New York Mets starting pitcher John Maine walks off the...

New York Mets starting pitcher John Maine walks off the field at the end of the Washington Nationals second inning. (April 1, 2010) Credit: AP

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - The Mets' rotation, at the very least, will begin the year intact when Johan Santana takes the mound Monday for the season opener. Beyond that, it's anyone's guess. But John Maine, the newly minted No. 2 starter, showed a glimmer of stability Thursday despite battling stomach issues as well as the Nationals.

Maine, who said he vomited between innings, eventually began to fade in giving up six hits and four runs in 4 2/3 innings. Unfortunately for the Mets, by their low spring training standards, that's a decent outing.

"As far as our starting pitching, we know that we have some young guys that have done well," Omar Minaya said, "and I think if they take the ball, they will be fine. If they go out there and give us 25, 30 starts, they've been .500 pitchers, they've done it in the past."

The fact that Minaya is looking at .500 as a measure of success is a little troubling with this group. But with only two exhibition games left before Opening Day, the bullpen also remains a mess. Francisco Rodriguez and Pedro Feliciano are the only two locks, with Jenrry Mejia, Hisanori Takahashi and Fernando Nieve also appearing secure.

Ryota Igarashi seems to be a front-runner for one of the final two spots - with his $3-million contract weighing in his favor - but he had another rough outing yesterday. Kiko Calero - if physically ready - could make it as well.

Manager Jerry Manuel did say that these last two games could figure into the roster decisions, and knowing the Mets, they'll probably take it down to Sunday's 3 p.m. deadline.

Catalanotto closing on spot

Smithtown's Frank Catalanotto went 2-for-4 in yesterday's 9-3 loss to the Nats and seems well positioned to make the roster. Even without the injury to Daniel Murphy, Catalanotto appeared to be in good shape, but now that Mike Jacobs will be the starting first baseman, it's all but assured.

As for the competition, it's been a new experience. "I haven't had that feeling since '97-98," he said. "It's different."

Extra bases

Manuel seems to be leaning toward taking Ruben Tejada as the backup shortstop to Alex Cora until Jose Reyes returns. "I like Tejada a lot," he said . . . Carlos Beltran plans to move over to the minor-league side and hopes to be running next week. As for a possible return date, he wasn't saying. "I'm not going to predict anything," he said. "When I run, I'll have a better idea."


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