Mets morning briefing 4.5.12

Johan Santana pitches in a major league game for the first time since Sept. 2, 2010 as the Mets open the regular season at Citi Field at 1:10 p.m. against the Atlanta Braves. The Mets will honor Gary Carter, who died Feb. 16 after a 10-month battle with brain cancer, during pregame ceremonies. Carter's widow Sandy and children D.J., Kimmy and Christy will participate in the remembrance.

The Mets are 32-18 all time on Opening Day, a .640 winning percentage that is the best in the majors. The Yankees are second at 65-46 (.586), followed by Baltimore at 63-47 (.573) and Seattle at 20-15 (.571), according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Read the Mets-Braves series preview here.

Before the first pitch, join me for a noon ET chat here.

Thursday's news reports:

• Team doctor David Altchek, who performed Santana's surgery, believes the southpaw is out of the woods as he returns from Sept. 14, 2010 surgery to repair a torn anterior capsule in his left shoulder.

Brian Costa in the Journal speaks with Santana about his signature changeup, while Michael Salfino also in the Journal notes pitchers who missed a season often struggle upon their return. Writes Salfino:

Pitchers who started the season for a team after sitting through a layoff of more than a season have combined to allow 4.22 runs per game while averaging just 137.8 innings. Excluding pitchers who missed time due to military service, Santana's absence from big league action that began on Sept. 2, 2010 will be the sixth longest since 1921, according to Stats LLC. The hurler with the longest gap between appearing in the majors and pitching on opening day, former Pirate and later Brooklyn Dodger Preacher Roe, pitched the best of this group. But Roe didn't miss all that time due to injury: He toiled in the minors for five years after pitching a couple innings in 1938.

• Read ESPNNewYork.com's breakdown of Mets pitchers here, including scout comment. There's a breakdown of the team's hitters here.

Jon Niese has agreed to a five-year, $25.5 million contract, which can be worth as much as $46 million if the Mets exercise options for 2017 and 2018. The deal will not become official until Niese undergoes a physical. Read more in the Star-Ledger, Times, Newsday and Post.

Ike Davis belted a three-run homer off Freddy Garcia, but the Yankees rallied to beat the Mets, 8-3, at George M. Steinbrenner Field. The Mets completed the Grapefruit League with a 9-20-2 record, one shy of matching the franchise's most losses in a spring training. Read more in Newsday.

Bill Madden in the Daily News writes that Sandy Alderson apologized to Mets personnel for taking a detour and having to play in Tampa against the Yankees on the eve of the season. Madden faulted a profit motivation by the owners, who needed to send the team to George M. Steinbrenner Field in order to have the Yankees visit Port St. Lucie, which resulted Tuesday in the largest crowd ever at the Mets' complex for a spring-training game. Writes Madden:

According to MLB sources, when the Mets’ higher-ups learned the Yankees were scheduled to make a rare trip to the east coast of Florida at the end of spring training to open up the new Miami ballpark, they asked if they would consider extending their Sun Coast stay an extra day to play a game in Port St. Lucie. Sure, the Yankees said, as long as the Mets agreed to make it a home-and-home situation so that both teams could benefit from one additional spring training sellout.

It apparently mattered not to the Mets that the only available date left on their schedule was the last one. After all, what’s a little inconvenience to Terry Collins and his players compared to an extra million dollars in spring training revenue, derived from hiking the ticket prices for the Yankees game -- which, despite the fact the Yankees sent only three regulars, Brett Gardner, Nick Swisher and Andruw Jones, still drew a record crowd of 7,644? And weren’t the Yankees doing them an extra favor by moving up the start of Wednesday’s game to noon?

As a result of Wednesday's game in Tampa, the Mets could not have a workout at Citi Field. So their outfielders will go into the first game with revised dimensions without a rehearsal at their stadium.

• Needing to clear 40-man roster spots for Mike Baxter and Miguel Batista, the Mets placed right-handers Josh Stinson and Armando Rodriguez on outright waivers. Stinson was claimed by the Milwaukee Brewers and assigned to Double-A Huntsville. Rodriguez cleared waivers and will remain with the organization as a non-40-man roster player.

Andrew Keh in the Times profiles right fielder Lucas Duda. Writes Keh:

Duda’s four home runs in exhibition games and a batting average that hovered around .300 provided some additional reassurance for the Mets’ front office. “Obviously, he’s got that power, that raw power, which scares pitchers out of the strike zone,” said Dave Hudgens, the team’s hitting coach. “He reminds me a ton of Jason Giambi -- that strength, the plate discipline, he can use the whole field, make adjustments.” When told of Hudgens’s comment, Duda said: “It’s nice to be compared to good players. But I’m myself. I can’t really try to be Jason Giambi. I know that sounds bland and vanilla.”

• The Mets' minor league affiliates open their seasons as well today, with Matt Harvey on the mound for Triple-A Buffalo and Collin McHugh starting for Double-A Binghamton.

Lynn Worthy in the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin speaks with top prospect Zack Wheeler, who will pitch for the B-Mets on Friday. "My mom and dad always said me and my brothers, we get our arms from our mom, because she was always breaking people's fingers and stuff when she was throwing the softball," Wheeler told Worthy. "Everyone was always scared to play catch with her."

