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Dickey gives tour of Mets' Spring Training clubhouse

When last season ended, R.A. Dickey and Jair Jurrjens were two pitchers headed in very different directions.

Dickey finished his 2011 campaign by turning in 12 consecutive starts of allowing three earned runs or less, posting a 2.45 ERA during that stretch. Jurrjens, on the other hand, won just one of his final seven starts before missing all of September with a bone bruise in his right knee that contributed to his struggles.

On Saturday, the two will square off as the Braves look to avenge their season-opening 1-0 loss at Citi Field on Thursday.

For Jurrjens, the midseason collapse last year came on the heels of a stellar opening three months. The right-hander started the season 12-3 with a 1.87 ERA and remained a legitimate Cy Young Award candidate until unraveling after the All-Star break.

After allowing four or more earned runs just once in 16 starts before the Midsummer Classic, Jurrjens was touched up for at least that many in five of his seven second-half outings. Despite stumbling down the stretch, Jurrjens is confident coming off back-to-back solid starts to close out Spring Training.

"Mentally, this is a big boost," Jurrjens said after allowing just two runs over 13 innings of work in his final two Grapefruit League tuneups. "I think this made a lot of people relax. Sometimes you just need to get over the hump. I needed to search really deep and go all out. I'm happy everything went well."

"I feel like he is ready to go," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He's ready to roll."

As for Dickey, he'll be looking to build off his two most consistent seasons in the Majors, while also avoiding another slow start. The knuckleballer started just 1-5 last season and has a 5.10 career ERA in March and April, easily his highest for any month.

Part of that is the typical cooler early-season temperatures that are notoriously troublesome for knuckleball pitchers. While the gametime temperature in New York was around 50 degrees for Thursday's opener, it's expected to be even warmer, closer to 60 degrees, Saturday afternoon.

"It can sometimes be a problem. When it's too cold, the balls feel different in your hands," Dickey said prior to the season opener. "It's like feeling a pool ball, almost. It's hard to make it do what you want it to do.

"But this is fantastic here. I just threw a bullpen, I felt great and my pitch was looking good, so I feel confident. If we get temperatures like this, it will be nice."

Braves: Jones making speedy recovery
With Chipper Jones progressing quicker than expected from left knee surgery on March 26, the veteran third baseman will test the knee in a live batting-practice session Friday afternoon at Citi Field.

Jones, who originally planned to return for the Braves' April 13 home opener, said he could be ready to play when he is eligible to come off the disabled list on Tuesday, when the Braves play the Astros.

"We'll take it day by day," Gonzalez said while admitting he is open to the possibility of allowing Jones to return a couple days earlier than first projected.

Mets: Collins sets bullpen
Prior to Thursday's opener, Mets manager Terry Collins dispelled any notions of switching things up in the bullpen. Hours after Collins declared Frank Francisco his closer and Jon Rauch his setup man, the two combined to close out the Mets' 1-0 victory.

Rauch put a rough Grapefruit League showing behind him to pitch a perfect eighth inning, and Francisco retired the Braves in order in the ninth to seal the win.

"We put this bullpen together this winter for a purpose," Collins 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."

Worth noting
• The Braves were shut out 10 times last season, three of which came at the hands of the Mets.

• Jason Heyward is just 6-for-37 (.162) in his career at Citi Field, his second-lowest batting average for any National League park (.065 at Dodger Stadium).

• The Mets haven't won the season series with their division rivals since going 11-7 against the Braves in the 2006 campaign. Comments