PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Scott Hairston took his most significant step to date on Wednesday in his return from a strained left oblique muscle, playing six innings in center field in his Grapefruit League debut.

Making one putout, recording an outfield assist and finishing 0-for-3 at the plate, Hairston reiterated afterward that he should be ready for Opening Day.

"I always envisioned starting the year with the team," he said. "I wanted to do that. I wanted to think that way. I didn't want to think negatively. I feel great now, and Opening Day seems like a really good possibility."

Hairston's progress has made Andres Torres' slow recovery from a strained left calf less of an issue for the Mets, who can more easily proceed without their starting center fielder if Hairston is in the fold. The Mets should have a better idea of Torres' status over the weekend.

Johan to get work in outside of spring games

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Johan Santana's exhibition season is over.

It is neither a setback, nor a concern. The Mets simply see no reason for Santana to risk injury in a Grapefruit League or Minor League game, given how healthy he has been all spring.

Rather than appear in a game, Santana will throw approximately 40 pitches Saturday in a simulated setting. Miguel Batista will start against the Marlins in Santana's place.

Though manager Terry Collins was unaware of the plan on Wednesday afternoon, he is in favor of any action that will limit Santana's injury risk.

"You don't have to back up bases in those sim games," Collins quipped.

As for Batista, the 41-year-old's starting assignment all but guarantees that he will make the team. If the Mets do not cut Batista by Friday, they are locked into paying a $100,000 retention bonus to keep him in camp. With fellow right-handers D.J. Carrasco and Pedro Beato both likely to start the season on the disabled list, Batista figures to slot into the Opening Day bullpen as a long man.

Young hopeful he can make full return to mound

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- When Chris Young tore the anterior capsule in his right shoulder last May, all the progress he had made over the previous year vanished.

"I felt like the rug had just been ripped out from under my feet," Young said after reporting to Mets camp Wednesday, two days after inking a Minor League contract. "It was a shock to me to start back at square one. Having tasted success and being part of a team environment and all the fun stuff that comes along with it, there was no doubt that I wanted to do it. And I believe that I can."

Now 10 months removed from surgery, Young has been rehabbing in California with former Cubs ace Mark Prior, who is also healthy and looking to hook on with a team. To date, Young has pitched off a mound nine times and hopes to face live hitters soon.

Though the Mets do not expect Young to be ready right away, they consider him a valuable piece of rotation insurance. Making four starts last April prior to his surgery, Young led the Mets with a 1.87 ERA.

"If he comes back in the shape he was last year, in the form he was last year, he's a very, very good Major League pitcher," manager Terry Collins said. "You always enter the season hoping that your five starters go out there 30 times. But the realism is they don't do that, so it's good to have somebody."

If Young does return at any point this season, his recovery will be shorter than that of Johan Santana, who is nearly 19 months removed from a similar operation. Regardless, Young stressed the differences between each individual situation.

"I don't think it's a fair comparison," Young said. "Really, I don't think you can compare any two people who have had a shoulder surgery."

Byrdak pushing to be ready for Opening Day

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- When left-handed reliever Tim Byrdak underwent surgery midway through Spring Training to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee, the expectation was that he would miss at least the first month of the regular season -- if not more. Soon after, that timetable shrunk to two weeks of the regular season, give or take. Then maybe just a few days.

Now, after throwing off a mound Wednesday for the first time since his surgery, Byrdak believes he could be ready by April 5.

"I'm pushing for Opening Day," Byrdak said. "It all kind of depends on how the knee reacts over the course of the next week or so."

Assuming Byrdak does not appear in another Grapefruit League game, he would be eligible to return for the Mets' fifth game of the regular season on April 10. Should Byrdak need that extra time, the Mets would likely break camp with Daniel Herrera as their lefty specialist, not wanting to carry Garrett Olson on the Opening Day roster and risk losing him to a waiver claim when Byrdak is eligible to return.

That flexibility may also prevent Byrdak from rushing back, considering he can start on the disabled list and miss as few as four games.

"It's kind of a wait-and-see type deal still," he said. "I'd rather not go on the DL. But if it means taking five days to get a little bit more time on the mound, and we're good for 157 games or whatever's left, that's definitely worth it."

Worth noting

• Left-hander Jon Niese continued working on his curveball Wednesday, after shying away from the pitch at times in recent years. "It's one of those things that I'm never satisfied with it," Niese said.

• The Mets released right-handed pitchers Michael Hebert and Michael Powers and outfielder Javier Rodriguez from Minor League camp.