Mike Harrington's Triple-A Bisons preview in the Buffalo News looks at manager Wally Backman and the uncertain future of the affiliation agreement with the Mets, which expires after this season. Writes Harrington:

The teams' Player Development Contract is up after this season and there will be plenty of pressure on the Bisons to look elsewhere if the 2012 Herd, which opens its season tonight in Pawtucket, flames out again. The Bisons, who have not made the playoffs since 2005, have big expectations for the 25th anniversary season of Coca-Cola Field and they're not unfounded. The Mets have done a good job stocking the club with veteran free agents -- including the return of 2011 Buffalo MVP Valentino Pascucci -- and have put their two close-to-the-majors pitching prospects (6-foot-4 right-handers Matt Harvey and Jeurys Familia) at the top of the Bisons' rotation. And to top it off, they've shuffled manager Wally Backman from Double-A Binghamton to Buffalo. Backman, the beloved second baseman from New York's 1986 World Series champions, is the rising star of the organization.

• Newsday's season preview package includes a look at the rotation, explanation of the difficult task of replacing Jose Reyes, a look at stadium grass maintenance, review of Citi Field dimension changes and a position-by-position look at the Mets.

Andy Martino in the Daily News discusses Davis' left ankle (a nonissue, the first baseman says) as well as the suspected case of valley fever. Davis will get a follow-up exam of his lungs now that the team has arrived in New York. Writes Martino:

Although the ankle, which killed Davis’ sophomore year while he was batting .302, with seven home runs in 129 at-bats, has apparently healed (“The ankle is good,” Davis says. “I haven’t had a problem. Hopefully it never flares up.”), the Valley Fever lingers, and Davis cannot promise that it won’t be a problem. “I don’t know,” he said. “It could be, it couldn’t be. Obviously, it could have an effect. I feel tired, but so does everyone here.” The Mets, who issued a statement saying that Davis “likely” had Valley Fever, never went further than that, but Davis is operating under the assumption that he is indeed suffering from the desert-bred malady. “Oh yeah,” he says. “There is definitely something in there. The x-ray isn’t making stuff up.”

With spring training now over, it is difficult to say how much the condition affected Davis. He said this week that he “felt great,” ascribing his general weariness to the Grapefruit League’s unyielding schedule at the ballpark by 8 a.m., on the field for stretching and workouts by 9:30, play under sizzling sun at 1.

• The Marlins opened their season last night with Reyes at shortstop. And columnist Joel Sherman in the Post calls them the "IT" team. Writes Sherman:

There is glitz around the organization that begins with the vibrant colors and garish touches of this $634 million, retractable-roof facility, which could just as easily double as the largest disco in the world. They have a Jets-ian brash feel about them from the verbal jousts of manager Ozzie Guillen, the confident strut of owner Jeffrey Loria, the orange-dyed hair of Reyes and Hanley Ramirez, and the moon-shot abilities of Giancarlo Stanton. They will be the stars of the major leagues’ “Hard Knocks” ripoff, “The Franchise” on Showtime, and undoubtedly will end their six-year run of ranking last in NL attendance.

Jets coach Rex Ryan would look right amid the soap-opera potential and the unrestrained goal to win -- and win now. Look, it all could be ephemeral. The Securities and Exchange Commission is looking into the stadium financing. There are questions if there is enough local passion to retain fans once the novelty of the stadium fades. But, for now, the Marlins are an “It” team.

• The Daily News has scouting reports on Mets players, while Mike Puma in the Post and Andy McCullough in the Star-Ledger have general previews. Mike Kerwick in the Record says Mets players, despite the doubters, believe. "I understand the expectations," Mike Pelfrey told Kerwick. "We lost … I don't know how many games we lost. Eighty-five? We lost the National League batting champion. I understand. But we're going to be OK."

• Also read about Citi Field dimension changes in the Record and Journal.

Bobby Valentine will do a weekly Boston Red Sox radio spot with Michael Kay on ESPN 1050 right here in New York. Read more in the Daily News.

• Columnist Mike Vaccaro says in the Post that 2012 might seem bleak, but it's been far worse. Writes Vaccaro:

If we can agree that the 1962 Mets were the gold standard (or the zinc standard, perhaps) for ineptitude, there are several candidates for which one comes next. The 103-loss Worst Team Money Could Buy team of 1993 makes a strong case, thanks to their bleach spraying and firecracker slinging. The 2003-04 versions, brightened by Art Howe’s personality lighting up the room, demand a spot in the team photo. As do just about any team from 1963-67, though ’63’s 111-loss team which finished 48 games out of first place (and 15th out of ninth) merits special consideration.

Still, as a representative of the franchise’s darkest, gloomiest period, it’s impossible to overlook 1979, when the team lost 99 games (and had to go on a heroic six-game winning streak to close the season), finished 35 games behind the first-place Pirates (and 17 behind the fifth-place Cubs) and drew 788,905 customers to Shea Stadium, including a nine-game homestand to close the home schedule that attracted a total of 48,960 die-hards -- 27,033 of whom came for Fan Appreciation Day.

Jason Bay did not have an RBI during Grapefruit League play. Writes McCullough in the Star-Ledger:

He is sick of this conversation. Jason Bay has had some variation of it for more than two years now, with friends, family, teammates, coaches and reporters. He has fielded questions about his mechanics, his inconsistency and his disappointing résumé as a Met. His answers are never satisfactory because his performance has never satisfied. “But I understand,” Bay said yesterday inside the visitors clubhouse at George M. Steinbrenner Field for the Mets spring training finale. “Until you do something about it, that’s part of it.”

TRIVIA: Who was the winning pitcher in the Mets' first Opening Day victory as a franchise?

Wednesday's answer: Alex Cora is the only player to bat leadoff for the Mets other than Reyes since 2005. Cora started at shortstop and the No. 1 slot in the order two years ago, while Reyes was working back from a thyroid issue and opened the season on the disabled list.