Chase Headley , the biggest bat on the Padres and last season's NL RBI leader, is sidelined for a few weeks with a broken thumb.
Johan Santana 's future is far more precarious.
After re-tearing the anterior capsule in his pitching shoulder, the one-time Mets ace is scheduled for another surgery Tuesday that he hopes can save his career.
So the opening day assignment goes to Jonathon Niese , suddenly thrust into the role of No. 1 starter for a team that traded Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey during the offseason."It's Jon Niese's turn. He's now that guy," manager Terry Collins said Sunday at Citi Field.
Born on the day the Mets won the 1986 World Series, Niese established career bests across the board last season when he went 13-9 with a 3.40 ERA in 190 1-3 innings.
The fast-working lefty will face a Padres lineup also minus promising young catcher Yasmani Grandal , suspended for the first 50 games after testing positive for testosterone. Left fielder Carlos Quentin should be ready to go, though, after he was slowed this spring with discomfort in his surgically repaired right knee. Top prospect Jedd Gyorko takes over at second base.Niese said this spring he won't try to "fill anyone's shoes." But he acknowledged Sunday that he'll probably be a little anxious on opening day.
New York announced the decision to go with Niese on March 21 - the same day David Wright was appointed team captain - after Santana stalled at spring training."It's kind of sunk in now," Niese said. "I'm not going to treat it as an opening day. I'm going to treat it as a midseason start. I'm going to prepare the same and just be ready for it. I don't think we really have an ace on this staff. I think everybody contributes equally."
Pitching for the Padres will be Edinson Volquez , set to make his third consecutive opening day start. He got the ball last year for San Diego and in 2011 with Cincinnati.
Solid arms for sure, but this matchup of fourth-place teams that held their money tight last winter probably won't make many national headlines on a day when the likes of Stephen Strasburg , Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez are on the mound.
Not to mention across town, the Yankees will be hosting the rival Boston Red Sox at the exact same time."I love Eddie out there, especially that first game with his stuff. You know he might throw a few pitches but he's going to get outs. He's nasty," Padres outfielder Will Venable said.
Volquez, an All-Star with the Reds in 2008, has a tendency to be wild. But he played a pivotal role for the Dominican Republic team that won the World Baseball Classic this spring.
The right-hander was 11-11 with a 4.14 ERA last season after he and Grandal were part of the four-player package Cincinnati sent to San Diego for pitcher Mat Latos in December 2011." Edinson Volquez is very capable of throwing a hell of a game," Padres manager Bud Black said. "I think our guys are physically and mentally ready to do it. They're in a good frame of mind."
Of course, the Mets are optimistic at this stage as well.
Nearly the entire squad showed up for a voluntary workout Sunday to prepare for the opener. Wright and second baseman Daniel Murphy are expected to play after both were sidelined by ribcage injuries until just a few days ago."I feel good physically," said Wright, who was on a hitting tear for Team USA when he got hurt at the WBC. "It would have been nice to have maybe a few more at-bats toward the end, but I didn't have that luxury."
Collins addressed his team Saturday night, marking the end of a long spring training."It's time to get after it. It's time to start putting together all the things that we worked on," he said. "I told the guys yesterday, `If you've ever wanted to be on the biggest stage, this is it.' There's nothing like opening day in New York."
NOTES: Collins and trainer Ray Ramirez watched closely as backup infielder Justin Turner (calf) ran the bases at Citi Field. Turner was deemed healthy enough to remain on the roster, and the Mets made their final cut by optioning 3B-1B Zach Lutz to Triple-A Las Vegas. ... Rusty Staub , a member of the Mets' Hall of Fame, will throw out the first pitch Monday as the club celebrates the 40th anniversary of its 1973 pennant. ... The Mets will honor hundreds of Hurricane Sandy responders and volunteers in a ceremony on the field before the 1:10 p.m. game. The team donated 1,000 opening day tickets to storm responders and those affected by the destruction. ... Days before the opener, the Mets were offering free seats to games later in the week to fans buying opening day tickets. ... Despite losing their first eight openers, the Mets are 33-18 on opening day - the best mark in baseball.
AP freelance writers Laurel Pfahler in Port St. Lucie, Fla., and Tim Price in San Antonio contributed to this report.
|San Diego Padres|
|March 31, 2013||Cory Luebke||60-Day DL||Recovery from left elbow surgery|
|March 31, 2013||Casey Kelly||60-Day DL||Right elbow surgery, out for season|
|March 27, 2013||Logan Forsythe||15-Day DL||Plantar fasciitis, right foot|
|March 22, 2013||Chase Headley||15-Day DL||Broken left thumb|
|March 22, 2013||James Darnell||15-Day DL||Strained left oblique|
|March 22, 2013||Casey Kelly||Day-to-Day||Right elbow|
|New York Mets|
|March 22, 2013||Jenrry Mejia||15-Day DL||Right elbow inflammation|
|March 22, 2013||Frank Francisco||15-Day DL||Right elbow inflammation|
|March 22, 2013||Shaun Marcum||15-Day DL||Neck strain|
|March 22, 2013||Johan Santana||15-Day DL||Left shoulder surgery - out for season|
NEW YORK (AP) -- Nothing about the New York Mets on Monday resembled the second half of last season.
