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Michael Conforto a step closer to playing Opening Day for Mets

NY Mets outfielder Michael Conforto during a spring

NY Mets outfielder Michael Conforto during a spring training workout, Tuesday Feb. 20, 2018 in Port St. Lucie, FL. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Is Michael Conforto going to make it into the Mets’ Opening Day lineup after all?

Conforto went 1-for-4 in his first official spring training game on Friday as the Mets lost to the Cardinals, 5-1, at First Data Field. Conforto, the leadoff batter and designated hitter, struck out, grounded to the mound, grounded to second and grounded a single to right. The hit came against former Mets lefthander Sean Gilmartin.

“I don’t know,” Conforto said when asked about Opening Day. “This is certainly a step in the right direction. I really couldn’t tell you. I’m just excited about today to be with the team and actually get in a big-league game.”

Conforto is scheduled to play again on Saturday as the centerfielder against the Cardinals in Jupiter. The Mets open the season on Thursday at Citi Field vs. St. Louis. Conforto is coming back from shoulder surgery. He originally was expected to be ready about May 1.

“We’ve progressed quite a bit in the last three to four weeks, I guess,” Conforto said. “If you asked me at the beginning of spring training, I wouldn’t have known what to tell you. I’m happy with the way things have gone. I’m happy that my shoulder feels great. I don’t really have to think about it when I’m up at the plate. So that’s definitely the main thing here. Making sure I’m healthy, and now that we’re kind of confident in that we can start to worry about getting the timing back and staying through the ball and doing all the things I did last year.”

Conforto had been playing in minor league exhibition games. He hit for the cycle in one of them on Thursday and played seven innings in centerfield.

“I’m going to be in there soon, so I’ve got to see major league [pitchers],” Conforto said, before noting that St. Louis started minor league righthander Dakota Hudson on Friday. The Cardinals are scheduled to throw another minor leaguer, righthander Mike Mayers, on Saturday, because neither they nor the Mets want to expose their regular starting pitchers to the other team this close to the season-opening series.

Conforto said manager Mickey Callaway called him Thursday night and said the Mets had an opening at the DH spot for Friday.

“Mickey said, ‘Do you want to take it?’ “ Conforto said. “I said, ‘Absolutely.’ I wasn’t going to say no.”

Conforto, 25, dislocated his left shoulder and tore the posterior capsule on a swing on Aug. 24. He had surgery and was held back from major league spring training until Friday.

“I think I’ve still got some timing to get back, but it was good to be back out there with the guys,” Conforto said. “Playing in front of our fans and being here in the big stadium, a lot of good stuff. And it was nice to sneak a hit in there. It’s Gilmartin. I know him and I know he’s got that big curveball. I bailed a little bit on the first one, but I stayed in there on the second one and poked it through the hole.”

Conforto hit .279 with 27 home runs and 68 RBIs and made his first All-Star team last season. Brandon Nimmo and Juan Lagares will share centerfield if Conforto is unable to start the season in the majors.

The Mets don’t want to get ahead of themselves and say he will. Just having him back in the big-league lineup was enough for now.

“It meant a lot,” Callaway said. “I think it meant a lot for our team. Probably means a lot to our fans. They know that he’s close. Obviously, having Michael Conforto on our roster, playing in games, makes us a better team, better organization. It was a good day.”

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