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Saturday, March 24, 2012
Mets morning briefing 3.24.12

By Adam Rubin

Mike Pelfrey faces the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday, and attempts to bounce back from a woeful first portion of the Grapefruit League season that included allowing eight runs in 2 2/3 innings against the Houston Astros in his most-recent start. Jon Rauch, Frank Francisco, Bobby Parnell , Josh Edgin and Daniel Herrera also are scheduled to pitch for the Mets. Lance Lynn starts for St. Louis. Lynn is replacing injured Chris Carpenter in the Cards' rotation.

Saturday's news reports:

• With the Mets' outfield depth depleted by injuries to Andres Torres (calf) and Scott Hairston (oblique) as well as to Kirk Nieuwenhuis (oblique) in minor league camp, Matt den Dekker returned to major league camp. Den Dekker, a deft-fielding center fielder who was selected in the fifth round in 2010 out of the University of Florida, had been dispatched to the minor league side March 15, in the first round of cuts. Terry Collins called den Dekker a "legitimate consideration" for the Opening Day roster, but that likely would require both Torres and Hairston being unavailable and perhaps other dominoes falling as well.

Mike Baxter received Friday's start in center field as the Mets lost to the Atlanta Braves, 9-4. Baxter went 2-for-2 with a walk and two RBIs and has produced more than Adam Loewen, the competition for the backup lefty-hitting outfield role. Baxter is now hitting .343 in Grapefruit League play, while Loewen is hitting .242 and has struck out 17 times in 33 at-bats.

Jon Niese, meanwhile, allowed four runs in four innings in the loss to the Braves, including consecutive triples to open the bottom of the first inning. Read more in the Daily NewsPost and Times.

D.J. Carrasco (twisted right ankle) tells Anthony DiComo on the Mets' web site that it does not seem likely he will be ready for Opening Day because he is having trouble fielding during drills. He said he had not shared that issue with trainer Ray Ramirez or pitching coach Dan Warthen. Warthen, unaware, expressed hope Carrasco could be in a minor league game Sunday. "I still can't field my position yet," Carrasco said. "You've got to be able to go 100 percent [on] everything, not just throwing."

Miguel Batista, despite allowing four runs in two innings Friday against the Braves, appears the logical alternative to Carrasco, joining a bullpen that seemingly also would include Francisco, Rauch, Ramon Ramirez, Manny Acosta, Parnell and the lefty fill-in for Tim Byrdak. Under the new collective bargaining agreement, Batista is likely to learn his fate five days before Opening Day. That is when the Mets would owe Batista a $100,000 retention bonus if they do not inform him he has made the major league squad and want to keep him in the minors. Collins said Chris Schwinden would be another consideration for that final bullpen spot, although that appears far less likely than Batista. Read more in the Star-Ledger.

• Byrdak indicated his first day throwing on flat ground since March 13 surgery to repair torn meniscus cartilage in his left knee "went great." Byrdak is expected to open the season on the disabled list, but will not miss much more time after that.

• Hitting coach Dave Hudgens tells Andy McCullough in the Star-Ledger that his goal for Ruben Tejada is to be like Placido Polanco. Tejada, however, may never be able to hit at that level average-wise to justify that comparison. Writes McCullough:

In his 14-season career, Polanco never generated much power, but he supplied value as an excellent fielder and a skilled batter with a .301 career average and .346 on-base percentage. "That’s what I told him -- he needs to be that kind of player," Hudgens said. "In order to separate himself from the competition, he needs to get on base."

• The Mets dispatched infielders Josh Satin and Omar Quintanilla and right-hander Fernando Cabrera to minor league camp Friday morning. With den Dekker's official return, there are now 37 players in major league camp.

Mike Kerwick in the Record looks at No. 1 catcher Josh Thole. Thole again spent time during the offseason in Dallas, where Mets minor league catching coordinator Bob Natal resides. Thole studied video during the winter of top catchers and noticed that whatever their catching style, they had the same set position pitch by pitch. Thole has  resolved to do the same, rather than set up different ways during a game.

• With David Wright and other injured Mets pulling it close for Opening Day, Anthony Rieber in Newsday looks at how many at-bats a player ideally needs to get ready for the season. Wright has yet to play in an exhibition game because of an abdominal muscle tear, although he could enter the lineup after the weekend. Writes Rieber:

Is it necessary for veteran players to get a specific number of at-bats in spring training to get ready for the season? "I don't know if there's a specific number," said Jason Bay , who is batting .240 with no home runs or RBIs in 25 at-bats. "Everyone might be different. I'd say 50, 60 ABs, somewhere around there. I think more important is the last week. You try to take that last week into the regular season. The first three weeks of spring training, it's kind of getting your legs under you."

Richard Sandomir in the Times tells the story of The Queens Tribune "reporting" that Rep. Gary Ackerman would buy a controlling interest in the Mets. (Spoiler alert: It was an early April fools joke.)

• Former Mets GM Jim Duquette will appear part time on Mets radio broadcasts this season, including doing a couple of innings of play-by-play when part of the broadcast team. Duquette will be particularly needed on September weekends, when newly hired Josh Lewin has San Diego Chargers responsibilities.

Jason Bay, who is hitting .240 with eight strikeouts in 25 at-bats in Grapefruit League play, continues to resolve not to fiddle with his swing. In the past, making constant adjustments prompted him to eventually drift far from the swing that made him successful with the Pittsburgh Pirates. “There are times when you feel good and then you don’t and say, ‘Here’s what I need to change.’ But don’t change anything -- it’s part of the process," Bay told Mike Puma in the Post. "I’ve had to fight that a little bit, but it’s kind of human nature.”

Michael Salfino in the Journal outlines the reason for the Mets' revamped bullpen, which includes newcomers Francisco, Rauch and Ramirez as the three primary right-handed weapons. Writes Salfino:

Relievers not only need to prevent runs of their own but also must limit the percentage of inherited base runners that score. The Mets ranked 28th in ERA and 23rd in stranding inherited runners in 2011. That combined ranking was 28th of all the MLB 30 teams, ahead of only the Tigers and Astros. So it's no surprise that the Mets sought a dramatic overhaul this offseason.

• Left-handed reliever C.J. Nitkowski confirmed on Twitter that the Mets will not be signing him. Tweeted Nitkowski, who had auditioned with the Mets earlier in camp: "My record as NYM all-time ERA leader will remain intact. Beyond grateful for opp to throw for them in PSL. Positive experience but no deal." Nitkowski pitched briefly for the Mets in 2001, tossing 5 2/3 scoreless innings.

TRIVIA: The grandfather of which Met also played in the major leagues?

Friday's answer: The last Met to finish in the top five in National League MVP balloting was David Wright, who placed fourth in 2007. Jimmy Rollins edged Matt Holliday for the award that year, after backing up his "Team to Beat" prediction. Prince Fielder finished third.