Mets morning briefing 2.29.12

It's now only two days until the Mets' first intrasquad game. Check out pitching assignments here.

Wednesday's news reports:

Sandy Alderson mentioned Jason Giambi and Joey Votto as comps in one quote when the GM spoke about Lucas Duda. “I think they will end up having a similar profile: Power guys with an excellent eye at the plate," Alderson told Mike Puma in the Post regarding Duda and Giambi. "If you have that combination, you can be a superstar. Especially for a left-handed hitter, if you’ve got power, the high on-base percentage, the approach and you can hit left-handed pitching, that's Joey Votto. It’s a handful of guys, and [Duda] has already demonstrated that he has that potential."

Before putting on another batting practice show Tuesday, Duda was hit in the right hamstring with a fastball from highly regarded prospect Matt Harvey. There was no lasting damage. Read more in the Times, Star-Ledger and Newsday.

• Two team sources severely downplayed any scenario in which still-unsigned Ivan Rodriguez becomes a Met. One insider definitively stated the Mets will head north with catchers already in camp. The likely pairing is Josh Thole with Mike Nickeas. Nickeas will receive competition from Rob Johnson, as well as Lucas May and Vinny Rottino.

• The Post reports the Mets have about $2 million in reserve to spend if required, whether that is on a lefty-hitting backup outfielder should Adam Loewen or Mike Baxter not claim that spot or an outside starting pitcher should Johan Santana have a setback and Miguel Batista not be adequate to step in.

Tyler Kepner in the Times catches up in Jupiter with Carlos Beltran and Adam Wainwright, now teammates with the St. Louis Cardinals, who are forever linked by that curveball that ended Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS. "I told him I was happy he was here and couldn’t wait to be a teammate,” Wainwright told Kepner. “I told him, ‘The media’s going to ask us about that game, probably,’ and he just stopped me and said, ‘Hey, that’s in the past, let’s just put it behind us and move on. We’re teammates.’ I said, ‘Hey, you’re preaching to the choir, man.’”

Jon Rauch became the latest in the clubhouse on Twitter. Follow him at @jrauch60. Rauch signed a one-year, $3.5 million deal with the Mets and will serve as the primary right-handed set-up man to closer Frank Francisco.

Tim Byrdak, who already had dyed his mustache blond, dressed in full Hulk Hogan garb Tuesday. Still, Byrdak and fellow Mets tell David Lennon in Newsday there will be a time to turn things more serious. Writes Lennon:

Byrdak joked that he did it after Tuesday morning's media workshop to show the younger players how fast he could get something up on Twitter. But even a prankster like Byrdak realizes that these Mets have to leave the comedy act in the clubhouse -- and it will have to be cut back significantly as the regular season draws closer. "You just got to know when to pick your spots," Byrdak said. "Obviously, that's the biggest thing. If the veteran guys get together and say that's not a great idea, then don't do it. The bottom line is that you have to get the job done on the field and we all know that."

Terry Collins spoke with bloggers on a conference call Tuesday. Collins noted he prefers Andres Torres for the leadoff spot over Ruben Tejada because Tejada bears the responsibility for replacing Jose Reyes defensively, and it would be a lot of extra pressure trying to replace Reyes in the No. 1 slot in the lineup, too. As for the 2010 first-round pick Harvey, who threw batting practice Tuesday, Collins said about a 2012 appearance in a Mets uniform: "Am I going to see him? To be honest, I hope not, because that means our five starters that we’re running out there out of spring training are healthy and we run them out there every five days. But if that doesn't work, and something happens, I know I’ve got a quality arm that's willing and waiting to come up." Harvey is likely to open the season at Double-A Binghamton, where he spent the second half of last season.

For a full recap of Collins' conference call, click here for Amazin' Avenue's transcript.

• Newsday columnist Ken Davidoff believes the Mets are in good hands with Collins. "I demand work ethic," Collins told Davidoff. "I demand playing the game right, that kind of stuff. It just rubbed people the wrong way sometimes early in my career. Now I'm doing a better job of controlling my emotions."

