Jordany Valdespin follows the flight of his sixth-inning solo home...

Jordany Valdespin follows the flight of his sixth-inning solo home run. (August 12, 2012) Credit: David Pokress

Jordany Valdespin started ahead of Collin Cowgill Friday night when the Mets opened their three-game series against the Marlins.

In one way, the move was expected. As manager Terry Collins said on Thursday, he planned to start Valdespin at some point during the weekend, though he was undecided on what position he would play.

"We're going to see three righthanded starters and pretty much a dominant righthanded bullpen,'' Collins said of the Mets' series against the Marlins. "So I thought it was a perfect time to get our lefthanded hitters in there to see what they can do.''

The lefthanded hitting Valdespin emerged as one of the Mets' best players in spring training, hitting .313 with four homers in 22 games. Early in camp Collins said he viewed Valdespin as an option to play as a defensive replacement in centerfield as opposed to being part of a platoon with the righthanded hitting Cowgill.

However, Collins Friday night sounded more willing to give Valdespin chances to carve out more playing time in centerfield.

"We'll find out,'' Collins said. "We won't know until we run him out there a few times and see what he does. But he's so athletic, there's no reason why he can't go out there and make the adjustment. Again, if he's going to make a difference with the bat in our lineup, we've got to get him in there to find that out.''

Even though Valdespin didn't see extended action in center even during camp, Collins said he might improve simply by shagging fly balls during batting practice.

"He didn't get a lot of time out there but I'll tell you what he's done, and he's done it every day here so far,'' Collins said. "He takes his ground balls early at second base. And then batting practice starts, and he goes in the outfield and takes balls off the bats. To be honest, there's no better way to get ready to play the outfield than that.''

While he was a coach with the Pirates, Collins said he watched as the talented trio of Barry Bonds, Andy Van Slyke and Bobby Bonilla honed their skills in the outfield by shagging fly balls during batting practice.

Said Collins: "There's no better way to learn how to read balls off the bat, learn how to get jumps, than to go actually take [fly balls] under live conditions.''

The Mets announced last week that Cowgill would not only start at center to begin the year, but that it would be an everyday job, despite the fact that Cowgill historically struggles against righthanders. However, Cowgill has done little at the plate outside of his Opening Day grand slam, hitting .167 (2-for-12) in the first three games of the season.

The Mets will not see another lefthanded starter until Tuesday in Philadelphia, when the Phillies are scheduled to start Cliff Lee.

Notes & quotes: Starter Jeremy Hefner allowed just one run in six innings, though he left the game trailing 1-0. Mets starters have a combined ERA of 1.38 through the first four games of the season . . . According to Collins, the Mets may need at least another week before they narrow down a return a date for Shaun Marcum. The veteran righthander is on the disabled list with right biceps tendinitis, though he also is dealing with nerve inflammation in his neck . . . The Mets debuted their alternate blue jerseys.