Cuts continue as Mets near Opening Day

The Mets slashed their way down to 32 players in camp on Thursday, with just seven more all-important cuts to go before the season begins in Cincinnati on April 4.

Three exhibition games remain in the Grapefruit League schedule for New York, with the Florida Marlins cruising to Tradition Field Friday for the final contest of Port St. Lucie's spring.

Lefty reliever Mike Matthews and infielder Chris Woodward can arrive relaxed, knowing that their minor league contracts have been purchased and that they'll be on the flight to the Queen City. Excused from reporting to Tradition Field are outfielders Kerry Robinson, Victor Diaz and Gerald Williams, pitcher Aaron Heilman and catcher Joe Hietpas.

Robinson's fate at the end of the day was packing his bags and looking for a new organization, the victim of a logjam of outfielders at Triple-A Norfolk.

Robinson had put together a nice little spring, hitting .306 with two homers and eight RBI, and earned praise from manager Willie Randolph as a speedy player who might be able to help New York's bench.

Still, with players like Victor Diaz – good power, but a little too raw and young to play fourth outfielder with the Mets – and 37-year-old Gerald Williams ticketed for Triple-A, there was no room at the inn for the organization to carry Robinson.

Meanwhile, Heilman put together a spring that reflected positively upon him in the eyes of Mets officials, his 5.40 ERA an inaccurate indicator of his performances. In the final week of camp, Heilman scrapped the over-the-top arm angle that has produced a 6.36 ERA in 93.1 Major League innings, favoring something more closely resembling the three-quarters angle that earned him a No. 1 selection in the 2001 draft.

Hietpas is on the way to Double-A Binghamton, where the organization's top defensive catcher will get to work on molding an impressive pitching staff that includes No. 1 ranked hurler Yusmeiro Petit. Other moves will include reliever Jose Santiago and outfielder Ron Calloway, who are expected to be sent to Triple-A.

The club also placed Steve Trachsel – expected to miss at least half of the season with a herniated disc – on the 60-day disabled list.

Rumor Mill

The New York Daily News speculates that left-hander Felix Heredia might not be all that much of a lock of making the club. In fact, the newspaper brings up the possibility that Heredia could even be released, despite a $1.85 million contract.

Newsday reports the Mets may have interest in St. John's product C.J. Nitkowski, released by the Minnesota Twins this week, to help stabilize the bullpen. Nitkowski actually pitched with the Mets briefly in 2001.

On Deck

The Mets will play host to the Florida Marlins in their final home game of the spring, sending bullpen hopefuls Heath Bell, Manny Aybar and Bartolome Fortunato to the mound. Brian Moehler – not Al Leiter, who scratched himself from the start, opting for a minor league contest in Jupiter – will pitch for Florida.

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