PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Each day is a new step for Johan Santana, who faced live batters on Thursday for the first time since October. Throwing 40 pitches over two simulated innings to a group of hitters including David Wright, Ike Davis and Daniel Murphy, Santana came away as encouraged as ever.
"I was told I was going to be challenged by those guys and I had to step up," Santana said, smiling. "Overall, it was good."
The audience will swell for Santana's next outing, a Grapefruit League start against the Cardinals on Tuesday at 1:10 p.m. ET, in a game that will be broadcast on MLB.TV. Santana expects to throw two innings and around 35 pitches in the game, keeping him on track to start Opening Day against the Braves on April 5.
"I'm sure he knows that he's on the team," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "He doesn't have to show us in BP. So he can just go about it and get his work done, and he did that."
Though Santana's velocity is not what it was before shoulder surgery in September 2010, the left-hander is focusing more on fine-tuning the command of his fastball and changeup. Adequate velocity should come in time, even if Santana never throws in the mid- or even low-90s again.
"You can tell everything you need to know about Johan just by the way he's acting, what he's saying, his body language," Wright said. "Obviously, you could see today that he was having fun, he was joking around, and that's a pretty good indication of how he was feeling."
Wright favors expanded playoff system
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- David Wright was taken aback when told that the proposed changes to Major League Baseball's playoff system would not have helped the Mets in 2007.
"Really?" Wright said. "I assumed we would have gotten in."
Even with an extra Wild Card, the Mets would have fallen a game short of the Padres, who never would have lost a one-game playoff with the Rockies. But the Mets would have made the playoffs the following season, in 2008, when they again fell one game short.
"I think it's about five years too late," Wright quipped of the proposed changes. "I think it will be great for baseball. The more win-or-go-home games there are, the more exciting it is from a player's perspective, from a fan's perspective. So I think it's good."
Though not official, the changes should soon be finalized for the 2012 season, giving each league five playoff teams instead of four. There is no telling what sort of domino effect those rules may have had on the Mets had they made the postseason in 2008, just as there is no telling how it will affect teams in the future.
"Maybe they should have done it a little sooner," pitcher Mike Pelfrey said, echoing Wright's sentiments. "The whole idea is making the playoffs and anything can happen, so I think that's great."
Mets debut uniform patches for Carter
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The Mets debuted uniform patches in honor of late Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter on Thursday, wearing them on their right sleeves. Carter's nickname "KID" and his No. 8 are stitched in white on the patches, in the center of a black home plate with white trim. The Mets plan to wear them throughout the 2012 season.
Carter, who won a World Series championship with the Mets in 1986, passed away last month following a nine-month battle with brain cancer. Dozens of past and present Mets attended his memorial in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., the following week.
"Fred [Wilpon] came up to me before the memorial and said, 'Do you want to put these on the uniform?'" manager Terry Collins said. "I thought it was terrific. We found Sandy [Carter's wife] when it was over, and Fred and I told her that we were going to put them on our uniforms. She was certainly thrilled."
Duda staying put in Mets' right-field spot
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Despite his significant Minor League experience at the position, Lucas Duda will not serve as the Mets' backup first baseman this season. Even if regular first baseman Ike Davis is sidelined for a significant period of time, the Mets will keep Duda confined to right field.
"He's got enough on his hands right now to play right field every day," manager Terry Collins said. "He's got enough on his plate to do the things we want offensively and to learn how to play a position, instead of scrambling him around trying to play multiple spots. I just don't think it's fair to him."
Collins is also hesitant to move Daniel Murphy from second base, significantly increasing Justin Turner's value as the team's defensive jack-of-all-trades. Turner, a natural third baseman who recently acquired a first-baseman's glove, should be the primary backup at first, second and third base. Ronny Cedeno will back up Ruben Tejada at shortstop.
Top prospects Matt Harvey and Jeurys Familia will pitch on opposing sides of the Mets' intrasquad game Friday at Digital Domain Park, starting around noon ET. Familia will relieve Dillon Gee, who will start opposite Harvey. The Mets plan to play seven-inning intrasquad games on Friday and Saturday, with another game tentatively scheduled for Sunday.
Sixty-two-year-old Mets manager Terry Collins caused a stir Thursday morning when he participated in rundown drills. "I've been very lucky," Collins said. "Even though I'm getting older and older, I've never had leg problems. And anytime I ever have to run very hard, I make sure the catcher's the one chasing me."