PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The ranks have thinned out considerably since mid-February, when 60 Mets -- give or take a Hernandez -- gathered and gave their clubhouse here some characteristics of a rush-hour subway car -- crowded and on track. Empty lockers are everywhere now.

Early Wednesday, Carlos Muniz looked up from a stool in front of a still-inhabited locker that bore his name and said, "I'm still here."

Five weeks ago, when Duaner Sanchez, Rocky Cherry, Tom Martin, Casey Fossum, Freddy Garcia, John Switzer and Kyle Snyder still had nameplates, stools and chances to fill roster spots, Muniz's presence in the clubhouse in late March wasn't readily predicted. Still isn't. But now posters alerting players about transporting luggage and personal cars to the North have been posted, and Muniz still is here. NCAA pools are in place, and so is the 28-year-old right-handed reliever who speaks softly, smiles often and now throws a split-finger fastball.

At the late-September urging of pitching Dan Warthen, Muniz has taken a step back to the '80s and developed a splitter that has deceived the eyes of enemy hitters and caught the eyes of Mets staff members. That splitter is the primary reason Muniz remains a resident of the big league clubhouse.

It "has some nastiness to it," Warthen said.

Muniz describes it this way: "I think I have a weapon now. I don't to say it's really good. But now I have something I can throw to lefties. I have an extra pitch. ... And I'm hoping to make it the pitch."

The batters he faces in the Mets' Wednesday afternoon home game against the Tigers will have something to say, too. More roster cuts are coming, perhaps by Thursday afternoon. Muniz needs to accumulate outs, and some ugly swings by the guys in gray can only enhance his chance of big league employment, his chance of being part of the bullpen renovation general manager Omar Minaya, manager Jerry Manuel and Warthen have created.

"I've been getting a few swings-and-misses," Muniz says. A good thing; no manager likes contact in late innings.

Muniz, who has made 20 appearances -- 18 last summer -- out of the Mets bullpen the past two years, took Warthen's advice. He found work in the Mexican League in the winter.

"At first, I wasn't sure about throwing [the slitter]," Muniz said. "But then I took stock of myself and [said], 'Why not?' I threw it right from the start in Mexico. I know they were looking for results. They didn't care about what I was trying to learn, so I had to learn quick. And I struggled a little, walking guys. ... But I didn't give up any runs, and I developed more confidence in it. Down here [in Spring Training], so far, so good."

Warthan has introduced the splitter to Bobby Parnell, who may turn out to be the Mets' primary swing-and-miss setup man. And, of course, J.J. Putz throws the pitch that made Bruce Sutter a Hall of Famer. Catcher Brian Schneider identified Putz's splitter as one of the three best pitches in camp.

"Mine isn't that good," Muniz says. "But I'm getting better at it and more confident all the time. And I do think it's a weapon now."