NYM@STL: Niese leaves game with elbow discomfort

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Mets left-hander Jon Niese took what he deemed "a huge step" in his return from elbow soreness on Thursday afternoon, experiencing no pain while tossing about 60 pitches in a Minor League game on a backfield at the club's spring complex.

Niese is planning to throw in another Minor League game next Tuesday before joining the Mets in New York on Wednesday, then making his season debut against the Reds on April 6.

"It felt great," Niese said after working 4 1/3 scoreless innings against a Cardinals squad. "No issues. I felt like the ball came out pretty easy today. I had pretty good command. Fortunately, no setbacks."

Pitching coach Dan Warthen said that Niese looked good, but cautioned that the club will have to see how he feels Friday and how he gets through his next outing before declaring him ready. Niese is scheduled to bump his pitch count up to around 75 his next time out, and he hopes to be able to throw 90-95 pitches to open the regular season.

In the meantime, with Niese's status still uncertain, the Mets have not made an official determination about the fifth-starter battle between Daisuke Matsuzaka and Jenrry Mejia, who both are scheduled to start exhibition games this weekend in Montreal. Both still could be needed to open the season in the rotation if Niese encounters a setback.

But there were no such issues on Thursday. Niese threw all of his pitches, with his cutter clocking in at 86-88 mph and his fastball at 89-91. He pounded the strike zone and got at least one of his three strikeouts on a big curveball. Although the Minor League defense behind him struggled, he allowed only one clean hit, walked none and mostly kept the ball on the ground.

"I was cutting loose," Niese said. "I wasn't trying to throw my hardest, but mechanics-wise, I was cutting loose. I think that was the problem before. I got away from my mechanics and tried to throw as hard as I could, and that's where the issues came. This week, I've been working on my mechanics and took that into today, and it worked out great."

Dice-K, Mejia take rotation battle to Montreal

WSH@NYM: Mejia makes case for fifth starter spot

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Going into exhibition games in Montreal on Friday and Saturday, the Mets still have not decided on a fifth starter between veteran Daisuke Matsuzaka and 24-year-old Jenrry Mejia.

"They're both still fighting for a position on the team, and they both have thrown extremely well," pitching coach Dan Warthen said on Thursday. "So it's made it a very difficult decision for all of us, which is a nice thing to have."

Matsuzaka has posted a 3.86 ERA in five starts over 18 2/3 innings, striking out 17 and walking four. Mejia started three games and pitched 9 1/3 innings, giving up five runs -- three earned -- walking five and striking out 10.

One of the two pitchers figures to start on April 4, but the situation hinges partly on the health of Jon Niese, who currently is on target to start April 6 as he returns from elbow soreness. If Niese suffers a setback before then, both could make the rotation.

One factor potentially working against Mejia is a bunion on his right foot that bothered him in his last start on Sunday. Manager Terry Collins called the situation "a concern," and said that while Mejia is scheduled to start on Friday against the Blue Jays, that plan still could be scrapped if Mejia aggravates it during warmups.

Mejia is coming off his best start of the spring, having allowed one run on two hits over five innings against the Nationals, striking out six.

"We've always like Mejia's stuff," Warthen said. "We'd just like to see him get deeper in a game, but that's the high pitch counts. We'll see how everything feels afterward, because he really has plus stuff, and if he can command the zone and get hitters out, he deserves the position as well."

Lannan added to roster, will be in Mets' bullpen

WSH@NYM: Lannan gets out of a bases-loaded jam

PORT ST. LUCIE -- Left-hander John Lannan already was expected to be a part of the Mets' season-opening bullpen, but the club made that official on Thursday when it added him to the 40-man roster.

Lannan had signed a Minor League contract with New York this offseason and came to camp to compete for the fifth spot in the starting rotation. While he didn't win that, he did make the club. The 29-year-old pitched a scoreless 1 1/3 innings of relief in Thursday's game against the Nationals, lowering his spring ERA to 4.91. In 14 2/3 innings, spanning eight appearances, he allowed 15 hits, walked six and struck out 11.

With the addition of Lannan to complement Scott Rice, the Mets' bullpen is slated to enter the season with two southpaws.

A Long Island native, Lannan has started all 148 of his Major League games over seven seasons. Last year, he left the Nationals to sign as a free agent with the Phillies and went 3-6 with a 5.33 ERA in 14 outings.

Worth noting

Bartolo Colon also threw in a Minor League game on Thursday instead of facing the Nationals, his first scheduled regular-season opponent. Colon threw about 60 pitches.