Santana to start opener

Terry Collins confirmed Johan Santana as his Opening Day starter.

After throwing an intensive bullpen session Saturday, Santana told Collins: "You've got your pitcher for Thursday." Still, Collins waited until a Sunday morning meeting with pitchers to affirm the rotation order.

R.A. Dickey will start Game 2, followed by Jon Niese, Mike Pelfrey and Dillon Gee.

"Hopefully we maintain that same five guys for the next six months because, as I told them this morning, I've always felt from my time in baseball that the best pitching staff is not always who they are, but the fact that the five guys are out there," Collins said. "Last year, they held together for the entire season until Jon went down late. They saved us. They saved our staff. That's what we've got to do now.

"I like our rotation. I'm telling you, I like our rotation. It showed last year. We compete. When they take the mound, they compete. The one thing we've got to do to help them out, we've got to catch the baseball behind them. They are guys that pound the strike zone. So we know the ball is going to get hit. So we've got to catch it, got to help them out."

Santana has thrown no more than 88 pitches in any Grapefruit League game, and Collins said the southpaw likely would not exceed 95 pitches in April. At least six of Santana's first seven starts will be on an extra day of rest because of team off-days.

"That would be around the area -- 80 to 95," Collins said. "We're going to be very careful here."

Santana will make his sixth Opening Day start, and fourth with the Mets. It will be his first major league game since Sept. 2, 2010 -- 12 days before surgery to repair a torn anterior capsule in his left shoulder.

"It means everything that we have done since I had my surgery, all the way to today, has been paid off," Santana said. "We worked hard. And I'm very happy. I'm very happy that I have an opportunity to start the season from Day 1 with the team. That's something that I really was looking forward to. I'm excited about it. ... I didn't want to get ahead of everything. I think we were taking one step at a time, being cautious about everything. It was pretty good. I'm really excited again. It's going to be something very important for me."

Santana had felt achy after his final Grapefruit League start.

"The other day, after he threw in St. Louis, the 80-something pitches, the next day he felt it, which is what you do when you get in shape," Collins said. "If it was going to bother him at all, we weren't going to pitch him. And yesterday he bounced back and said, 'I'm ready to go.'"

On the rest of his rotation, Collins said the chatter about Pelfrey's job being in jeopardy was overstated. Pelfrey said he is not bothered by his best asset often being described as being an innings eater.

"I don't let that stuff bother me," Pelfrey said. "I don't know if they could have said that two years ago. People forget things, I think, pretty quickly. That might have been the best thing about me last year, you know? If you want to point to that, that's fine. I know what I'm capable of and have high expectations. I know I'm probably not as consistent as I should be, but I'm going to get there and it will be a good year."

Said Collins: "As we talked at the end of last year, I don't know where you find 200 innings. They're not out there. And this guy is going to give it to you. ... He's bound and determined to show that he's the Mike Pelfrey of two years ago and not last year."