PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - The proceedings at Tradition Field Thursday amounted to little more than a glorified scrimmage, staged strictly for the benefit of sparing a few banged-up veterans a two-hour bus ride.
Behind the mound, pitching coach Dan Warthen called balls and strikes. At the plate, only a handful of players took their turn at bat. In the stands, about a dozen scouts showed for three simulated innings played beneath overcast skies.
But in this stripped-down version of a baseball game, the Mets saw the strongest signs yet that three of their critical arms soon will be ready to pitch in Grapefruit League games.
Lefty Jonathon Niese, righty Bartolo Colon and closer Bobby Parnell emerged from the scrimmage feeling healthy after injuries that slowed each early in camp.
"I felt great," said Niese, who threw 35 pitches in two simulated innings. "It's a great feeling to go out there and not feel any pain in my shoulder. It's a great step forward to go out on the mound and feel very close to 100 percent."
An MRI last week revealed that Niese has weakness in the scapula muscle in his left shoulder. But he has since strengthened the area through targeted workouts.
Though Niese said he has yet to strengthen his shoulder fully, he believes he's on track to start on Opening Day. He was clocked at 88-89 mph, within typical range during spring training.
"The more I throw, the more strength I'll get in my shoulder and the more easy it will come out, the more accuracy I'll have," said Niese, whose next appearance could be in an exhibition game.
Parnell worked an inning of relief in his first game-like action since July. The righthander has been recovering from surgery to repair a herniated disc in his neck. Early in camp, he also dealt with quadriceps tightness that slowed his progress. But he said his arm feels strong.
"I feel like I'm ready to go," Parnell said. "I'm ready to see hitters."
Colon, 40, expects to make his Grapefruit League debut on Monday after pitching all three innings of Thursday's modified intrasquad game. Through a translator, Colon said he felt no ill effects from a calf injury that has delayed his appearance in exhibition games.
Colon said he was pleased with his velocity but didn't spot his pitches as well as he had hoped.
Still, David Wright came away impressed after his first glance at Colon, who signed a two-year, $20-million deal in the offseason.
Under the modified rules used in the intrasquad game, Wright was joined by Daniel Murphy, Ike Davis and Ruben Tejada as the only hitters. Neither Tejada nor Davis ran out their hits as both work through leg injuries. But Wright ran the bases, which is why he enjoyed a perfect view of an encounter between Colon and Murphy.
From second base, Wright could see the signs being put down by the catcher, allowing him to follow along as Colon worked against Murphy.
Colon battled Murphy to a full count, throwing fastballs that darted over each side of the plate. Wright marveled when Colon threw Murphy a nasty changeup he hadn't seen the entire at-bat.
"That's what Bartolo does," said Wright, who later homered off Colon. "His fastball's deceptive. He's got a lot of movement on it. You can tell he's just kind of a master at his craft, kind of moving in and out, up and down, kind of mixing everything up."