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02/25/09 12:00 AM EST

Mets head south to face O's in opener

In first Grapefruit League game, eight pitchers slated to throw

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Fort Lauderdale Stadium is a 95-mile trip down Florida's east coast, easily the southernmost of all the Grapefruit League venues. It is a relic of an older generation of Spring Training baseball, a staple of the circuit since the early 1960s.

And it is there today that the Mets will begin their next assignment.

The Grapefruit League season opens for the Mets when they take on the Orioles at 1:05 p.m. ET in their first of three trips to Fort Lauderdale. Sean Green, the second reliever acquired in the 12-player trade that brought J.J. Putz to the Mets, will start, followed by Pedro Feliciano, Duaner Sanchez, Elmer Dessens, Valerio de los Santos, Matt DeSalvo, Brian Stokes and Darren O'Day.

Of the team's eight projected regulars, only three of them -- Luis Castillo, Ryan Church and Daniel Murphy -- will make the trip to Fort Lauderdale. The rest of them will likely make their debuts Thursday at 1:10 p.m., when the Mets face the Marlins in their opener at Tradition Field.

For the Mets, this week marks the start of a 32-game Grapefruit League schedule across the state of Florida, taking them as far south as Fort Lauderdale, as far north as Lake Buena Vista and as far west as Lakeland. The slate is cut a bit short due to two April exhibition games against the Red Sox, a chance to christen Citi Field before the regular season begins.

This afternoon's game against the Orioles is just a start, and certainly won't be the best representation of the team. The Mets' greatest optimism heading into camp revolved around the fact that their bullpen, the main culprit of their collapse last season, had been completely revamped. Gone are Aaron Heilman, Scott Schoeneweis, Joe Smith and Luis Ayala, replaced by Green, Putz and new closer Francisco Rodriguez.

It's the hope of the Mets that those three, along with a healthy rotation and a productive lineup, can help bring playoff baseball back to Queens.

The one downside of the start of Grapefruit League games is the fact that manager Jerry Manuel won't be able to spend any more time on the field. Manuel occupied himself during the Mets' two intrasquad games this week by kneeling down in the outfield grass, barking out suggestions and advice to shortstop Jose Reyes.

Then again, perhaps Reyes will be glad to see him go.

"I don't bother him out there," Manuel said, laughing. "I don't mess with him. I just watch sit there and watch the game. We talk about other things."

Reyes should receive his first Spring Training opportunity on Thursday afternoon against the Marlins, a game that will feature Oliver Perez and pitching prospect Dillon Gee. The next day, at home, Johan Santana will make his debut in an exhibition against Team Italy, after which rookies Jonathon Niese and Bobby Parnell will pitch in a Grapefruit League game against the Cardinals.

Those pitchers will only throw two innings at first, before working their way into regular-season shape, roughly 15 additional pitches at a time.

As far as position players go, there are precious few jobs to be won this spring. Manuel has already announced that Murphy will be his regular left fielder and Church will start in right, squashing any thought of a platoon at either spot. The other six positions are set, leaving the Mets only to decide on a fifth starter -- Niese, Tim Redding, Freddy Garcia and Livan Hernandez are the candidates -- and the final spots in their bullpen and on their bench.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.