Then again, opening day has often been their biggest highlight of the year.
Jonathon Niese stepped nicely into his new role as No. 1 starter and Collin Cowgill 's grand slam capped a splashy New York debut in an 11-2 rout of the San Diego Padres .
"What a great day," Cowgill said. "We're looking forward to keeping this going."
Handed the opening day assignment in place of injured Johan Santana , Niese enjoyed a big afternoon with both his arm and bat. He breezed into the seventh inning against a Padres lineup missing slugger Chase Headley to a broken thumb and catcher Yasmani Grandal to a testosterone suspension.
"The adrenaline was pumping, I'm not going to lie," Niese said. "As far as the anxiety, it really wasn't much."
Marlon Byrd had a pair of RBI singles and fellow Mets newcomer John Buck was in the middle of three rallies as New York improved baseball's best opening day record to 34-18 (.654) despite dropping its first eight openers.
The Mets have won 20 of their last 22 season openers at home.
"So far, so good," a smiling David Wright said. "It was good to kind of bust out offensively and get some breathing room for Jon."
Niese had a perfect day at the plate himself, tying his career high with two hits. He had an RBI single in the second off an ineffective Edinson Volquez (0-1), then drew a leadoff walk and scored in a three-run fourth.
New York scored nine runs with two outs and went 7 for 14 with runners in scoring position after batting .246 in those situations last season, 20th in the majors. The three new additions to the lineup - Cowgill, Byrd and Buck - were a combined 6 for 14 with seven RBIs and five runs.
They provided a welcome change for a team that got off to an encouraging start last year before going 28-48 after the All-Star break in its fourth straight losing season (74-88).
"If I was going to draw it up, this would be about what it looks like and feels like," Buck said about his Mets debut. "It definitely helped me settle in a little easier."
With the Yankees hosting the rival Boston Red Sox across town, the Mets announced a sellout crowd of 41,053 at windy Citi Field, where the Padres won the ballpark's first game in 2009. The last time two New York teams opened at home on the same day was April 17, 1956, when it was the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers, according to STATS.
Wright received a warm ovation when he was introduced as the fourth Mets captain since their inception in 1962. He stole two bases and made a diving play at third base in his first game since signing a $138 million, eight-year contract - the richest in team history.
Byrd and Buck each had an RBI single in the third. Cowgill doubled to key the fourth inning, which included a run-scoring groundout by Wright and an RBI single by Daniel Murphy on his 28th birthday.
Volquez, making his third consecutive opening day start, helped the Dominican Republic win the World Baseball Classic last month. But he lasted only three-plus innings Monday and fell to 0-5 in six starts against the Mets.
"I was off a little bit," Volquez said. "I got behind in the count and they hit the ball pretty good."
The 26-year-old Cowgill, batting leadoff after winning the center field job this spring, hit his first career slam off Brad Bach in the seventh to make it 11-2. The only other opening day slam in Mets history was hit by Todd Hundley on April 26, 1995, at Colorado.
"I'm not sure I've been around a guy who competes like this guy does," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "Today was a good start for him and everybody else."
Cowgill was acquired from Oakland in a December trade. Still wearing eye black long after the final out, he acknowledged having jitters for his first opening day start in the majors. But his drive to left gave the Mets their most runs since Niese beat Philadelphia 11-1 on July 3 last year.
"Just a humbling experience today. Very grateful for it," he said.
Buck called the 5-foot-9 Cowgill "a little spark plug."
"He plays like his hair's on fire. That's what we need," the catcher said.
With his wife, parents and two brothers in the stands, Niese (1-0) gave up Carlos Quentin 's run-scoring single and Yonder Alonso 's solo homer before walking off to a standing ovation with two outs in the seventh. Feeling strong, the fast-working lefty wasn't thrilled about coming out of the game after 101 pitches.
"He was moving the ball around. He was throwing his cutters and curveballs for strikes," Alonso said. "He kept everybody off balance and got ahead of guys. ... So we just have to be a little more aggressive."
Mets reliever Scott Rice , making his big league debut after 14 seasons in the minors, struck out two in a perfect ninth.
"It's one of the great stories," Collins said. "I just hope he absorbed the whole thing. ... I'm real proud of him."
NOTES: Touted Padres prospect Jedd Gyorko made his major league debut. He stranded four runners in his first two at-bats, then doubled in the sixth for his first hit. ... Santana, the one-time Mets ace, is scheduled for another surgery Tuesday that he hopes can save his career. The left-hander re-tore the anterior capsule in his pitching shoulder. ... The Mets honored hundreds of Hurricane Sandy responders and volunteers in a pregame ceremony. There was a moment of silence for victims of the storm and the December school shootings in Newtown, Conn. ... Rusty Staub , a member of the Mets' Hall of Fame, threw out the first pitch on his 69th birthday as the club celebrated the 40th anniversary of its 1973 pennant. ... Ike Davis went 0 for 5 with four strikeouts.