Bats hot as Mets near Opening Day

With the Mets having scored 21 runs in their last two exhibition games, there seems to be no question that the lineup is keyed to start the season already. <P> This always seems to be the case right around the final week of spring training, with players itching to leave their Florida and Arizona camps behind and get in front of capacity crowds for the first time in months.

Still, it's a welcome sight for manager Willie Randolph and the Mets, particularly when the exploits of two major stars – Jose Reyes and Mike Piazza – have mirrored themselves over the course of two consecutive days.

Reyes tripled for the second straight game Monday, legging out a three-base hit in a 13-10 win over the St. Louis Cardinals in Jupiter, and Piazza homered to right-center off of Matt Morris, though it wasn't nearly as momentous as the 500-foot blast he sent into the pine trees beyond the outfield walls at Tradition Field Sunday.

Reyes' fourth triple of the spring comes as no great surprise, since he never stopped running following a standout spring in the Dominican Republic. The Mets' only hope is that Reyes can stay healthy for 150 or so games this season.

The same goes for Piazza, who is now almost certainly to be backed up by Ramon Castro, a .212 lifetime hitter who was upgraded from No. 72 to Joe McEwing's old No. 11 last week. Piazza is batting .405 this spring with a team-high 13 RBI.

Hot: Korean reliever Dae-Sung Koo continues to plead his case for dodging an assignment to Triple-A Norfolk, pitching two hitless innings and striking out two against the Cardinals Monday. The left-hander has compiled 12 strikeouts in 11-2/3 innings, partially thanks to a funky three-quarters delivery that allows him to hide the ball for an extra few milliseconds.

Cold: Felix Heredia, who is all but guaranteed of making the Opening Day roster thanks to his substantial contract, was victimized by Scott Rolen for a grand slam Monday and walked two batters in a third of an inning. Heredia did manage to pick up a win in the ordeal.

On tap: At Washington, 7:05 p.m. The Mets will send a lineup north on I-95 to face the Washington Nationals in Viera, but Pedro Martinez – who would have been the scheduled starter – won't be among them.

Fearing that Martinez's back could tighten on the hour-plus bus ride, Martinez will instead fire away in an intra-squad game in Port St. Lucie, opposing Victor Zambrano. That will put Martinez on track to start Opening Day at Cincinnati on April 4, wrapping up a spring in which Martinez had several starts washed out and saw him complete just 11 innings in live action.

The bullpen derby continues, with Randolph tabbing Manny Aybar, Heath Bell, Bartolome Fortunato, Koo and Mike Matthews to get a look at Washington hitters. The Mets' most recent relief cuts came on Sunday, with Scott Stewart and Scott Strickland eliminated from the competition.

Amazin Clubhouse Top Stories