PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Mets manager Terry Collins has been shy about discussing the starting pitchers on the fringe of his depth chart. Jeremy Hefner is on the list. Collin McHugh is there. So are Jenrry Mejia and Aaron Laffey.
Those pitchers understand the cause-and-effect that faces them at Mets camp. If Johan Santana is not healthy enough to break camp in the rotation, they know, one of them will take his place.
It will probably not be Mejia, who has struggled early in Grapefruit League play and appears to be an unfinished product. Laffey is also a long shot because he is not a member of the 40-man roster.
That leaves Hefner and McHugh, both of whom served as swingmen for the Mets last season. Hefner in particular spent much of the summer in New York, making him the leading candidate to fill in if Santana misses any significant time.
"First and foremost, I want Johan to be healthy," the right-handed Hefner said after pitching three innings of one-run ball Monday against the Braves. "He's a leader of this team. If something happens and he's not able to go, then obviously that would maybe fall on my shoulders. I'm going to be prepared to go out and give it my best whenever my name is called, and whatever happens with Johan will take care of itself."
Hefner learned to be flexible last season, when he made 13 starts -- many of them on short rest or short notice -- and 13 relief appearances as a rookie.
McHugh does not need to be quite so flexible, considering he will break camp as a starting pitcher one way or the other -- either in New York or at Triple-A Las Vegas. Still, he cannot avoid the speculation.
"You like to say you never pay attention to it, but obviously you hear stuff," McHugh said. "I think that the challenge is when you hear the stuff, not letting it change your approach, not letting it change the way you go about your business. Because if you hear, 'Oh, he's in the running for that sixth rotation spot,' and it changes you … that's when you start getting into trouble."