Mets morning briefing 4.3.12

The Mets face the Yankees at 2:10 p.m. today in Port St. Lucie -- the first spring-training meeting between the clubs since March 30, 1996, at Tampa. After the game, the Mets break camp and bus across the state. They will play one final Grapefruit League game, at 12:05 p.m. Wednesday against the Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa. Mike Pelfrey and Jon Niese work today, opposite Ivan Nova.

Tuesday's news reports:

• Before departing to get an MRI on Monday, Frank Francisco acknowledged his ailing left knee was drained Sunday. Terry Collins expressed concern with the health of his closer and said he had not considered whom he otherwise might use in that role. Read more in the Star-Ledger, Newsday, Record, Daily News, Post and Times.

Bobby Parnell required only 39 pitches to toss three scoreless innings against the Braves at Disney, upping his scoreless streak to 12 1/3 innings in Grapefruit League play. Parnell was being stretched out for multiple-inning usage during the regular season. Ruben Tejada added a three-run homer against Brandon Beachy and the Mets beat Atlanta, 8-2, Monday.

• Niese acknowledged his representatives were engaged in substantive talks with the Mets about a long-term extension -- expected to be five years with two team options. That would lock up Niese for one to three seasons that he would be eligible for free agency, depending upon whether the Mets exercise those options. ESPN Stats & Information's Mark Simon shows the statistics underlying why the Mets want to make a five-year commitment (plus the team options) to the southpaw.

• In his debut column in the Post, columnist Ken Davidoff agrees locking up Niese may be wise. Writes Davidoff:

You can’t worry too much about Niese’s career ERA of 4.39. No well-run team does. The ERA measurement relies too heavily on defense and luck. The statistic FIP -- Fielding Independent Pitching, using only walks, strikeouts and home runs -- is considered a better predictor of a pitcher’s future than ERA. Niese’s career FIP, which is calculated to look like an ERA, is 3.77.

You can worry, however, about the lack of innings pitched. The player most often compared to Niese these past couple of days has been Derek Holland, whom the Rangers gave a five-year, $28-million extension last month. Holland has two years and 120 days of big-league service to Niese’s two years and 107 days. But Holland threw 198 innings in the 2011 regular season and another 24 in the postseason, twirling an 8 1/3-inning, two-hit, no-run masterpiece to defeat the Cardinals in World Series Game 4. Niese? He didn’t pitch after Aug. 23 last year, going down with a rib-cage injury and finishing with 157 1/3 innings. And in 2010, when he set the career ceiling of 173 2/3 innings, he wore down at season’s end, putting up a 4.89 FIP in 25 1/3 September innings.

• Center fielder Andres Torres predicted he would make his first Grapefruit League appearance since March 20 in today's game, signaling his strained left calf will not force him to the disabled list to open the season. Read more in the Star-Ledger, Post and Daily News.

• Mets executive VP Dave Howard tells Mike Puma in the Post that "several thousand" tickets remain available for Thursday's opener at Citi Field.

David Lennon in Newsday did a Q&A with Ike Davis. Included is this exchange:

You pitched some at Arizona State and finished your college career with a 7-5 record and four saves. Do you ever miss pitching?

Davis : "I was a pitcher all my life. I miss it. It's fun. It's part of the game that I enjoyed doing and I was decent at it. But I have so many other things to worry about. Sometimes later in the game ... I'm like, 'Man, this is when I used to come in,' and [think] how much fun that used to be. But then I remember I've got to worry about catching the ball at first base. I threw a fastball, slider. I was working on a split. I threw a changeup a couple times in my life. It was very good and then it was awful. I never was consistent with it so I scrapped it."

David Waldstein in the Times notes the Yankees, in their first visit to Port St. Lucie since 1995, won't bring many of their stars. No Derek Jeter. No Alex Rodriguez. No Mariano Rivera. Waldstein then traces the fascinating history of intra-city games among New York teams, including October battles more than a century ago between the Yankees and New York Giants when neither team was involved in the World Series. Waldstein reports that the dormant Mets-Yankees spring-training matchups were rekindled because the Yankees had two open dates this week and their traveling secretary Ben Tuliebitz called the Mets, who accepted. Writes Waldstein about George Steinbrenner's legendary intensity when facing the Mets, even in spring training:

For Steinbrenner, beating the Mets was always a priority. “The Boss wanted to win all 162 games and 30 in spring training,” said the former Yankees closer Rich Gossage. “As players, we couldn’t care less, but it was like it’s the seventh game of the World Series,” Gossage said of spring training matchups with the Mets. “It was like he would rather win that game than win a World Series.” ... According to Gossage, Steinbrenner would march through the clubhouse before the games to let everyone know that he wanted to beat the Mets. Who cared if the Mets weren’t any good? The Yankees’ manager -- maybe Billy Martin in one of his countless stints -- would hear about it, too. “If you didn’t play well in those games he might send you to Triple-A,” said Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman, an assistant in those days. “It was kind of crazy. He wanted to win those games badly; everyone knew it.”

Brian Costa in the Journal also addresses the rekindled spring-training matchup and Steinbrenner's passion to win those games. "The starters were out after five innings, and the subs went in," Tim Teufel, a former second baseman on the Mets and now their third base coach, told Costa. "It wasn't like this was a true read on the two teams. It was a spring training-managed game."

Mike Kerwick in the Record has a nuts and bolts Mets season preview.

TRIVIA: Which pitcher led Triple-A Buffalo in strikeouts last season?

Monday's answer: Mike Hampton started for the Mets on Opening Day in 2000, against the Chicago Cubs at the Tokyo Dome, launching a season in which the Mets reached the World Series.