Mar 22

March 22.10: Questions down the stretch.

When pitchers and catchers reported Feb. 18, I posted five key questions the Mets faced heading into spring training. With two weeks remaining, there are issues with four of those five concerns.

Question: What is this team’s attitude?
Assessment: By all accounts, it is good and positive. The Mets aren’t rolling through their spring schedule, but there have been no issues of lack of hustle and laziness. David Wright said the Mets need to use last year’s embarrassment as a motivator. Jason Bay is fitting in and Jeff Francoeur has been a positive influence. So far, so good, but they haven’t played any games that count yet.

Question: How healthy is this team?
Assessment: Injuries sabotaged the 2009 season, and already two of the team’s core will open the season on the disabled list and likely won’t be ready until May. Carlos Beltran’s knee is responding well to rehab and Jose Reyes’ hamstring feels good. However, Reyes’ issue is his thyroid and one wonders how that will be with the riggers of the season. Reliever Kelvim Escobar, penciled in as a set-up man, has missed the entire spring with shoulder pain. There have been no problems physically with Francoeur, Oliver Perez, Johan Santana and John Maine, all with recent surgery on their resume.

Question: What is the status of the three pitching questions, Mike Pelfrey, Oliver Perez and John Maine?
Assessment: These three guys represent the season’s key. If they do well, then the Mets can contend. The Mets didn’t make any rotation additions this winter because they believe in the upside of these three. It has been an up-and-down spring for all three, but Perez has been refreshingly positive. However, none have performed to where the Mets can say they are in the clear. The concerns remain.

Question: Who is fifth starter?
Assessment: Fernando Nieve, Jon Niese, Nelson Figueroa and Hisanori Takahashi are in the mix. Takahashi has looked the best, but he hasn’t pitched enough to be stretched out. Niese has options remaining, so they could do the safe thing and send him out and protect someone else. Jerry Manuel said he’ll use a fifth starter from the start, so there will be no hiding him with the off-days in April. This is the biggest decision remaining in camp.

Question: What is the make-up of the bullpen?
Assessment: The biggest sub-question is whether Jenrry Mejia goes north in the pen and what role he would have. With his stuff, he’s a closer in waiting, which makes me think eighth-inning set-up. But, will the Mets expose him to that or put him in a low-pressure role. To me, that’s defeatist thinking. If you’re afraid to use him, then why carry him? Losing Escobar went a large part in opening the door for Mejia. So has, the general ineffectiveness of the relievers. If Takahashi doesn’t make it in the rotation, it could be him. Any of the losers for the fifth-starter could also fit as the long man. Bobby Parnell is still around, but he might be a casualty if they keep Takahashi in the pen. Kiko Calero and Ryota Igarashi will make the roster. Pedro Feliciano is still the only lefty of substance.

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 19

March 19.10: Looking at the pen.

Jerry Manuel said if prospect Jenrry Mejia makes the roster coming out of spring training, it won’t be in the set-up role but in low pressure situations.

If that’s the case, then isn’t he better off in the minor leagues pitching in the role the Mets envision for him immediately?

I just see the Mets doing the same yanking around with him they did with Bobby Parnell. Speaking of Parnell, his spot on the roster could be in jeopardy if fifth-starter candidate Hisanori Takahashi makes it as a reliever.

Takahashi will start the March 27 game against Washington. He has worked 8 1/3 scoreless innings in three appearances in competing with Jon Niese and Fernando Nieve for the fifth-starter role. The more I think of Takahashi as a fifth starter, the more I wonder. His numbers are good, but he hasn’t exactly been stretched out this spring and one start won’t do it, thereby making him more suitable for the bullpen.

PEN NOTES: Kiko Calero and Ryota Igarashi are in good shape as far as making the roster. … Pedro Feliciano was hit on the right knee by a grounder and left last night’s game. Feliciano was able to throw warm-ups after the injury and is expected to be fine. … Either Sean Green or Parnell could also be in trouble if the Mets sign left-hander Joe Beimel.

LIKING JACOBS: Manuel likes Mike Jacobs as a back-up first baseman and pinch hitter. The word is he’s been better than expected defensively. Jacobs has two homers this spring.

MANUEL ENDORSES CORA: After last night’s game Manuel endorsed Alex Cora over Ruben Tejada to play shortstop while Jose Reyes is down. That’s not to say Tejada will automatically be ticketed to the minor leagues.

Mar 16

March 16.10: Where will F-Mart be Opening Day?

It would be funny if it weren’t so sad. When the topic was Fernando Martinez on Monday, GM Omar Minaya said the young centerfielder would not be on the Opening Day roster, specifying the importance of consistent at-bats in the minor leagues over sporadic playing time as the fourth outfielder in the major leagues.

However, when posed with the same question, Jerry Manuel said Martinez could be the Opening Day center fielder.

It’s not the first time these two haven’t been on the same page. There’s been different sentiments on Jenrry Mejia, also.

There doesn’t always seem to be a united front with the general manager and manager, and that can’t be described as a good thing.

Angel Pagan deserves the opportunity and with Gary Matthews, there’s a capable back-up. And, it should stay that way until Carlos Beltran returns, presumably in May.

Mar 11

March 11.10: A plan for Mejia.

Contrary to how they handled Bobby Parnell last season, the Mets seem to have a definitive plan for Jenrry Mejia.

He has been working as a reliever this spring, and that’s what he’ll do for the remainder of camp and in the minor leagues.

Manager Jerry Manuel sees that Mariano Rivera-like movement on his cutter and envisions dominance coming out of the bullpen.

Last year, Parnell was bounced around from being a starter in the minors, to a reliever for the Mets, then a starter and finally back to the pen. After the season he admitted being confused and his confidence shaken.

Mejia is 20 and has been scintillating in his role. It is easy to see how Manuel could be thinking about 94-mph fastball coming out of the bullpen, perhaps as soon as this year. In 5 1/3 scoreless innings he has given up two hits and struck out five with no walks.

It’s that no walks that’s importance. The reviews have been good but the presumption is he’ll open the season in the minor leagues, likely the Class AA level.

That’s the plan now, here’s hoping they stick with it.