Hefner OK after scare, but Marcum has neck issue

Collins unsure if veteran righty will be ready to take first turn in rotation

Hefner OK after scare, but Marcum has neck issue

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- No sooner had David Wright begun delivering a rare bit of positive Mets injury news than, on a clubhouse television halfway across the room, the third baseman watched as Carlos Beltran drilled pitcher Jeremy Hefner with a comebacker.

Hefner, it turned out, suffered nothing more than a right elbow bruise, knocking him out for a couple of days. Though the right-hander said his elbow already felt better shortly after Tuesday's game, his brief scare served to underscore how thin the Mets currently are in their rotation.

Shaun Marcum was the latest starter to fall for the Mets, battling a neck issue that first arose during his bullpen session Monday. Marcum also skipped his last start after receiving a cortisone shot to treat an impingement in his right shoulder. After he left Tradition Field on Tuesday without speaking to media, the Mets announced that his impingement is "improving" and that he received anti-inflammatory medication for his neck.

For Marcum, the outlook is uncertain at best.

"He hasn't pitched in two weeks," manager Terry Collins said. "To have him all of the sudden ready to pitch Game 3 or 4, I'd be surprised."

Over the next few days, the Mets will draw up all their contingency plans, knowing that Johan Santana will definitely open the season on the disabled list and that Marcum could join him. The Mets could keep Matt Harvey on turn, slotting him second in the rotation behind Opening Day starter Jon Niese. But Collins said he may instead opt to slide Harvey between softer throwers Hefner and Dillon Gee, wanting to separate those two in the event that Marcum misses significant time.

A weightier decision is who might fill Marcum's spot in the rotation. The Mets can use Niese twice in their first five games due to an off day April 2, but will need a fifth starter by April 7. Club officials stressed that the team will not look outside the organization for rotation help -- translation: former Mets righty Chris Young is not a realistic option -- while Collins said he considers left-hander Aaron Laffey next on the depth chart.

Marcum, who signed an incentive-laden one-year deal this winter, came to the Mets with a long history of arm trouble, including shoulder and elbow issues last season. He said that cortisone injections have become part of his "spring routine" in recent years.

In addition to Marcum, the Mets plan to break camp without the services of Santana and closer Frank Francisco. Wright and second baseman Daniel Murphy remain questionable for Opening Day.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.