PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Originally, Bobby Parnell had not intended to step on a mound until the end of the month.
But there was Parnell on Friday morning, throwing 10 pitches off a mound at the Mets' Spring Training complex. Parnell hardly let things fly in the abbreviated session, exerting little more energy than he would have off flat ground. But the experience nonetheless encouraged the Mets closer in his quest to be ready for Opening Day.
"He just wanted to see how it felt, and it felt great," manager Terry Collins said. "So I thought it was a good start."
Parnell, who underwent surgery in September to replace a herniated disc in his neck, discussed the plan with Mets trainers and pitching coach Dan Warthen before climbing atop a mound for the first time this spring.
Shortly after watching Parnell throw, Collins reiterated that he is in line to be the Mets' closer. The manager indicated that recent acquisitions Jose Valverde and Kyle Farnsworth are near-locks to make the Opening Day bullpen, but that neither -- barring re-injury -- will supplant Parnell from ninth-inning duties.
"We might have that game where you've got the middle of the lineup coming up in the seventh inning, and that's when you're going to have to shut it down," Collins said. "That's where their veteran presence and their ability to have that background of pitching in those tough situations might get us to the ninth inning in better shape. Anytime you have quality veterans like those two guys, they're going to come in with a leg up due to their experience."
Collins considering Young for leadoff role
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The Mets may not have an obvious leadoff candidate on paper, but Terry Collins sees one player clearly above the others in his team's lineup hierarchy.
"What Eric Young did for us last year, I thought saved us in the second half of last season -- and not just the stolen bases," Collins said. "People forget about what a great job he did defensively in left field last year, the plays he made."
On more than one occasion during a 25-minute state of the team address, Collins mentioned his desire to bat Young leadoff. That would have a trickle-down effect on outfielder Juan Lagares, who would lose his starting job if Young played left field, pushing Chris Young to center and Curtis Granderson to right.
Though Collins said he would like to see Lagares play every day in the Minors if he is not starting, the manager would also have a hard time envisioning a bench without him. Lagares enjoyed a historic 2013 season on defense, making spectacular catches look easy and setting a franchise rookie record for outfield assists.
"We've got three guys who can play center field, and by gosh the best one's going to be out there," Collins said.
If Lagares does crack the starting lineup, shifting Eric Young to the bench, Collins said he would consider Chris Young or Ruben Tejada at leadoff. He did not mention Daniel Murphy, whose once-sterling on-base percentage dipped all the way to .319 last season despite career highs in plate appearances, hits, runs, home runs, RBIs and stolen bases.
Matsuzaka's experience may land him in rotation
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Experience matters to Mets manager Terry Collins. So Daisuke Matsuzaka could be at an early advantage in his team's fifth starter competition.
Matsuzaka is battling John Lannan, Jenrry Mejia, Rafael Montero and Jacob deGrom for the fifth starter's spot, with the losers all likely ticketed for the Minors. But while Mejia holds an inherent advantage due to his success late last year and his 40-man roster spot, Matsuzaka is the only one in that group with Cy Young votes on his career resume.
"The job that Daisuke did last year, his last four starts were outstanding," Collins said, referring to the 3-0 record and 1.37 ERA Matsuzaka posted over his final four outings. "He's ready to go. So we're going to take the guy that's going to get us started the best. If it's Daisuke, if it's a veteran guy, I think that's good. I've always said those veterans can really get you out of the blocks, and then when those kids are ready, they're the ones a lot of times that bring you that extra energy -- especially late in the summer."
Assuming the rest of the Mets' rotation stays healthy, the team is looking for quality outings from its fifth starter only until top prospect Noah Syndergaard is ready to join the team midsummer. The Mets are also likely to promote Montero and deGrom at some point this season, assuming those two start at Triple-A Las Vegas.
Right now, however, Matsuzaka and Mejia appear the two leading candidates, with the former's big league experience very much on Collins' mind.
"We're going to take the best guy, who's pitching the best," Collins said. "It's an important spot. It's about who can make us the most successful. Obviously, we've got some very, very good candidates."
• Manager Terry Collins tossed some cold water on Matt Harvey's desire to throw a baseball on Feb. 22 for the first time since Tommy John surgery, saying the Mets' medical staff would have to approve that in advance. Collins also vowed that the Mets will not rush Harvey, despite the right-hander's desire to pitch in September. "That guy will not come back early," Collins said.
• Regarding the Mets' shortstop situation, Collins said that Omar Quintanilla could challenge Ruben Tejada for the starting job. He also said that Anthony Seratelli is a prime candidate to win the backup middle infield gig, given Seratelli's defensive versatility.