Nieuwenhuis still on mend, unavailable

Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who strained an oblique in major league camp before being sent to the minor league side, will attempt to hit for the first time today since suffering the injury.

His unavailability comes at a bad time for the center-field prospect. Nieuwenhuis would have been a natural consideration to be pulled back into major league camp and potentially be the Opening Day center fielder if Andres Torres (calf) and backup Scott Hairston (oblique) both remain sidelined into the season.

Ed Wolfstein/Icon SMI

An oblique injury is depriving prospect Kirk Nieuwenhuis of the opportunity to step into the center-field void.

Nieuwenhuis' 2011 season was cut short at Triple-A Buffalo after only 53 games because of a torn labrum in his left shoulder that required surgery. The lefty-hitting, righty-throwing Nieuwenhuis hit .298 with six homers in 188 at-bats with the Bisons before being shut down last season.

Minus Torres and Hairston, and with Nieweunhuis also on the mend, Mike Baxter starts in center field Wednesday against the St. Louis Cardinals. Terry Collins also has resolved to give left fielder Jason Bay and infielder Jordany Valdespin exposure to the position.

Valdespin has played only one minor league game in the outfield. During winter ball in the Dominican Republic, Licey manager Rafael Landestoy had Valdespin take fly balls in the outfield pregame, but Valdespin never made it into a game.

Landestoy also is the Mets' international field coordinator, but Collins said the winter-league decision to have Valdespin get some outfield exposure was coincidental and not a Mets directive.

"I can play outfield, too, because I practiced in the offseason taking fly balls in left field, center, right," said Valdespin, who hit a combined .294 with 17 homers, 60 RBIs and 37 steals in 55 attempts between Double-A Binghamton and Triple-A Buffalo last season. "I want to play in the big leagues. So no matter where I play, I want to play in the big leagues and help the team."

Mets first base/outfield coach Tom Goodwin said Valdespin had not done any work in Mets camp in the outfield until today's scheduled crash course.

D.J. Carrasco may be headed to the disabled list to open the season, which could settle what is likely otherwise a head-to-head battle with Miguel Batista for one bullpen spot. Carrasco, who has not been in a Grapefruit League game since March 10 because he twisted his right ankle during a workout, tried to throw off a mound Tuesday. "He did not feel all that great," pitching coach Dan Warthen said. Carrasco is under contract for $1.2 million in 2012, in the second season of a two-year, $2.4 million deal.

Tim Byrdak, who had surgery eight days ago to repair torn meniscus cartilage in his left knee, expects to have stitches removed Thursday and to begin tossing a baseball Friday. Byrdak is expected to open the season on the disabled list, but may miss no more than the first couple of weeks. Garrett Olson appears the current frontrunner to fill the lefty specialist role in Byrdak's absence, with Chuck James, Josh Edgin and Daniel Herrera also in camp.

• Bullpen catcher Eric Langill has rejoined the team after serving a team-imposed seven-day suspension for a DUI arrest.