PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The crowds following Johan Santana's every move have diminished, leaving the left-hander in relative peace at Mets camp. On the morning of his 33rd birthday, Santana threw an uneventful bullpen session on a back mound Tuesday, keeping him on track for a third spring start this Friday.

"It's nothing crazy," Santana said. "Just another day. Older, but just another day."

More significant tests will come later this month for Santana, when he increases his pitch count into regular-season territory. For now, the left-hander aims to throw 60 pitches and as many as four innings in Friday's start against the Tigers. The Mets expect him to be ready for Opening Day on April 5 against the Braves.

Beltran coy on deal with Niese

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- As he began walking toward a familiar back field for batting practice Tuesday morning, Cardinals outfielder Carlos Beltran spotted a $5 bill lying on the floor of the visitor's dugout at Digital Domain Park.

"Give it to Niese," Beltran quipped, referring to the money he owes former teammate Jon Niese for a rhinoplasty operation last October.

Asked earlier if he had already paid for the procedure, Beltran grinned and said simply, "That's between Jon Niese and I."

"I haven't seen him," Beltran continued, laughing. "How does his nose look? A little bit [better]? So should I pay?"

If Beltran holds firm to what he said last month, he will eventually write a check for the roughly $10,000 procedure, which Niese underwent only after his former teammate offered to finance it. Either way, Niese is pleased with the results, which have improved his breathing and overall conditioning.

"I'm not a debt collector," Niese said, amused by how much attention the episode is receiving. "If he pays me, he pays me. I'm not worried about it. It'd be nice, but it's not going to make or break me."

As for Niese's potential financier, Beltran finished 1-for-4 Tuesday in his debut against his former team, appearing fit and relaxed as he lounged beforehand in a bright red Cardinals cap.

After Beltran signed a seven-year, $119 million deal in 2005 and spent the first 6 1/2 of those seasons in New York, the Mets traded their star outfielder to San Francisco last July for pitching prospect Zack Wheeler. Beltran subsequently inked a two-year deal in St. Louis, where the Cardinals hope he can replace at least some of the offense of the departed Albert Pujols.

There is reason to believe he can. In 2011, his first healthy season in three years, Beltran hit .300 with 22 home runs split between the Mets and Giants.

"Right now, [the Mets] are going in a different direction," Beltran said. "I don't know if that's something that Mets fans want to see, but that's where they are right now. They're going young. They want to see what they've got in the Minor League system.

"At this point in my career, I just personally feel that I want to have the opportunity to be in the playoffs again. I thought this was the right opportunity for me to be here. For them, they're going young but they have talent, they still have talent. It's just going to take time."

Worth noting

• David Wright flew back to Port St. Lucie late Tuesday and is due back in Mets camp Wednesday morning. The Mets are hopeful that Wright, who flew to New York for a cortisone injection in his left rib cage, can begin baseball activities as soon as this weekend.

• Jason Bay snapped a 1-for-11 skid to start the exhibition season with a double in the fourth inning Tuesday. Bay finished 1-for-3 and is now 2-for-13 on the spring.