Apr 07

April 7.10: Chat Room, Game #2, vs. Marlins, Maine gets the test.

Obviously, the most pressing and important issue surrounding the Mets this season is their rotation beyond Johan Santana, and the first test goes to John Maine, tonight’s starter against the Florida Marlins.

Maine (7-6, 4.43 ERA last season) missed most of last season with a sore right shoulder coming off surgery.

Maine is 3-1 with a 1.05 ERA in four starts against the Marlins in New York, and 5-2 with a 3.12 ERA in 10 career starts.

Maine did not have a good spring with a 7.88 ERA, and manager Jerry Manuel said during his pre-game he’s inclined to have a short leash with him.

After the opener, Manuel said he’d stay with the hot hand.

Line-up vs. Ricky Nolasco (13-9, 5.06 last year):

Alex Cora, SS
Luis Castillo, 2B
David Wright, 3B
Mike Jacobs, 1B
Jason Bay, LF
Gary Matthews, CF
Jeff Francoeur, RF
Rod Barajas, C
John Maine, RP

NOTEBOOK: Manuel said Oliver Perez is able to work out of the pen tonight. … As long as Gary Matthews stays hot, he’ll be playing ahead of Angel Pagan. … Manuel said he’d like to use Jenrry Mejia during this home stand.

Mar 21

March 21.10: The plans for Davis?

Daniel Murphy has not had a good spring, but Ike Davis has been sizzling non-stop. Makes me think that if Murphy’s troubles continue Davis could be with the team earlier than expected.

By all accounts, Davis has the chance to be a special player and the timetable for him is next year. The plans for Murphy appear to be a position switch to second base.

Davis hit a game-tying homer yesterday, his third of the spring. It’s too soon to say Davis, despite hitting .500, is ready to start the season with the Mets. After all, his window has only been 24 at-bats. Davis will start today against the Astros’ Roy Oswalt in Kissimmee.

But next season, along with Jenrry Mejia and Fernando Martinez, the Mets have the potential for an outstanding young core.

FIFTH STARTER AUDITIONS CONTINUE: Nelson Figueroa will start today’s exhibition against the University of Michigan, followed by Fernando Nieve and Hisanori Takahashi, all up for the fifth-starter role.

Another fifth-starter candidate, Jon Niese, will start in the split-squad game vs. Houston.

Here’s today’s lineup vs. Michigan:

Luis Castillo, 2B
Alex Cora, SS
David Wright, 3B
Mike Jacobs, DH
Jason Bay, LF
Gary Matthews, CF
Chris Carter, RF
Daniel Murphy, 1B
Chris Coste, C

Here’s the lineup against Houston:

Jordany Valdespin, 2B
Ruben Tejada, SS
Ike Davis, 1B
Jeff Francoeur, RF
Fernando Martinez, CF
Fernando Tatis, 3B
Frank Catalanotto, LF
Omir Santos, C
Jon Niese, LP

ESCOBAR TO THROW: Kelvim Escobar, who has been shut down this spring with shoulder soreness, said he hopes to begin throwing tomorrow. But, that’s just him talking and it hasn’t been confirmed by the Mets.

Even if Escobar is cleared to throw, there’s no way he could catch up in time for the start of the season. The best guess would be early May.

Escobar was acquired with the idea of being the set-up reliever for Francisco Rodriguez. Right now that’s still an unanswered questions.

NOTES: Reliever Sean Green has a blister on his right big toe (push off leg) and is day-to-day. … It appears lefty reliever Joe Beimel won’t sign with the Mets. His agent, Joe Sroba, told The Post he’s been getting mixed signals from the Mets. What a surprise.

Mar 18

March 18.10: What’s Jerry’s thinking about the fifth starter?

With most managers, at least those with security, their objectives are a balance between winning today and building for the future. That can’t be said for the Mets’ Jerry Manuel, who has joked about the importance of a fast start for the preservation of his job.

There’s truth in humor.

Manuel presided over the late season collapse of 2008 and full season free fall of 2009, and knows the Mets must contend, if not get to the playoffs and win a round, if he’s to return next year. Manuel’s job is on the line, and with it there’s a sense of urgency of being competitive immediately.

Given that, it stands to reason Manuel’s decisions, like that of choosing his fifth starter, will be to give him the best chance of winning now as opposing for building for the future, because quite simply, he has no guarantee of a future.

Manuel’s comments the other day that he’d like to see Hisanori Takahashi start a game this spring suggests strongly he’s being seriously considered for the fifth starter role. Takahashi has been superb in six scoreless innings, giving up two hits and striking out nine.

“What we have seen so far is he really has the ability to pitch and pitch with all his pitches,” Manuel said. “He probably is our sharpest pitcher right now, as far as everything hitting where he wants it to hit.”

If not Takahashi, then perhaps Fernando Nieve. Nelson Figueroa will be sent out to clear waivers, and Jon Niese, who went into spring training the favorite, will be sent out because he has options remaining.

Niese might be the fifth starter down the road, but Manuel doesn’t have the luxury of letting him learn on the job. As long as Takahashi is getting batters out, the Mets have a chance to win, and that means Manuel has a better chance to stick around.