Johan Santana nearing spring debut

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The New York Mets are aiming for Johan Santana to make his Grapefruit League debut in a week, likely against the Detroit Tigers at Tradition Field on March 14.

That would provide Santana three starts to prepare for the regular season, although Mets manager Terry Collins reiterated Wednesday that he doesn't believe it is a priority for the left-hander to pitch on Opening Day against the San Diego Padres.

Santana had been backed off mound work for much of spring training because he lacked shoulder strength.

"We're not worried about April 1," Collins said. "We're worried about 30 starts."

Collins said Santana, who has thrown two light bullpen sessions since resuming mound work, likely will throw another bullpen session, then batting practice before getting into a game in a week.

If the script goes according to plan, Santana's subsequent two starts may be against minor-league competition. That way, if Santana ended up not ready for Opening Day, the Mets could backdate any disabled-list stint into spring training, minimizing his regular-season absence.

On Wednesday, a playful Santana spent time pregame with his countrymen from Venezuela's World Baseball Classic team.

The Mets nixed Santana's participation with Team Venezuela last month, but it turned out the former Cy Young Award winner would have been unable to participate anyway because of his current arm weakness.

"We talked a lot over the winter," Venezuela manager Luis Sojo said. "He and Felix Hernandez, they both wanted to be on the team. We understand the situation. It's unfortunate that they're not here, but you've got to move on and try to do our best.

"I think right now he's very sad. ... In his case it was the last minute that [the Mets] made the decision for him not to participate."