NYM@STL: Niese leaves game with elbow discomfort

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- As expected, the Mets plan to place Jon Niese on the disabled list before the start of the season, clearing the way for Dillon Gee to start Opening Day on March 31.

A source acknowledged that Niese will open the season on the DL with the intention of pitching April 6 against the Reds, the first day he will be eligible to return. The delay will allow Niese to make one additional Minor League start in Florida, stretching out his arm in advance of his season debut. The Mets can carry an extra bench player or bullpen arm in the interim.

Niese has not pitched since flying to New York last weekend for an MRI on his sore left elbow, which revealed no structural damage. He was scheduled to toss a weighted ball Thursday in the hopes of throwing a bullpen session Monday, which would put him in line to make two starts in Minor League games before rejoining the team.

With Niese sidelined, the Mets will likely turn to Gee as their Opening Day starter. Though manager Terry Collins has not told Gee of his status, he acknowledged Thursday that it is the most likely scenario. Unlike Bartolo Colon, the other candidate Collins has mentioned by name, Gee is lined up properly for Opening Day.

"We haven't etched anything in stone," Collins said, "but he's probably the lead guy because of his success against the Nationals. No disrespect to Bartolo or anyone else, but this guy's won more games for us in three years than anybody on the staff. So we're kind of leaning that way."

After going 12-11 with a 3.62 ERA last season -- including a 10-5 record and 2.71 ERA from May 30 until the end of the year -- Gee said the assignment would be "obviously a big honor."

"It's what every starter wants," Gee said. "It's cool to pitch on that day, I'm sure."

Ike feeling healthy after return to action

WSH@NYM: Ike launches two-run shot to right in fifth

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- After sitting out nearly three full weeks with a pair of sore calves, Ike Davis returned to Grapefruit League action on Thursday with six defensive innings and three at-bats against the Braves.

Though Davis finished 0-for-3, he came away feeling healthy and encouraged.

"Results, obviously, are big, but they're not that big," Davis said. "I just wanted to get back out there and play. I actually felt pretty good in the box today, hit a couple balls hard. Obviously, I didn't get a hit, but it felt pretty good to get out there and barrel up some balls."

Lucas Duda, Davis' main competition for the Mets' starting first-base job, went 0-for-6 with a strikeout in a series of Minor League at-bats. Duda, who has been nursing a sore left hamstring since the first week of March, ran the bases during drills, but not during the games.

Davis and Duda will both play Friday, with the former serving as designated hitter and the latter manning first. Though the Mets will do their best to evaluate Davis and Duda over their final nine Grapefruit League games, they will also need to rely more on past statistical performance than they originally intended.

"I think it may be the guy who is really red hot at the time, is really swinging the bat good," manager Terry Collins said. "I have no other way to do it except we've got to get them out there. We've got to see as much of them as we can."

Collins takes page out of La Russa's book

ATL@NYM: Wheeler continues spring success vs. Braves

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Intrigued by a recent conversation with former Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, who was famous for batting his pitcher eighth, Terry Collins tried the tact in Thursday's win over the Braves.

With Zack Wheeler, a relatively strong hitter, scheduled to pitch, Collins decided to bat Wheeler eighth and Juan Lagares ninth. The idea was to create additional RBI opportunities for David Wright, who batted third.

Wheeler finished 0-for-1, while Lagares was 1-for-2.

Though the merits of such a strategy are debatable, Collins said he will consider exercising it again during the season -- particularly if his leadoff and two-hole hitters are not producing.

"A lot of it will be determined by how many guys are getting on ahead of David," Collins said. "If we aren't getting anybody on base ahead of him, we've got to come up with another formula to get guys on, and that could be the formula."

Collins added that he would be hesitant to try it without Wheeler or Bartolo Colon, his two best hitting pitchers, on the mound.

"I think we have to be [creative]," Collins said. "If we get where everybody's swinging the bats red hot, we don't have to worry about it. But if we're scuffling scoring runs and our first two guys aren't getting on, we've got to come up with something else that might ignite us, just to see how it works."

Murphy expects to be ready for Opening Day

Murphy looks to have healthy 2014 campaign

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The Mets held Daniel Murphy and David Wright out of the first week of Grapefruit League games in an effort to keep both healthy for April. It didn't work.

Murphy sat out Thursday's game against the Braves with a sore right calf, which has bothered him for most of the week. But the second baseman does not believe he is in jeopardy of missing Opening Day.

"It's just a little sore, so we'll play it safe and try to get it healthy right now," Murphy said. "That's what Spring Training's for. You get your reps in, but you want to be healthy for the season as well."

Murphy, who missed most of last spring with a right intercostal strain, noted that he only received 10 at-bats in three games that March. He went on to have his best season, batting .286 with 13 home runs and 23 stolen bases.

This year, Murphy has already received 14 at-bats in five spring games.

"So I'm way ahead of schedule," he quipped.

Worth noting

Brandon Nimmo, Kevin Plawecki and other members of the 2013 Savannah Sand Gnats received their South Atlantic League championship rings on Thursday. The Sand Gnats won in the playoffs after qualifying as the Sally League's Southern Division first-half champions.