Wind Up,” to Sports Illustrated, the pitcher said. R.A. Dickey understands the reason he has gained prominence as a writer is his competence as a pitcher. He led the Mets’ starting rotation with a 3.08 ERA the past two seasons. Manager Terry Collins considers him ballast for the rotation.
TRIVIA: Baxter played his freshman season at Columbia before transferring to Vanderbilt. Name two other players in major league camp who played for Southeastern Conference schools.
Saturday's answer: Hairston's father Jerry Sr., grandfather Sam and brother Jerry Jr. all have major league games on their résumés. Hairston's uncle John also played in the big leagues, for the Chicago Cubs in 1969. They are one of a trio of three-generation families in the majors. The others: the Boones and Bells.