LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Matt den Dekker, a proud Florida Gator, was a college classmate of Tim Tebow. So it stands to reason that he'd pay a little extra attention to how the quarterback does in the NFL.
The Mets' non-roster outfielder doesn't really remember which courses they shared. But watching Tebowmania taught him at least one lesson: Things can change quickly in sports.
Tebow, of course, started last season as a backup for the Denver Broncos. The Heisman Trophy winner replaced Kyle Orton after a 1-4 start and took Denver to the playoffs. But when the Broncos signed Peyton Manning last week, Tebow was traded to the New York Jets.
Den Dekker's version of how quickly things change was being transferred to Minor League camp eight days ago and then being transferred back Friday, when injuries to center fielders Andres Torres (left calf strain) and Scott Hairston (strained oblique) left the position up in the air. He now has at least a chance to make the team out of Spring Training.
Before the Mets' 9-4 loss to the Braves at Champion Stadium on Friday, he acknowledged the parallel.
"Exactly," the 2010 fifth-round Draft choice acknowledged. "You've just got to be ready for whatever happens. He did a great job of handling it last year. And I'm going to try to do the same thing. Wherever they put me, try to do my best and work hard.
"I was in school three years with him. I think we had one or two classes together, [but] we weren't really close. I'm a fan. He's a great player and a great guy. I've been a Gator fan forever. Football, basketball, baseball. I like to follow all those guys and see how they're doing."
Mets manager Terry Collins is impressed by the fact that den Dekker hit 17 homers between Class A Port St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton last year. The organization believes he's capable of playing defense at the big league level right now, and will be watching closely to see how he progresses offensively. He didn't play against the Braves, but is slated to start Saturday against the Cardinals at Digital Domain Stadium.
If Torres and Hairston are unavailable for Opening Day, Collins said den Dekker is one of several options under consideration.
"He's in the mix," the manager said. "He's a legitimate consideration."
The 24-year-old is just happy to be back in big league camp.
"You want to make the most of your opportunities," den Dekker said. "Try to play the defense I know I can play and get my offensive game going. I've got a little bit of pop, and when I get to a ball, I can hit it out. But more of my game is getting on base. Last year I struck out a bunch [156 times in 539 at-bats], and I'd like to cut down on that a little bit this year. Try to get on base and let the other guys drive me in. Try to cut down my swing a little bit with two strikes. Put the ball in play and use my legs."
Den Dekker batted a combined .265 in the Minors last season while stealing 24 bases and scoring 103 runs.
In other roster news, the Mets reassigned first baseman Josh Satin, shortstop Omar Quintanilla and right-handed reliever Fernando Cabrera to Minor League camp, reducing their total number of players to 37. Of those, at least 32 still have a legitimate chance to make the team, due in large part to the injuries to Torres, Hairston, left-handed reliever Tim Byrdak and others.
With less than two weeks left in camp, 20 of the team's 25 roster spots -- barring additional injuries -- are written in ink. The club still must fill two bench spots and three bullpen jobs, with health threatening to play a significant role in that process.
Wright's Opening Day status looks promising
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- David Wright called it his "second day of Spring Training." It was, in effect, another morning of defensive and hitting drills for the Mets third baseman on Friday, as complete a workout as he can do without participating in an actual game.
As for that next step, Wright feels he still needs "a few more" complete days of workouts before appearing in games. Conceivably, he could enter the lineup early next week, if not sooner in a Minor League game. No matter the date, it is looking more and more certain that Wright will be ready for Opening Day.
"We haven't put a timetable on it throughout this process, and I'm not going to start now," Wright said. "It still depends on how I feel tomorrow and the next day."
Wright strained a left abdominal muscle early this month and has been battling the injury ever since, recently flying back to New York to receive a cortisone injection in the area. He and the Mets both remain confident the third baseman will be ready to play come April 5.
"But I've got to be able to do this for four or five days before I go out there and get put in a game situation," Wright said of his morning workouts.
The injury news was equally encouraging for outfielder Scott Hairston, who took approximately 30 swings off a tee on Friday and plans to participate in soft-toss drills Saturday. Hairston, who strained his left oblique early in camp, believes he also will be ready for Opening Day -- potentially simplifying what has become a complicated center-field situation.
"[Saturday] I'm going to ramp up the hitting a little bit," Hairston said. "It's good to be on a steady progression."
