PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - After more than a month of golf outings, clubhouse practical jokes and minor-league lineups, playtime is pretty much over for the Mets. With exactly two weeks to go before Opening Day, the team's decision-makers have serious work to do, and this final stretch is when jobs will be won or lost.
There still are a handful of roster spots at stake, and the Mets' bullpen remains in disarray beyond Francisco Rodriguez and Pedro Feliciano. The fifth starter has yet to be named, there could be as many as two seats open on the bench, and even first base - long considered the property of Daniel Murphy - could become up for grabs not long after the season begins.
"Spring training is great early on," general manager Omar Minaya said. "It's more about the guys getting in shape and some of the young guys that have opened up some eyes. I think we had a lot of that this camp.
"But that's all a buildup to now, and then you really get a feel during that last 10-day window. It's like, 'OK, let's play now.' Everybody's arm is stretched out. Their legs are better. The game gets a little bit faster."
The Mets didn't make much progress Sunday in any of those areas. Minaya and assistant GM Wayne Krivsky climbed into an SUV together for the two-hour drive to Kissimmee, where Jon Niese, the leading candidate for the No. 5 spot, was supposed to start against the Astros. Jenrry Mejia and Ryota Igarashi also were supposed to audition, but the game was washed out after only one inning - and a 50-minute delay.
Back at Tradition Field, Nelson Figueroa was assigned to an unofficial start against Michigan - Fred Wilpon's alma mater. It was a regular lineup, for the most part, and the Mets bounced the Wolverines, 8-1.
The rainout, however, was costly. From now on, every day takes on added significance, which is why each lineup has more of a purpose going forward. For today's trip to Viera, the bus will be loaded with job-seekers: Ruben Tejada, Gary Matthews Jr., Mike Jacobs, Fernando Tatis, Chris Carter, Henry Blanco and Frank Catalanotto.
Tejada is pushing Alex Cora for the starting job in Jose Reyes' absence, but he will be needed on the bench anyway as another backup shortstop. Matthews is jostling with Angel Pagan to be Carlos Beltran's replacement. Jacobs has emerged as a threat to Murphy's playing time and is trying to fend off Catalanotto, a more versatile player and experienced pinch hitter.
On the pitching side, Niese allowed three hits and one run to the Astros in the one inning before the game was called. Technically, he's still battling Fernando Nieve and, to a lesser extent, Hisanori Takahashi for the rotation's final spot. Nieve struck out two in two hitless innings against Michigan and Takahashi also whiffed a pair, allowing one hit in his two scoreless innings.
Nieve is almost certain to make the Opening Day roster as long as he doesn't implode during the next two weeks - simply because he is out of options and the Mets fear losing him on waivers. Minaya admits that can be as much a part of putting together his Opening Day roster as talent alone.
"We put so much emphasis into the last week," he said, "and then, two weeks in, we're already saying, 'Shoot, we've got to change.' We put so much emphasis into the 25-man roster, but the reality is it's not about the 25. You're not just looking at five starters, you're looking at eight to 10 starters. You're not looking at seven relievers, you're looking at about 12, 14 relievers you want to have in the pool.
"The biggest thing is you don't want to get fooled by spring training, good or bad. You have to look at a lot of the history, too. You have to look at guys, what their history has been, and weigh that with what you're seeing right now."