MIAMI -- Though the Mets are not ruling out a return this season for starting pitcher Jon Niese, the left-hander has not progressed significantly since straining his right intercostal muscle last month.

Niese is currently doing pool work in Port St. Lucie, Fla., and is "not close" to returning, according to assistant general manager John Ricco.

"That midsection is kind of tricky, so we've just got to wait until he's pain-free," Ricco said. "When he sneezes, he feels it. It's not a sharp pain, but he still feels something in there, so we're not progressing him until he totally feels good."

Regardless, needing roster space, the Mets will not transfer Niese to the 60-day DL this week, keeping open the possibility that he could still return. The same goes for outfielder Scott Hairston, whose return from a strained left oblique is likewise not imminent.

Ike now almost certain to avoid ankle surgery

MIAMI -- Though the Mets have not unequivocally ruled it out, surgery has suddenly become a remote possibility for first baseman Ike Davis.

As recently as two weeks ago, Davis was resigned to the prospect of microfracture surgery to repair a bone bruise in his left ankle, which has kept him sidelined since May. But after resting for much of August, Davis has ramped up his workout regimen with no ill effects.

It's been enough for him to cease fearing the worst. Barring sudden, unexpected pain in his ankle over the next few days, Davis will now almost certainly avoid surgery.

"Right now, all we can do is try to do the best thing for my career," he said. "The best thing is not to have surgery right now. If it stays like this, I won't have to."

Because the pain in his ankle did not subside for nearly three full months following an infield collision with third baseman David Wright, Davis had resigned himself to the prospect of an operation that, in his words, "might not have even worked." But recently, that outlook changed.

"The last two weeks, I've been really pushing it, and it's stayed pretty consistent," Davis said of his ankle. "It hasn't gotten worse, like in the past."

Though some tightness remains in the joint, Davis is confident that when he travels to New York this week for a final check-up with team doctors, he will be cleared for an offseason of continued non-surgical rehabilitation. The first baseman plans to take two months off from baseball activities before ramping up his workouts yet again this winter.

The concern for the Mets is that by sitting out almost his entire age-24 season, Davis may suffer a setback in development. Even so, the team cannot be overly fearful for a player who hit 19 home runs as a rookie in 2010 and was well on his way to an even better sophomore season prior to his injury.

"There's always a concern of that, but he's not your average guy," manager Terry Collins said of a potential lapse in development. "As he said to me today, he will be gung-ho next spring for sure."

Mets still eyeing Major League return for Johan

MIAMI -- Minor League playoff schedules and uncertainty have recently clouded Johan Santana's rehab schedule, but this much is clear: There is still a chance that the two-time Cy Young award-winner appears for the Mets this season.

Santana, who plans to throw a bullpen session in front of Mets personnel on Tuesday, will resume a Minor League rehab assignment in some capacity on Friday. Whether he appears for Class A St. Lucie or Class A Savannah depends upon playoff schedules; the Mets would prefer for Santana to start in Florida for St. Lucie, but that game may not actually occur.

Wherever Santana's start takes place, he and the Mets will reevaluate his status afterward with an eye toward a possible Major League return. If the Mets deem him healthy enough to endure the adrenaline spike of a big league outing, he could start for the Mets as soon as next week.

"I would love to be on the Major League level right now, but the reality is I can't," Santana said Monday, almost exactly one year removed from surgery to repair a torn capsule in his left shoulder. "We have a process that we have to follow. If in my next outing everything goes fine, then it might be a possibility in a Major League level."

If not, the Mets may assign Santana to their instructional league in Port St. Lucie, Fla., where he could still face live competition in games. The team has even floated the idea of sending him to Winter Ball for additional innings, if necessary.

Most important for the Mets is Santana's health -- not his location.

"The thing that we're most concerned about is not getting him back to the Major Leagues, but just setting him up for next year," said assistant general manager John Ricco. "We're trying to continue the rehab process, with competition if we can."

Outfielder Baxter among three to join Mets

MIAMI -- Three more reinforcements will join the Mets this week, one of them in the image of a former teammate.

First baseman Valentino Pascucci will join the Mets on Tuesday and wear uniform No. 15, Carlos Beltran's number throughout 6 1/2 seasons with the Mets. The team traded Beltran to the Giants for pitching prospect Zack Wheeler earlier this summer.

Pascucci, 32, hit .259 with 21 home runs and 29 doubles in 129 games with Triple-A Buffalo this season.

Also joining the Mets will be right-handed pitcher Chris Schwinden, who is a candidate to start one half of Thursday's doubleheader against the Braves, and outfielder Mike Baxter.

Baxter, a 26-year-old Queens native, was 4-for-16 during a brief spell with the Mets earlier this season. Schwinden, 24, was 8-8 with a 3.95 ERA in 26 starts for Buffalo, striking out 134 batters and walking 48 over 145 2/3 innings.

"He's definitely had the type of year you want to reward," Mets assistant general manager John Ricco said of Schwinden. "He's been one of our better pitchers, so it will be a nice thing for him to come up."