PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - At Tradition Field, a glance at the calendar isn't necessary to determine how close Opening Day is.
Just take a look at Terry Collins.
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The Mets' manager should have been giddy after Saturday's 10-2 pasting of the Nationals. Jacob deGrom continued his near-flawless spring training with seven smooth innings and the Mets hit four home runs, with David Wright, Curtis Granderson, Lucas Duda and Johnny Monell going deep.
It's not that Collins was angry. More like irritable, and for good reason. With Opening Day getting closer, this team's problems are growing larger in his eyes -- and the bullpen contains most of them.
Sure, it was somewhat encouraging that Vic Black climbed on a mound Saturday for the first time since March 9 after being sidelined with shoulder weakness. But Black remains a long shot for Opening Day, Bobby Parnell is aiming for a late April return and the Mets still haven't settled on a replacement for Josh Edgin, the lefthanded relief specialist lost to Tommy John surgery.
There was some movement on the lefty front, though. The Mets reassigned ineffective Scott Rice (9.64 ERA) after the game, a transaction that leaves them with Dario Alvarez and Sean Gilmartin as the lone in-house options for Edgin's vacated spot.
That strongly suggests the Mets will come up with a solution outside the organization, and one such option, the Nats' Jeremy Blevins, had an audition of sorts Saturday at Tradition Field.
In curious timing for a Grapefruit League game, Blevins replaced Stephen Strasburg with two outs in the fifth inning to face Curtis Granderson. He struck him out looking on three pitches, the last a nifty curveball.
In the sixth, Blevins got Wright on a groundout before his last batter, Duda, tripled to rightfield. Not a great outing by Blevins, but he was better than Gilmartin, who walked Bryce Harper, the only hitter he faced, on four pitches.
That can't be very reassuring for Collins. He's not in charge of assembling the bullpen, but he's the one who has to deploy those pieces during the games, and those decisions will begin to have real consequences on April 6.
Despite Black's optimism after his bullpen session -- he threw 24 pitches and reported no discomfort -- Collins wasn't getting his hopes up about having him a week from now.
"It's tough to answer that," he said. "He'd have to make huge strides fast, and I don't see him facing hitters until Wednesday. How many innings can you get him in four games? I have no idea."
Black is scheduled for another bullpen session Monday, which might allow him to squeeze in back-to-back appearances. All that work could clear him for Opening Day.
"I'm good with what they end up deciding to do," Black said. "But the joy here is that my arm feels great, which means I can help the team out when the time comes."
Black said his recent MRI showed no structural damage. He described the injury as an "impingement due to a weak shoulder."
His best explanation is that it came about from working back into shape the first few weeks, but there's no more lingering discomfort. It's just a matter of finishing his medication and getting the requisite games in.
"I wasn't really worried," Black said. "But it's always nice to have the clarity."
As for Parnell, he'll make his third appearance Sunday in a minor-league game, and with the Mets hoping for his return in mid-April, he probably needs to up those radar-gun readings a bit.
Parnell pitched one inning Wednesday with a fastball range of 89 to 91 mph and a maximum of 92. He later explained the lesser velocity by noting his use of two-seam fastballs, or sinkers, which are slower than the four-seamers.
At his best, Parnell's velocity averages about 95 mph with a peak of 99, which gives him two or three more weeks to rebuild that type of arm strength.
Perhaps of greater worry is another late-game reliever, Jeurys Familia, who allowed three hits and a run in one inning Saturday. That pushed his ERA to 6.75 in nine appearances, and Collins believes it's because the Mets have tinkered with him too much.
"The only concern we have is the sinker's not there right now," Collins said. "The velocity's good, the sinker's not working and I think it's a mechanical thing. We've got to go back to what works and not try to get too fancy."