Mets still plan on Santana for Opening Day

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The Mets still expect Johan Santana to be ready for Opening Day, though they have a contingency plan in place if he is not.

Jon Niese would start on April 1 if Santana is unable to go, manager Terry Collins said. But Collins reiterated that he ultimately expects Santana to take the mound at Citi Field, clarifying remarks he made on the radio earlier Friday.

"It's not doubtful," Collins said. "I just said if he is doubtful, we've got to come up with someone else."

Collins outlined a rough schedule that should allow Santana to pitch in Grapefruit League games by the middle of the month. The left-hander will throw long toss at 150 feet on Sunday, then at 180 feet on Tuesday. If all goes well, he will take the mound for live batting practice the following Thursday.

Presumably, Santana would then make his first Grapefruit League start on or around March 10, the date the Mets originally targeted when they shut him down with shoulder weakness.

It is a tight timetable, and any setback would probably prevent Santana from pitching Opening Day. But if the left-hander is not ready to go on April 1, he is still unlikely to begin the season on the disabled list.

"If he's not ready for Game 1, I think he'll be ready for Game 4," Collins said.

Santana threw two bullpen sessions upon arriving to camp, but Mets coaches observed a lack of arm speed in the second of them and shut him down from mound activity. Tests revealed no structural damage in Santana's surgically-repaired left shoulder, leading him to resume his long-toss program.