Mets' Niese struggles against Venezuela
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. (AP) - Mets manager Terry Collins said he expects Johan Santana to pitch in a game in about a week and still could be on track to be New York's opening-day starter.
If not, Jonathon Niese would be honored to step in.
Niese, like any other starting pitcher, said he would love a chance to pitch in a season opener, but he has plenty to do before getting to that point.
The left-hander struggled against an All-Star lineup Wednesday as the Venezuelan national team roughed him up for six hits and four runs en route to a 14-10 win in its final tuneup for the World Baseball Classic.
"I have a lot of work to do, but in the bullpens I've been feeling really good so I just have to incorporate that with the adrenaline of a game situation,'' Niese said.
Niese gave up an RBI double to Carlos Gonzalez in the first and was replaced after giving up a second run on a walk and two hits in the third inning. Two more runs scored after his exit. He walked two and struck out one in 2 1-3 innings.
Miguel Cabrera homered twice for Venezuela's starting lineup that featured five 2012 All-Stars at the top of the order. Elvis Andrus, Asdrubal Cabrera, Miguel Cabrera, Pablo Sandoval and Gonzalez combined for 10 hits. Cabrera connected in the fourth and fifth innings.
"That's a really good lineup all the way down,'' Niese said. "They made me throw a lot of pitches, they fouled off a lot of pitches and put together a lot of great at-bats. . I thought I executed some good ones, but I didn't execute a few and they made me pay for them. As far as my stuff, I thought I had good enough to throw three or four scoreless innings, but obviously they battled a lot.''
Despite the numbers, Collins said Niese "made some real good pitches'' against a tough lineup.
Perhaps more pleasing to Collins, though, was seeing Santana take another step forward in a light bullpen before the game. It was the second time on a mound for the ace since Feb. 19, after which his workload was backed down over concerns his arm strength wasn't where it needed to be.
"He's scheduled to get on the mound (in a game) in about seven days, and I think he's going to make that,'' Collin said. "All signs are pointing to him being ready. All signs are pointing that his arm is getting the strength it needs. He's happy with the way he feels, he's happy with the way he's throwing, so it's a major step forward for us.''
Santana spent time Wednesday morning with his countrymen on the Venezuelan team, which originally he had hoped to play for in the WBC. Team Venezuela also had hoped to have him on its roster.
"He's one of the biggest names in our country,'' Gonzalez said. "We all wish he was here, but we understand the situation. He needs to get back healthy and get back to his game.''
Venezuela now heads to the WBC. The team plays the Dominican Republic in a first-round Pool C game Thursday in San Juan.
Manager Luis Sojo said he is especially confident in his offense, which finished with 20 hits, and he looks forward to seeing how the team performs.
"I'm very fortunate to have the opportunity to coach these guys,'' Sojo said. "We have some of the best talent in the world, so we'll see what happens.''
NOTES: Mets pitcher Jenrry Mejia, who was scratched from Tuesday's "B'' game appearance and sent to New York to visit team doctors, is being examined for a thyroid issue. Mejia already was a little behind after his arrival to camp from the Dominican Republic was delayed because his visa was flagged for an apparent random identity check. He allowed five runs, four earned, in one inning in his lone Grapefruit League appearance. . Marlon Byrd, getting a rare start in center field, capped a seven-run fifth inning for the Mets with a three-run homer. . Unsigned free agent closer Francisco Rodriguez, who is on the Venezuelan roster, said Wednesday he would like to come back to the Mets, the team he pitched for prior to a 2011 midseason trade with Milwaukee. "I think about once again to be able to come back and redeem myself, that would be great. I have to be realistic and honest. You would have to be real blind to see I fell when I was there. That's not even a question. To be able to get one more shot and go back and get it done, that would be great.'' Rodriguez said he hopes to show in the WBC that he is healthy and ready to step back in somewhere as a closer.
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