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Jonathon Niese likely to be Opening Day starter after good outing

Jonathon Niese delivers a pitch during a spring

Jonathon Niese delivers a pitch during a spring training workout at Tradition Field in Port St. Lucie, Fla. (Feb. 20, 2013) Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Jonathon Niese increased his chances of starting for the Mets on Opening Day with 42/3 scoreless innings against the Tigers in an 11-0 win Monday at Joker Marchant Stadium.

Niese, who has a 0.00 ERA in 72/3 innings, allowed one hit, walked four and didn't strike out a batter. He wasn't happy with the walks but thought he had better command of his breaking stuff.

Niese likely will face the Padres on April 1 at Citi Field if Johan Santana is not ready, and that's what the Mets expect. Santana might long-toss or play catch Tuesday -- the Mets have a day off -- but the club is letting him set his own schedule and wants him to pitch only when his shoulder is strong enough.

"Any time anybody's an Opening Day starter, it's an honor," Niese said. "I'm glad the organization puts that trust in me, if it happens. I'm willing to accept the challenge."

Said manager Terry Collins: "To me, [Niese] deserves that opportunity this year. He's reached that point where I think you're going to look up hopefully at the end of the year and this guy could be one of the top pitchers in the game."

Extra bases

Matt den Dekker made another outstanding grab in centerfield, running down a ball to the left-centerfield wall in the fifth inning. Den Dekker went 1-for-4 with two RBIs and two strikeouts and is batting .222. "He's working on some things," Collins said. "He's really trying to be more selective at the plate . . . Defensively, I'm not sure we've got anybody better." . . . Brandon Hicks homered off Justin Verlander . . . Jenrry Mejia threw a scoreless inning in his first outing since he was diagnosed with a thyroid problem.

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