NEW YORK -- More than the new angles, nooks and crannies, the most striking renovation at Citi Field is the color of the outfield walls. Bright blue with a line of orange trim, the walls appeared to sparkle Thursday as they reflected sunshine in the hours leading up to Opening Day.
Yet of more interest to the Mets was the layout of those walls. Though the team had plenty of opportunity to take spring batting practice on Field 7 at Port St. Lucie, Fla., where the Mets put new fences in place over the winter to reflect the changes at Citi Field, there is no substitute for the real thing. So manager Terry Collins was thrilled to see several balls clear the new walls -- but fall short of the old ones -- during batting practice Thursday.
"It's beautiful," Collins said. "They've done a great job. It looks terrific. ... Certainly, as we get into the season, we're going to see a major effect."
Collins' only regret was that the Mets had precious little time to get acquainted with the new dimensions. Because they played a game in Tampa on Wednesday afternoon, the Mets hurried home for a quick night of rest before arriving at Citi Field early Thursday morning. Unlike in years past, there was no off-day between the end of Spring Training and the start of the regular season.
"There are things that are out of your control, and you can't worry about them," Collins said. "We knew going into Spring Training what the end was going to be like. We knew we were going to be tired. You can't spend six weeks down there, especially as hot as it was the last 10 days in Florida, and not be tired. But today is a day that you refresh."
Collins: Francisco to close, Rauch to set up
NEW YORK -- Despite an ugly spring for several Mets relievers, manager Terry Collins made his bullpen hierarchy clear heading into the first game of the regular season. Frank Francisco will close. Jon Rauch will set him up. And the other Mets pitchers will fall in line behind them.
Heading into the spring, Francisco appeared to be the closer, Rauch the setup man, Ramon Ramirez the seventh-inning specialist and Bobby Parnell a bullpen candidate. But Between a bout of left knee soreness for Francisco, a poor Grapefruit League showing for Rauch and an electric spring for Parnell, there was some talk late in camp that roles could change.
Collins squelched that chatter Thursday.
"We put this bullpen together this winter for a purpose," the manager said. "Frankie Francisco's going to pitch the ninth inning if we have a lead. To get to him, Jon Rauch. That's why he's here. You can't get caught up in Spring Training statistics. Veteran guys a lot of times in Spring Training just try to get themselves ready. They're not motivated to do anything except get their arms in shape."
Whether due to a lack of motivation, adrenaline or anything else, Francisco posted a 5.54 ERA in 13 spring innings, while Rauch compiled a 7.94 mark and Ramirez clocked in at 5.25. Parnell, meanwhile, did not allow a run over 12 1/3 innings, striking out 10 and walking two.
Those numbers did little to sway Collins, whose bullpen ranked 28th in ERA last season. Largely because of that, the Mets acquired Francisco, Rauch and Ramirez over the winter in two free-agent signings and a trade.
"They've got track records," Collins said. "We think we're better, and we'll start to find out as of today."
Torres headed to DL after re-injuring left calf
NEW YORK -- All spring, the Mets proceeded cautiously with injured center fielder Andres Torres, knowing that if Torres appeared in a Major League game at any point, the Mets would be unable to backdate a potential disabled list stint.
That prudence seemed to work, allowing a healthy Torres to break camp with the Mets in time for Opening Day. But Torres re-strained his left calf in the seventh inning Thursday, and he will land on the disabled list before the Mets play their next game on Saturday.
"I feel terrible this thing happened," Torres said. "But at the same time, I have to be positive and try to get better."
Ranging back to cut off Tyler Pastornicky's hit in the seventh, Torres appeared to misplay it into a triple as the ball rolled past him. A moment later, he simply stopped chasing the ball, waiting for Lucas Duda to field it.
"Andres is kind of like the Energizer Bunny," left fielder Jason Bay said. "He's a high-energy guy. For him to let the ball go to the wall and just stand there is not him. I kind of figured something was wrong."
The diagnosis was a strained left calf, the same injury that forced Torres out for two weeks in Spring Training. Torres did not return to action until last Monday, spawning all sorts of contingency plans as the Mets prepared to break camp.
One of those alternatives, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, is the likely sub for Torres. The Mets recently held Nieuwenhuis back in Port St. Lucie, Fla., in case Torres was unable to go on Opening Day. Though he has never appeared in a Major League game, Nieuwenhuis is already on the 40-man roster, making him the heavy favorite to earn a callup.
The Mets could also call on veteran utility man Vinny Rottino or center-field prospect Matt den Dekker. But neither of those players are on the 40-man roster, making them unlikely subs unless the Mets plan to be without Torres for a significant time. To that end, both Torres and manager Terry Collins indicated that this injury is not as serious as the one that cost him two weeks in spring.
"We'll have to wait and see," Collins said. "But Andres passed every test he had to pass to be ready to play. I don't think this is as bad as the one he got in Florida. But still, when you rely on your legs, it's a serious injury."
Whoever gets the call will likely play behind Scott Hairston, the club's primary backup center fielder.
Injuries limited Torres to 112 games last year, a down season that saw him hit .221 with a .312 on-base percentage and four home runs. Torres plans to fly back to Port St. Lucie on Friday.
Kiner helps Mets usher in Opening Day
NEW YORK -- The loudest ovations were for R.A. Dickey and David Wright. Hall of Fame player and broadcaster Ralph Kiner received a standing ovation as he read the starting lineup.
"There's an old expression," Kiner said. "I'm very happy to be here. But at my age, I'm happy to be anywhere."
After that, along with a ceremony to honor late Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter, Opening Day began for the Mets. Representatives from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard sang the national anthem at Citi Field, marking the first time all-female singers from each branch of the military have sung together at a major U.S. sporting event.
"When you spend your whole life doing this, Opening Day means it's the start of the things you like to do best, and that's play the games," manager Terry Collins said. "Summer's on the way. Winter's over."
Entering his second season at the helm, Collins was not the only member of the Mets anxious to begin. General manager Sandy Alderson, who had not tweeted from his @MetsGM account since February, relayed a message roughly a half hour before first pitch.
"Opening Day with beautiful weather and Johan Santana on the mound," Alderson wrote. "What a great way to start the season. Let's go Mets!"
Niese relieved to get contract extension
NEW YORK -- Left-hander Jon Niese called his pending contract extension "a relief," knowing he no longer has to worry about money or injuries over the next five years with the Mets.
"It's a burden off my shoulders and it's something that I don't have to think about when I go out and pitch," Niese said. "I can just go out and pitch and have fun and help the team win."
The five-year deal, which the Mets plan to announce on Saturday, is worth $25.5 million with two team options, potentially raising the value as high as seven years and $46 million. Niese will undergo a physical on Friday before the Mets make his deal official the following day.
Set to start the third game of the season on Sunday, Niese finished 11-11 with a 4.40 ERA last year, missing the final month of the season with a right intercostal strain.