MIAMI -- Left-hander Tim Byrdak tossed one inning Saturday in extended spring training, his first game action since undergoing surgery last August to repair a torn capsule in his pitching shoulder. The Mets are still eyeing a July return for Byrdak, who was on pace for 86 appearances last season before suffering the injury.
Posting a 4.08 ERA in nearly two full seasons with the Mets, Byrdak signed a Minor League deal to remain in the organization last winter. He has since split his rehab between Port St. Lucie, Fla., and his home in Illinois.
The Mets have a history of placing overworked lefty specialists (see: Byrdak and Pedro Feliciano) on the disabled list in recent years, so Byrdak's return could provide some welcome relief for similarly overused reliever Scott Rice. Serving as the team's primary left-handed reliever in Byrdak's absence, Rice is on pace for a league-leading 97 appearances.
That is in large part a function of his success; Rice is holding lefties to a .150 average and a .333 OPS, and he has not allowed a run in eight of his last nine appearances.
Consider it a trend for the bullpen as a whole, which entered Saturday's play with two earned runs allowed over its past 15 innings to reduce its season ERA from 4.90 to 4.57. Manager Terry Collins chalked the sudden success up to the fact that Mets starters have averaged 6.7 innings per game over that stretch, versus 5.6 innings leading up to that point.
"That's exactly what it is," Collins said. "[Starters] are going deeper into games, so you're looking at certain matchups now that ... you're bringing guys in to face certain guys in their lineup that they're going to have better success against."
Collins expects Niese to make next start
MIAMI -- Mets manager Terry Collins reiterated Saturday that he only expects injured starter Jon Niese to miss one turn through the rotation. With left shoulder tendinitis sidelining Niese for Saturday's game against the Marlins, Collin McHugh made the start in Miami.
"I have no reason to think he won't," Collins said of Niese taking the mound Friday at Citi Field. "He was feeling a lot better yesterday; he felt a lot better today."
Niese, who felt discomfort in his shoulder after each of his last four starts, will not attempt to throw again until Tuesday in Washington. He had been thriving recently in spite of his injury, posting a 1.33 ERA over his last three starts.
Adjustments at plate may be paying off for Davis
MIAMI -- The opposite-field double that Ike Davis ripped in the fifth inning Friday was not only his first extra-base hit since May 9, but the hardest-hit ball he had mustered in weeks. It was also some of the best evidence yet that Davis' mechanical changes may be working, at a time when he still faces constant danger of a Minor League demotion.
"He's changed a lot of things," manager Terry Collins said. "He's moved up on the plate a little bit. Obviously he's more upright than he has been. He's been able to keep himself back on his backside a little bit longer, which I think has helped. If you look at where he's hit the ball, he's not necessarily trying to pull, pull, pull. So I think that's made a big difference."
Davis entered Saturday's play riding a modest 6-for-19 run, though even that stretch is not without its flaws. He has struck out eight times in those 20 plate appearances, walking just once. And he has not hit a home run since April 25.
Collins said what least concerns him is the lack of over-the-fence pop; if Davis can correct the flaws in his swing, the home runs will inevitably come.
"If he makes better contact, he's going to hit homers," Collins said. "That comes with his territory. He's a big, strong guy. Ike's struggles came because he wasn't hitting. He wasn't hitting the ball. If he makes solid contact, he's going to hit home runs."
• Outfield prospect Matt den Dekker hopes to begin swinging a bat regularly next week in his continued rehab from a fractured right wrist. den Dekker has been swinging with his left hand only, according to Collins, because his right wrist atrophied while in a cast.
• Jordany Valdespin started his first game in 15 days Saturday, replacing Marlon Byrd in right field. Valdespin has been marginalized since the acquisition of Rick Ankiel, who has started every day in center against right-handed pitchers. That has left Byrd, Valdespin and Mike Baxter to fight for playing time in right, with Byrd and Baxter receiving most of it.