Mar 17

Kirk Nieuwenhuis Having Miserable Spring; Vegas Bound

With two weeks to go before Opening Day, Kirk Nieuwenhuis should be thinking about where he would live in New York rather than Las Vegas.

Nieuwenhuis, who made a strong first impression with the Mets last year, came to camp penciled in as the center fielder and first in line to win the leadoff spot. However, a hitless streak at the start of the exhibition schedule punctuated with a rash of strikeouts followed by deep bone bruise on his left knee made this a washout spring.

NIEUWENHUIS: Taking that swing to Vegas.

NIEUWENHUIS: Taking that swing to Vegas.

It should be fun for a young player competing for a starting job.

“Fun?’’ Nieuwenhuis asked. “It should have been fun, but it’s no fun spending time in the trainer’s room. It’s no fun when you can’t get onto the field. This has been a very frustrating time.’’

Nieuwenhuis was injured two weeks ago, and yesterday participated in batting practice and outfield drills. Once he runs the bases, he’ll be cleared to play, but it will be a minor league game.

Perhaps early this week Nieuwenhuis will get in a game, but Collin Cowgill has already leaped past him as well as Jordany Valdespin. Matt den Dekker also made a strong impression defensively, and still has a chance to make the team if he finishes with a hot two weeks with the bat.

Nieuwenhuis doesn’t say it, but despite his youth and inexperience, he’s smart enough to know the score. All he has to do is look at the stat sheet and compare his at-bats to Cowgill’s.

“I haven’t seen a lot of pitches,’’ Nieuwenhuis said in about as direct an admission that he’ll open the season at Triple-A Las Vegas. “You need at-bats in spring training. You need repetition, and I haven’t gotten them.’’

Nieuwenhuis was brought up early last season after Andres Torres was injured and got two hits in his first game. Then he rattled off a seven-game hitting streak. Three times he had three hits in a game and at the end of April was hitting .325 with a .386 on-base percentage.

Nieuwenhuis remained productive in May – hitting .294 at the end of the month – and carried it into June and was emerging as an early Rookie of the Year candidate hitting .297 while playing a near flawless center field.

However, by the middle of the month, pitchers started figuring him out and his average plummeted. Anybody can hit fastballs, but Nieuwenhuis was having trouble with breaking balls and off-speed stuff and his strike zone widened for pitchers, who didn’t have to be so fine.

Nieuwenhuis sustained a hand injury in July and at the end of the month was optioned to Triple-A Buffalo, where he injured his foot and was lost for the remainder of the season.

At the time of his demotion, Nieuwenhuis was down to .252 with a .315 on-base percentage, and in 282 at-bats had more strikeouts (98) than hits (71).

Although general manager Sandy Alderson had his apprehensions with Nieuwenhuis, his early success last year coupled with the Mets’ wide-open outfield situation, enabled him to come to camp with a fresh start and high expectations.

“Strikeouts are acceptable to a point,’’ Alderson said. “If a player has a high on-base percentage and produces a lot of runs, you can take the strikeouts.’’

Nieuwenhuis got off to a slow start this spring with only one hit and seven strikeouts in 20 at-bats. He was quickly removed from the leadoff spot as manager Terry Collins searched for other options, including Valdespin and Cowgill.

“I know the strikeouts have been a problem,’’ Nieuwenhuis said. “I don’t want to strike out. I need to put the ball in play. Seeing pitches is very important, and you get that through repetition.’’

And, you don’t see pitches when you’re not on the field.

Mar 16

Justin Turner Hurt, Marcum Solid In Defeat, Injury Updates

They wouldn’t be the Mets if things came easily. So, on the day after losing third baseman David Wright indefinitely, they lost his back-up, Justin Turner, to a sprained ankle.

Turner was injured in the fourth inning of today’s 4-2 loss to Miami, when after fielding a ground ball, his left leg buckled while making a wild throw and he landed awkwardly on his right ankle.

“I think just getting up, going to make a throw, I caught my front spike on the lip of the grass,’’ Turner told reporters. “In order to try to catch my balance, all my weight went on my right foot and I turned it over.’’

Turner will know more in the morning when he wakes up and sees how much it swells up. Whether it swells or not, it will be at least a couple of days.

Brandon Hicks replaced Turner, and now Zach Lutz is next in line.

