PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Some minutes after Johan Santana vacated a mound at the Mets' Spring Training complex Thursday morning, a more anonymous figure began throwing without quite so much fanfare. It has been seven years since C.J. Nitkowski pitched in a Major League uniform, and it's been more than a full year since he pitched for anyone at all.
After returning from a successful five-year stint in Asia, the 38-year-old reliever sat out last season as he plotted his next move. Working briefly with former Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson and modeling himself after Pedro Feliciano, Nitkowski reinvented himself as a left-handed sidearm specialist.
Nitkowski pitched for Cibao in the Dominican Winter League in January, then threw for scouts in Florida last week. But the Suffern, N.Y., native's ideal situation would be to close his career with the Mets, for whom he made five appearances back in 2001.
"This is my first choice," Nitkowski said.
It would hardly be unprecedented. The Mets signed Jason Isringhausen at age 38 last February after a similar tryout, then enjoyed the fruits of a relatively productive season. Just as he did with Isringhausen, Mets special assistant J.P. Ricciardi watched Nitkowski's bullpen session Thursday alongside pitching coach Dan Warthen, who knows Nitkowski from his days in Detroit. Those two and others will compare notes this week to discuss whether it is worth offering him a contract.
"They liked what they saw," Nitkowski said. "They seemed pleased. It's nice to come back into this atmosphere and to get feedback from people who know what they're talking about."
Nitkowski said he intended to convert to a sidearm delivery for years, but was unwilling to turn down guaranteed contracts as a conventional starting pitcher in Japan and Korea. He now wants one last shot at the Major Leagues, and he believes a drop-down look is the way to achieve it.
"Hopefully," Nitkowski said, "it gives me an opportunity to extend my career."
Tight glute not expected to linger for Torres
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- More minor injuries continue to nag the Mets, who lost center fielder Andres Torres on Thursday to a tight right glute. Torres was a late scratch from Thursday's lineup and will not make Friday's bus ride to Lake Buena Vista, Fla., though the Mets are hopeful he will be able to play as soon as Saturday.
Torres, who missed much of last season due to nagging injuries, was 3-for-4 with a three-run triple and a stolen base in his first two Grapefruit League games.
The news was also positive -- though slightly less so -- for reliever Pedro Beato, whose MRI came back negative and revealed nothing more than inflammation. Still, the trouble area is Beato's right rotator cuff, which can be a tricky area for pitchers.
Depending on how he feels, Beato could begin a light throwing program as early as Friday. More likely, he will continue to receive treatment and attempt to throw Sunday.
"He felt a lot better today," manager Terry Collins said Thursday afternoon. "His strength was up today."
The Mets have also been playing without third baseman David Wright, who continues to receive treatment on stiffness in his left rib cage and hopes to make his Grapefruit League debut by early next week.
MLBPA's Weiner voices support for Wilpons
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- MLB union chief Michael Weiner was outspoken in his support of Mets ownership Thursday.
"I'm sure nobody in the Mets' front office and ownership is happy with a drop in their payroll, because they understand that that has to have some effect on their competitiveness," Weiner said after conducting his annual meeting with Mets players. "But I wouldn't say [it's] a red flag because we know what the circumstances are. What we're looking forward for is, hopefully quite soon, the Mets being in a situation to come back and be a team that is going to be more competitive, and be the flagship franchise that they've been for so many years under the Wilpons."
The Mets project to post an Opening Day payroll of around $91 million this season, after sitting above $140 million at this time last year. But Weiner expressed hope that the results of the Wilpons' pending litigation will allow them to begin spending freely again soon.
"In any given year, some teams are going to be more involved and less involved in the free-agent market," Weiner said. "We look forward to a time when the Mets can, without any restriction, be the flagship franchise that they have been."
Sandy Koufax made his annual pilgrimage to Mets camp on Thursday, watching a Minor League intrasquad game featuring top prospect Zack Wheeler. Koufax, a close friend of Mets owner Fred Wilpon, also spent time working with Bobby Parnell and requested to speak to prospect Matt Harvey, before departing late in the morning.
The documentary "Knuckleball!" featuring R.A. Dickey and Tim Wakefield will premiere next month at the Tribeca Film Festival. Dickey, whose autobiography is slated for release later this month, has worked closely on the film throughout the past year with directors Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg.