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Morning Briefing: Last week of practice!

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. --

FIRST PITCH: The New York Mets are almost outta here!

Their final week of spring training kicks off with a 1:05 p.m. ET matchup Sunday in Jupiter against the St. Louis Cardinals. Dillon Gee opposes left-hander Marco Gonzales. Original starter Jaime Garcia was scratched due to an issue with his surgically repaired left shoulder.

The Mets complete the Florida portion of their exhibition schedule on Thursday. They then fly to the Lone Star State for a pair of games against the Texas Rangers.

Next Sunday, the Mets will hold a closed workout at Nationals Park. Opening Day in D.C. is only eight days away.

SUNDAY’S NEWS REPORTS:

  • The Mets and Lucas Duda's agent reportedly have engaged in “preliminary” talks about a long-term contract. Duda is not eligible for free agency until after the 2017 season, when he will be 31 years old. Agent Dan Horwits indicated talks would be tabled if nothing is agreed to by Opening Day.

    The Mets last worked out a long-term deal with a controllable player on the eve of the 2012 season. Jonathon Niese agreed to a five-year, $25.5 million extension that included team options for 2017 and 2018, at $10 million and $11 million. If both options are picked up, Niese will have exchanged three years of free-agency eligibility for the security.
  • The Mets upped their Grapefruit League-leading home run total to 35 and Jacob deGrom tossed seven quality innings in a 10-2 win against the Washington Nationals on Saturday. Curtis Granderson and David Wright consecutively homered against Stephen Strasburg, while Johnny Monell and Duda took Tanner Roark deep. Read more in the Post and at MLB.com.

  • The Mets’ left-handed relief answer may very well come from outside the organization in the next week. The club trimmed the internal considerations Saturday. Scott Rice, who had a 9.64 Grapefruit League ERA, was dispatched to minor league camp. Earlier in the day, the Mets also sent right-hander Chasen Bradford and utility player Alex Castellanos to the minors. Read more on external lefty relief candidates, including Washington’s Jerry Blevins, in the Post.

  • The Nats officially announced their rotation for the opening week. As expected, it will be Bartolo Colon versus Max Scherzer on Opening Day, followed by deGrom versus Jordan Zimmermann in Game 2 and Matt Harvey versus Strasburg in the series finale.

  • Daniel Murphy (pulled hamstring) had five at-bats in a minor league game on Saturday, although he only jogged to first base and then left the basepaths after making contact. Murphy will be confined to minor league games so the Mets can backdate any potential 15-day DL stint as much as nine days into spring training.

  • Vic Black (shoulder weakness/impingement) tossed 24 pitches off a mound on Saturday. Black wants to be in games Wednesday as well as Friday and Saturday in Arlington and be active on Opening Day, although he understands the club may be more conservative. Read more in the Post and Daily News.

  • Columnist David Lennon in Newsday writes that manager Terry Collins is concerned about the relief corps. The Opening Day bullpen figures to include Jenrry Mejia, Jeurys Familia, Carlos Torres, Rafael Montero and Buddy Carlyle. Rule 5 pick Sean Gilmartin -- despite walking Bryce Harper on Saturday -- looks like the best candidate as a lefty reliever, unless the Mets go outside. If Black opens on the DL, one more spot is created, perhaps for Zack Thornton.

  • Bobby Parnell will pitch in another minor league game Sunday as he takes the final steps back from Tommy John surgery. Parnell, despite conservative team estimates, is expected to be activated from the DL in mid-April.

  • Eric Campbell became even more versatile Saturday. He caught an inning in a minor league intrasquad game. It marked his first time ever catching in a game. Campbell handled every pitch from prospect Matt Koch, who topped out at 94 mph. Campbell would only be used in-season behind the plate in an emergency.

  • Steve Kettmann, the author of “Baseball Maverick,” explains the full title in a column in the Daily News. Writes Kettmann:

    Yes, the Mets are revived. That’s my claim on the cover of my new book “Baseball Maverick: How Sandy Alderson Revolutionized Baseball and Revived the Mets,” and I stand by it 100 percent: The Mets are relevant again, they’re exciting -- and it’s time to circle Matt Harvey Day on the calendar.

    Of course, Omar Minaya drafted Harvey, but whatever.

  • Tim Rohan in the Times writes about Wilmer Flores at shortstop. Alderson tells Rohan about Flores: “I’m not even accepting the idea that Wilmer is going to be a below-average shortstop. He may turn out to be. But I’m not convinced based on what we know now and the sample we had last year that that’s going to be the case.”

  • Matt Ehalt in the Record looks at the process of trimming Travis d'Arnaud's passed balls.

  • From the bloggers … Faith and Fear revels in the first-person plural as it applies to their favorite team. … Mets Report wonders why the Mets don’t just put Murphy and Black on the DL.

BIRTHDAYS: Former Mets first-round pick and current Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane turns 53. ... Scott Atchison is 39. ... Alex Ochoa is 43.

TWEET OF THE DAY:

YOU’RE UP: Should the Mets commit to Duda long term?