PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Even Dillon Gee admitted that the assignment fell to him "by default." Nevertheless, the Mets righthander said he was honored Monday when manager Terry Collins officially named him the Opening Day starter.

"I'm very thankful for that opportunity," said Gee, who will oppose the Nationals and Stephen Strasburg at Citi Field on Monday.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Lefthander Jonathon Niese had been expected to draw the assignment for the second straight year, but he is expected to begin the season on the disabled list with left elbow inflammation.

Though Bartolo Colon was considered, the assignment fell to Gee, the longest-tenured Mets pitcher in the starting rotation. He's established himself as a mainstay, going 33-26 in four seasons.

"It's a big step in my career, something to say I did," said Gee, the eighth homegrown Opening Day starter in franchise history.

Extra bases

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Niese threw his first bullpen session since an MRI exam revealed inflammation in his elbow. Though he's expected to begin the season on the DL, he can be activated as early as April 6 . . . The Mets have hired Luis Natera to be the team's assistant hitting coach. He spent the last seven years as the hitting coach for Double-A Binghamton . . . Wilmer Flores was among the latest round of cuts. Flores, infielder Zach Lutz and outfielders Matt den Dekker and Kirk Nieuwenhuis were optioned to Triple-A Las Vegas. Flores will see more playing time at second base and shortstop, where he will serve as the Mets' Plan B if Ruben Tejada suffers an injury or struggles at the start of the season . . . Reliever Kyle Farnsworth is expected to sign a minor-league deal with the Mets on Tuesday. He was released Sunday, a procedural move that saved the Mets $100,000 . . . The Mets gave Ike Davis an off day after he played in four straight games.