Issues abound in march toward Opening Day

Mets first basement Ike Davis rehabs his ankle Mets first basement Ike Davis rehabs his ankle at Fischer Sports Physical Therapy ... Conditioning in Phoenix. (Jan. 10, 2012) Photo Credit: Michael Ging

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PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- One of the Mets' most pressing issues was easy to patch for Monday night's Grapefruit League opener, a 3-1 loss to the Nationals at Digital Domain Park.

Justin Turner started at third base for David Wright, who is nursing a sore left rib-cage muscle. Otherwise, the lineup was pretty close to what the Mets intend to use April 5 against the Braves at Citi Field.

But now that the Mets officially have gotten within the one-month marker in their march toward Opening Day, there still are plenty of unresolved questions. Wright could be the least of their long-term problems, even as his return date remains uncertain.

Johan Santana will face major-league hitters Tuesday for the first time since Sept. 2, 2010, his last start before shoulder surgery. Ike Davis "likely" has Valley Fever; he said an X-ray revealed a cyst in his lung, although the blood tests have come back negative to this point.

And those are just the health-related concerns, which threaten to exploit the Mets' dangerously thin depth. In that regard, Turner is sort of the canary in the coal mine. He is a backup at every infield position, including first base, where he has never played in the majors.

The Mets' cash-flow problems, and the looming potential for devastating losses in the courtroom, have prevented Sandy Alderson from fortifying the roster with proven major-leaguers, especially in the rotation. It's no wonder that Terry Collins had one request when asked Monday what he wanted to see from Monday night's game.

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"Nobody get hurt," he said. "What I want to see tomorrow is nobody in the trainer's room. That's what I want to see."

Wright, for one, can expect to spend more time there, and Collins was unsure when his third baseman will return this week. When asked Monday how he was feeling, Wright replied, "Excellent." But after saying Sunday that Wright will miss only the first two Grapefruit games, Collins refused to be as definitive Monday.

"We have no timetable set for David," he said. "We talked the other day, I gave him a hypothetical, and he said, 'I'll be back before that.' I said, 'Let's take one day at a time.' He's got to be up-front. He's very, very aware that if he goes down for three weeks, we got problems, and he knows that."

The Mets also must take a cautious approach with Davis, who went 1-for-2 Monday night and is expected to play three innings in Tuesday's split-squad game against the Cardinals. Even so, Collins has to be cognizant of the fatigue factor with Davis, who is under doctor's orders not to push himself to the point of exhaustion.

"I have a sense he's going to get some rest," Collins said.

As for Santana, he has to be considered one of the healthier Mets at this stage. Santana passed on speaking with reporters. The plan is for him to throw two innings or roughly 40 pitches.

"The only guy that's probably more excited than me is Johan," Collins said. "I'm really excited to see him out there. Obviously, two days after [Tuesday] is when I really want to see how he's doing because that will be a test on how he's going to bounce back."

With those three things keeping Alderson and Collins awake at night, the continuing effort to make Daniel Murphy a serviceable second baseman has almost become an afterthought. But after watching a tutorial with Tim Teufel, a Mets official was asked if he thinks Murphy can handle the position.

His response: "Do we have a choice?"

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