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Notes: Heilman not overly concerned

Notes: Heilman not concerned

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The Mets prefer to view most physical maladies from a "glass half full" perspective. They hardly are alone in that regard. So though they understand how critical Aaron Heilman is to their bullpen and their overall well-being, they say they are not fretting about the right elbow tendinitis that has interrupted Heilman's spring.

And he says he isn't fretting, either. Heilman dealt with tendinitis throughout last season, and he says he'll deal with it again if he must. Heilman also says he probably wouldn't acknowledge worrying if he were.

All that said, the dominoes are lined up, and should one ofthem topple, a critical component in the Mets' 2007 season could be undermined. The bullpen already has been compromised by the suspension of Guillermo Mota and the slower-than-expected recovery of Duaner Sanchez. Moreover, the club remains unsure about Juan Padilla's readiness for Opening Day.

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Those circumstances could create a greater need for Heilman innings, perhaps more innings than he would normally work. And tendinitis is a condition caused by overuse.

Heilman disputes none of it. He knows his place with and without Sanchez. And he knows his body.

"I'm not terribly concerned, because I can be preemptive about it this year," Heilman said.

Heilman means he can do less throwing between appearances, i.e., put less stress on the elbow. He has implemented that thinking since his most recent appearance, last Friday. He was to have pitched on Monday and Thursday. Instead, he threw once, on Wednesday. And he is scheduled to pitch Friday night against the Marlins.

That's six days off between appearances.

"I have that luxury now," Heilman said. "I have it for a week and a half. ... Then I don't have it."

But how much can he pitch? And if he reduces his throwing between appearances, how will that affect his sharpness and stamina?

Heilman underwent surgery on the elbow in October. Plica, a soft tissue that separates the bone from the ligaments and tendon, had to be removed. It had irritated a tendon. Plica regenerates, though -- but not so quickly that it would be the cause of the current tendinitis.

Flashback '04: When the Mets obtained Oliver Perez last season, they saw his 2004 season and nothing else. They saw his 239 strikeouts in 196 innings with the Pirates and none of the blemishes that developed thereafter. And now they have seen 2004 again.

After striking out nine Red Sox batters -- including stars Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz twice apiece -- in five innings on Thursday night, Perez said his slider had returned. It was the slider that produced many of the 239 strikeouts.

"The best slider I've had since 2004," Perez called it.

All that aside, both Perez and manager Willie Randolph were more encouraged by the absence of walks and how he "pounded the bottom of the strike zone."

"He's coming along really nicely," Randolph said. "I like what I see. He's repeating his delivery [which is a critical issue for him]."

The first four Mets pitchers -- Perez, Pedro Feliciano, Joe Smith and Scott Schoeneweis -- struck out 14 in eight innings. The lone run the Sox scored in the 4-1 Mets win came in the ninth against Billy Wagner.

Seems like old times: Nine Red Sox players who will play Friday in Vero Beach against the Dodgers stayed in a local hotel. One was former Met Joe McEwing. The schedule afforded him and David Wright to share a late dinner, as they often did in Spring Training in '04 and '05. The difference was McEwing's wife wasn't cooking on Thursday.

Roster reduction: Six players, including veteran Ruben Sierra and rookies Philip Humber and Carlos Gomez, were eliminated from the Major League camp roster, reducing the numbers to 39 players, 17 of them pitchers.Also gone are pitchers Jason Vargas and Marcos Carvajal and catcher Jose Reyes.

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Sierra, 41, signed to a Minor League contract, was asked to accept an assignment to Triple-A. He had made no decision as of late Thursday night. General manager Omar Minaya said the club had made it clear to Sierra that he had been brought to camp "to be insurance" and that Sierra understood from the start that "he had a good chance not to be with the [big-league] team."

Sierra had four singles, a double, four strikeouts, five RBIs and a .167 average in 24 spring at-bats.

None of the moves was unexpected. Humber is the only one of the three pitchers who figures to be with the big-league team as a starter at some point this year.

"The task in front of me," Humber said, "is keeping my stuff down in the zone."

He said he met with Randolph, Minaya and pitching coach Rick Peterson and that each was quite positive in what they had to say.

Linked to the genesis: Julio Franco is, of course, baseball's Met-husela, 48 years old and intent on playing when he's 50. He broke in in 1982, before Wright was born. Although he wasn't there for professional baseball's debut, the Mets' 2007 media guide does link Franco to the game's roots.

It notes that the first Major League game was a National Association meeting of the Cleveland Forest Cities and the Fort Wayne Kegionas, May 4, 1871, and that Deacon White of Cleveland had the first hit.

White eventually played with Detriot Wolverines and a fellow named Sam Thompson, who played with Charley O'Leary and the Detroit Tigers in 1908. O'Leary played for the St. Louis Browns in 1934, and Bobo Newsome pitched for the Browns that year.

Thirteen years later, one of Newsome's teammates with the Yankees was a rookie catcher, one Lawrence Peter "Yogi" Berra, who, in 1965, took his final nine at-bats in the big leagues with the Mets. One of those Mets was a left-handed rookie pitcher named Tug McGraw, who was pitching for the Phillies in 1982, when a rookie shortstop made his debut against the Cardinals on April 23.

That shortstop -- who singled in his first at-bat, against Bob Forsch -- was Franco.

Seven players and 136 years make the six degrees of Julio. Eat your heart out, Kevin Bacon.

A second look: The Mets took infield practice on Thursday as all teams used to do regularly -- and few teams do at all now. Jose Reyes took a wide throw at second base that caused him to pivot as a second baseman would. He made it look easy, as if he had played the position previously; and, of course, he had, for 43 games in 2004 in the ill-fated shift designed to accommodate Kaz Matsui.

So the questions posed to him were, "Did you learn anything playing second? Did playing second help make you a better shortstop in any way?"

Reyes thought for less time than it takes him to steal a base.

"No," he said. "It taught me I wanted to be the shortstop."

He called second a "lazy" position.

Grapefruit league: Thursday was an anniversary of sorts, the anniversary of one of the best lines -- unspoken as it was -- in Spring Training history: Tom Seaver was chatting with a visitor to the Mets' clubhouse eight years ago Thursday while peeling a rather large grapefruit.

"This is the size of my fastball now," the Hall of Fame pitcher, then 55, said.

"How big was it in '69?" seemed liked the appropriate setup question to follow.

Seaver turned away, dug his finger into his fruit and wordlessly turned back, holding a pit.

The Pedro factor: Pedro Martinez made an appearance in the dugout during Thursday night's game. Before the game, Red Sox manager Terry Francona was asked if any Pedro residue still exists within the Sox. Apparently not.

"No, nobody was late today," Francona said.

Furthermore: Jose Valentin returned to the lineup, having not played for two days because of a stiff neck. He had a hit in three at-bats and said his neck hurt only when he was in his right-handed stance, waiting for a pitch. ... Franco, still being treated for inflammation in his left wrist, was ready to play, but the regulars, sans Moises Alou, started. Franco hadn't played since he took a shot of cortisone to fight the inflammation. He pinch-hit and played third base. ... Franco is the only active player who played when Bowie Kuhn -- who died on Thursday at the age of 80 -- was the commissioner. "Really? I was a young player then. I didn't know him."

Coming up: The Mets play the Marlins in Jupiter on Friday night at 7:05 ET, with Tom Glavine making his fourth start of the exhibition season. He'll be followed by the hardest throwers in Mets' camp -- Ambiorix Burgos and Lino Urdaneta. The Marlins will start Sergio Mitre and follow him with Yusmerio Petit and, after two others, Henry Owens.

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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