“However long it takes to get back out there, missing those days of play, sucks,’’ Turner said. “I guess the most important thing is getting back to 100 percent and getting ready for Opening Day.’’

MARCUM SOLID: In his third start of the spring, Shaun Marcum gave up two runs on five hits in four innings.

Marcum did not get off to a good start with the Mets when he told Terry Collins he needed only four starts to get ready for the season and spent the first two weeks long tossing to build up his arm.

Marcum said his mechanics feel more natural. “I feel like I’m starting to repeat them a lot more,’’ he said. “Other than that, now it’s just starting to mix in some more pitches.’’

Marcum isn’t overpowering and said his money pitch is a cutter, which he hasn’t yet refined.

PERPETUAL PEDRO:  During his first tenure with the Mets, Pedro Feliciano earned the nickname “Perpetual Pedro,’’ because it seemed as if he pitched every night.

Feliciano was re-signed by the Mets over the winter to a minor league contract in an attempt to land a spot in their patchwork bullpen.

A heart ailment sidelined Feliciano early in camp, but he has rebounded and is throwing in the mid- to low 80s. Today he worked a 1-2-3 inning with two strikeouts and has a real chance to make the team as the second lefty in the pen with Josh Edgin.

METS MUSINGS: Reliever Frank Francisco threw in the bullpen, but remains behind in an effort to be ready for the season. The timetable is to make at least two more bullpen sessions before throwing batting practice. That should eat up the remaining two weeks before the season, so it still appears likely he will open the season on the disabled list. … An injury also derailed Kirk Nieuwenhuis’ spring. Penciled in as the leadoff hitter in center. Nieuwenhuis bruised his left knee two weeks ago. He is participating in outfield drills and taking batting practice but needs to run the bases and play in games. … The Mets aren’t calling it a setback, but the day after playing defense in a minor league game Daniel Murphy did not play today, saying he felt stiff.

Mar 15

Jeremy Hefner Solid Against Braves

Jeremy Hefner, the likely replacement for Johan Santana in the rotation, gave up two homers this afternoon but rebounded to strike out the last six hitters he faced in the Mets’ 5-2 victory over Atlanta.

Hefner had a solid line of two runs on five hits and a walk with seven strikeouts in five innings.

HEFNER: Solid outing today.

HEFNER: Solid outing today.

Even so, Hefner wasn’t pleased, telling reporters he was concerned because he left the ball up in the strike zone. Hefner said he pitched with a chip on his shoulder the last two innings.

“I was less than thrilled about my performance before then,’’ Hefner said. “The ball was up, as evidenced by all the fly balls and hard-hit balls. I’m the guy that has to pound the bottom of the strike zone and get ground balls to be successful.’’

Hefner said earlier this week he will be ready to replace Santana at the start of the season but that’s my focus.

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Mar 15

Disabled List On Opening Day Looming For David Wright

The news is not good for David Wright, whose rib injury could force him to start the season on the disabled list and be out for up to a month.

WRIGHT: Could go on DL.

WRIGHT: Could go on DL.

Wright, who was scratched from last night’s World Baseball Classic game against the Dominican Republic, was examined today in New York and diagnosed with a strain of his left intercostal muscle.

Obviously out of the WBC, Wright doesn’t know when he’ll play again, but manager Terry Collins told reporters the All-Star third baseman could be out from “two to three weeks.’’

These types of injuries usually seem to take longer to heal than the original prognosis. As it is, two weeks takes us to the end of spring training, so being on the disabled list by Opening Day is not only conceivable, but likely.

The manager and general manager aren’t on the same page with this one, as Sandy Alderson placed the timetable at three to five days and offered nothing to reporters about Wright’s Opening Day status.

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Mar 15

Who Is To Blame For Wright’s Injury?

There are conflicting reports as to how David Wright’s rib injury was handled, and they don’t make the team or the player look good.

General manager Sandy Alderson told reporters this morning at the Mets’ spring training facility in Port St. Lucie, Fl., that the team will not know the nature or severity of the injury sustained while playing with Team USA in the World Baseball Classic until Wright is examined by club physicians today in New York.

Wright was scratched from Thursday night’s game after taking batting practice. Alderson said he talked to Team USA officials around 6:40 p.m.

Alderson said there’s no timetable for Wright other than to say he’s expected back in Florida on Saturday. Unquestionably, he’s out of the WBC.

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