Carrasco losing hope for season readiness
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The days are ticking past, leaving D.J. Carrasco frustrated and pessimistic that he will break camp with the Mets.
"It's not looking that way," Carrasco said of his chances to be ready by Opening Day.
Though Carrasco threw off a mound on Friday for the third time since twisting his right ankle last week, he felt uncomfortable in defensive drills the previous day. Based upon that, Carrasco is wary of the team's plans to have him pitch in a Minor League game Sunday, though he has yet to discuss the matter with pitching coach Dan Warthen or trainer Ray Ramirez.
"Judging by that, I still can't field my position yet," Carrasco said. "You've got to be able to go 100 percent of everything, not just throwing."
To combat his injury, the right-hander has been using strips of electric blue medical tape, called Kinesio tape, to promote circulation in his ankle and reduce swelling.
If Carrasco is indeed unable to go on Opening Day, it would make Bobby Parnell and Miguel Batista the heavy favorites -- if they aren't already -- to claim the final two spots in New York's bullpen. Four bullpen jobs are already taken, with Garrett Olson leading a separate competition to replace Tim Byrdak as the left-handed specialist.
Baxter shows versatility with center field action
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- After Mike Baxter was placed on waivers by the Padres and claimed by the Mets last July, he thought he should give his new team a scouting report on himself. And center field wasn't at the top of his list.
"I wanted to give them a detailed analysis of what I'd done in the past," he said. "It was right field, then first base, then left field, then center, in order of games played."
Now that injuries to Andres Torres and Scott Hairston have the Mets scrambling to sort out center field options, though, he wants to make sure he wasn't misunderstood.
"I feel good in the outfield. I feel good in center field," he said. "I take reps there. I work hard there. I'm glad I'm having an opportunity to play there, because in the past I've been behind other players. Even if it's just limited time in Spring Training, it's exciting to get a chance to play center, and I think it's important for my style of game to be able to play there."
Baxter got his latest chance Friday at Champion Stadium, starting in center during New York's 9-4 loss to Atlanta. And he continued to impress, going 2-for-2 with a walk and 2 RBIs while raising his Grapefruit League batting average to .343.
And that's without his swing being where he thinks it can be.
"I'm pretty satisfied with it now, but I also think there's some room left to improve," he said. "From the start of camp, I've been trying to prepare for the season regardless of the spot I'm trying to win. Having good at-bats, trying to take the ball back up the middle of the field, getting my timing down. Over the last couple weeks, I feel like it's starting to come together."
Manager Terry Collins is trying to get him some playing time to see how he handles the field.
"He's been OK," the manager said. "He's done fine."
Niese feels good after start, despite results
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- When it was all over, Mets left-hander Jon Niese conceded that "the results look kind of bad on paper."
That was in reference to giving up four runs on four hits in four innings in the Mets' 9-4 loss to the Braves on Friday.
He also didn't walk a batter and needed only 54 pitches. When it was over, he felt so good that he went to the bullpen and pitched another couple simulated innings to get his work in.
"I really felt good, minimizing the walks. I'm pretty happy with that," he said. "Pounding the strike zone with all my pitches, just trusting my game plans during the season -- I think that's going to be the key."
Niese settled down after giving up leadoff triples to Michael Bourn and Martin Prado in the bottom of the first.
Said manager Terry Collins: "He's doing fine. He's right on track."
Left-hander Johan Santana threw his routine between-starts bullpen session Friday, after throwing a spring-high 69 pitches in his start against the Cardinals on Wednesday. Santana is slated to make the fifth of his six Spring Training starts on Monday, also against the Cardinals.
Reliever Tim Byrdak played catch Friday morning for the first time since undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. Byrdak hopes to rejoin the Mets by mid-April.
MLB Network will chronicle the Mets on its latest episode of "30 Clubs in 30 Days," to air Friday at 8 p.m. ET. The program will feature interviews with David Wright, Johan Santana, Terry Collins and others.
Catcher Josh Thole had two hits, including a triple, Friday. Manager Terry Collins isn't ready to name him the Opening Day starter, but he was complimentary of both his offense and defense this spring. "Right now he's swinging the bat real good. He's more aggressive at the plate. And he's done a good job defensively. He's really worked hard back there. That's a big step forward for Josh," the manager said. "He's really made some improvements."