Andy McCullough in the Star-Ledger takes a look at Jon Niese, who finished last season on the disabled list with an intercostal strain on his right side, and who -- despite his upside -- has never reached 180 innings in a professional season. Writes McCullough:

The signs were obvious to the trained eye. Midway through clean innings in 2011, Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen sometimes saw starter Jon Niese accelerate his delivery, drag his arm and serve belt-high offerings to hitters. In between innings, Niese might grouse about his failures at the plate rather than focus on his responsibilities on the mound. "He was youthful," Warthen said. "And I think he got mentally tired more than he got physically tired."

ESPN Stats & Information's Mark Simon previously examined Niese's bad luck last season, and noted that statistics suggest his ERA could have been 3.28 (xFIP) or 3.77 (True ERA) rather than the 4.40 ERA the southpaw produced. Wrote Simon:

The average pitcher allows hits on about 10 to 12 percent of soft/normally hit fly balls and pop ups. Niese’s rate last year? A whopping 27 percent. That led to his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) being among the highest in the majors -- .333. In baseball-measurable numbers, that’s the difference between allowing 30 hits on such balls (as Niese did) and allowing 11 hits (what the data suggests the average pitcher allows).

Read Simon's full Feb. 9 analysis of Niese here.

Mike Kerwick in the Record profiles the new leadoff hitter/center fielder Torres. Torres' on-base percentage went from .343 in 2010 while winning a World Series to .312 in 2011, although he assigns the difference to battling injuries last year. Collins said he got a solid endorsement of Torres' center-field ability from San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy. Writes Kerwick:

A Google image search of Torres produces shots of him celebrating among trolley cars. That magical season, he piled up career highs in doubles (43), triples (8), homers (16), hits (136), RBI (63) and runs (84). Last season? He regressed. He scratched out just 19 RBI and hit only four home runs. He scored 34 fewer runs and had 59 fewer hits. "Last year, I was battling injuries, things like that," Torres said. "But this year, I feel a lot better."

Watch ESPNNewYork.com video of Torres speaking Tuesday here.

David Wright tells columnist Kevin Kernan in the Post about his relationship with the late Gary Carter. "He would periodically call to check in to see how I was feeling at the plate," Wright said. "He always liked to talk about the dynamic of the clubhouse. That goes back to when he played, kind of being one of the leaders on that team, the pulse of the clubhouse. ... I try to talk to everybody because it's easy to fall into cliques. Sometimes it’s like high school. The biggest thing I got from Gary was the energy and the enthusiasm that he had for the game. You could always hear the excitement in his voice, even when he was down to his last couple of months. You could tell he wasn’t feeling well and he started out kind of sluggish on the phone and before you knew he’s asking me questions, like, 'How is Thole feeling behind the plate?' You could then hear the energy in his voice."

• The Daily News' Peter Botte examines Dillon Gee running out of gas toward the end of the season. Gee was 8-1 with a 3.32 ERA through June. He then had a 5-5 record and 5.42 ERA the remainder of the season. The Mets hope to safeguard against Gee again fading as the season progresses by lightening his between-starts program later in the season. "There’s no doubt, as he's told me, he wore down," Collins said. "It got to be later in the summer and he ran out of gas. We've talked about understanding the process that he's hopefully learned that he has to maintain strength through the summer. He can’t burn himself into the month of July and then be shot. ... But Dillon Gee showed he can pitch in this league. When he uses all of his pitches, he can be real effective."

• Collins continues to project between 30 and 40 homers for Ike Davis, and also notes his defensive ability at first base with help all of the infielders, as opposed to last year when Daniel Murphy, Duda or Nick Evans manned the position. Read columnist Bill Madden on Davis in the Daily News. "Of all the losses we suffered to injuries last year, none was nearly as severe as Ike," Collins told Madden. "From a personal standpoint, watching him hit and play first base the way he did, I felt deprived."

• The Times' Jay Schreiber compares Fred Wilpon's 2011 and 2012 spring training remarks.

TRIVIA: When Wright participated in the Home Run Derby at the All-Star Game in Pittsburgh, who subbed for injured Dave Racaniello and pitched to Wright?

(Tuesday's answer: Among active pitchers, Livan Hernandez has surrendered the most homers to the Mets, with 27 long balls allowed. Hernandez is currently with the Houston Astros.)