Mets morning briefing 3.9.12

Dillon Gee, Matt Harvey, Chuck James, Josh Stinson and Garrett Olson are scheduled to take the mound as the Mets head to Disney today to face the Atlanta Braves for the first time this spring training. (See the full upcoming pitching probables here.)

Friday's news reports:

Fred Wilpon was not present, but Sandy Koufax nonetheless visited Mets camp Thursday. Koufax offered advice to Bobby Parnell at Terry Collins' request. Koufax, who keeps close tabs on the Mets from a distance by watching on TV, particularly wanted to meet top pitching prospects Zack Wheeler and Harvey. The Hall of Fame pitcher got to see Wheeler pitch in a minor league intrasquad game and apparently came away impressed. Koufax plans to return to camp later this month.

Wrote Mike Puma in the Post:

Sandy Koufax talked mechanics, and Parnell mostly shut up and listened. Koufax had seen enough of the fireballing right-hander in recent years to know what kind of message to impart. The Hall of Fame left-hander said Parnell has an "exceptional" arm, but could benefit from small changes. "Where you hold [the ball], how you hold it and how you use it," Koufax told The Post when asked to summarize his chat with Parnell. "Times have changed in what people believe, and I just believe a little differently sometimes."

• Left-hander C.J. Nitkowski, who turns 39 today, auditioned for the Mets as J.P. Ricciardi and Dan Warthen watched, on the same mound where Johan Santana had just completed his bullpen session. Warthen was Nitkowski's pitching coach with the Detroit Tigers. Nitkowski, who has not appeared in the majors since 2005, had a procedure last year in which his own stem cells were injected into his left shoulder. He also was tutored on a Pedro Feliciano-like sidearm delivery by none other than former Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson, who is now in his first year as Baltimore Orioles minor league pitching coordinator.

"Hopefully it gives me an opportunity to extend my career," Nitkowski, who pitched for the Mets in 2001, told reporters about the sidearm delivery. "Realistically, I knew after not playing in the States since 2006 and wanting to come back, I knew I was going to have to do something different. I was kind of hitting a wall even when I was here."

Nitkowski played in Japan and South Korea from 2007 through 2010, then in winter ball in the Dominican Republic this past offseason. He is a product of Don Bosco Prep and St. John's. Read more in the Record, Journal, Newsday and Post.

• Union chief Michael Weiner visited the Mets on Thursday as part of his tour of spring-training camps. Weiner did not take the opportunity to chastise Wilpon and family for what likely will be the largest single-season payroll drop in major league history, currently projected at $52 million. Read more in the Times, Journal, Star-Ledger, Newsday and Daily News.

• After throwing a regular between-starts bullpen session, Santana pronounced himself ready to make his second Grapefruit League start, three innings Sunday against the Miami Marlins. "I'm not the doctor," catcher Mike Nickeas told Mike Kerwick in the Record. "I don't know how [the shoulder] feels. But I thought his stuff was A-plus today."

Columnist Joel Sherman in the Post notes you could tell from Santana's body language that his shoulder feels well. Writes Sherman:

A pitcher concealing pain will cut a session short. He will not motion for Mike Nickeas to stay in his squat. To take a few extra pitches to the catcher’s mitt. "What you saw is what Johan Santana always looks like, except for when he has not felt good," Warthen would say afterward, his lingering smile also proof that, well, Santana feels better than good.

Watch Santana discuss the session here. Read more in the Star-Ledger, Daily News and Newsday.

• The Mets lost Thursday's Grapefruit League game, 5-4, to the Marlins. Mike Pelfrey had a rough outing as he struggled to control his sinker, which is a point of emphasis this spring as he tries to reduce the career-high home run total he allowed last season. Pelfrey allowed four runs on six hits and two walks in 2 2/3 innings. Read more in the Times and Newsday.

Pedro Beato has rotator cuff inflammation, according to a team spokesman. Beato, who underwent an MRI in Florida, may begin light tossing as soon as Sunday. Meanwhile, center fielder Andres Torres was scratched Thursday with a tight right glute. Collins said Torres may return to the lineup as soon as Saturday.

• Columnist Bob Klapisch in the Record suggests Collins is putting on a brave front of confidence as impending doom looms. Writes Klapisch:

Terry Collins is standing on a back field at the Mets’ spring training facility, separated by 1,000 miles and the 90 or so losses that likely await him at Citi Field this summer. By all accounts, there should be an anvil floating over the manager's head, but Collins is to optimism what Saudi Arabia is to oil. It overflows. "Cinderella stories happen, so why can’t it be us?" he said. "I have to think good things are in store for us. It's my job to believe, and then get my players to believe it, too."

Collins also tells Klapisch: "People say we didn’t sign anyone, but hey, we’re getting Santana back. That's the same as adding a free agent -- an ace pitcher who looks like he’s healthy again. We’re getting a healthy David Wright. We've got Ike Davis fixed up. You put all three of those guys on the field at the same time, and you never know. That’s not a bad little team."

Of course, you can also rank the 25 starting pitchers in the National League East and see where the Mets' pitchers check in. Or, you can look at the paper-thin depth, where for every start not made by a member of the rotation, Miguel Batista or someone comparable gets one.

• Columnist John Harper in the Daily News notes that Frank Francisco does not hold runners on well. That's often a problem for closers, but it is particularly bad in Francisco's case. Thirty-three of 36 attempts against him over the past four seasons have been successful, Harper notes. It's not so much a disregard for runners as a problem throwing to first -- as in consistent off-line throws. A scout told Harper teams would bunt on Francisco too while he closed for the Toronto Blue Jays because of his throwing issues. Warthen said the issue is more on throwing fielded balls to first base, rather than pickoff throws. Writes Harper:

In Frank Francisco's first spring training appearance for the Mets on Monday, he gave up a single and, on the next pitch, pinch-runner Eury Perez took off for second. In a conversation about his new closer a few days later, Terry Collins said he knew the runner would go on the first pitch. Why? "Because they know Frankie doesn't throw over," Collins said. Huh? "It's something we're working on," said the manager.

TRIVIA: Who is the only active major league pitcher to have a better winning percentage than Santana (minimum 125 decisions)?

(Thursday's answer: The game before Jose Reyes made his major league debut on June 10, 2003 at Texas, Joe McEwing started at shortstop for the Mets.)