Mets 6, Astros 2

Jonathon Niese is more than ready for opening day.

Originally set to throw no more than 50 pitches in his final

tuneup, the New York Mets’ left-hander said he felt so good

Wednesday night that he didn’t see a need to stop.

Niese finished with 74 pitches, allowing just two hits in 4 1-3

scoreless innings as the Mets beat the Astros 6-2.

Niese is set to pitch Monday against the San Diego Padres at

Citi Field.

”Despite early in the spring when I really didn’t feel like I

had all my pitches going at one time, today I felt like I had

everything going, especially the curveball. I felt for the most

part I could control it, I was throwing it for strikes, and overall

I felt good, ready to go,” he said.

Mets manager Terry Collins said he has been impressed with Niese

all spring.

”He’s been absolutely outstanding,” Collins said. ”He’s

really prepared himself well, and one of the things he’s done in

the last few years is he’s kept himself in great shape. Last year

getting through the season healthy for the first time was huge for

him and he came into spring training eager to show everyone he is

going to have a big season.”

Niese has been tasked to lead a Mets rotation suddenly hit by a

rash of injuries.

Shaun Marcum has missed two starts because of separate injuries

but is slated to start the sixth game of the season April 7 against

the Marlins. He missed a start March 21 because of a shoulder

impingement and missed another turn in the rotation this week after

experiencing neck pain during a bullpen session Monday.

Jeremy Hefner was struck on his pitching elbow by a one-hopper

Tuesday but said he was feeling ”much better” and is just waiting

for inflammation to subside. He is scheduled to start Game 4 of the

regular season April 5.

Johan Santana will remain at the Mets’ spring training complex

for the start of the season as he continues to build up arm

strength. He hasn’t been on a mound since early this month.

”I know our guys are getting back,” Niese said. ”Hef’s going

to be all right. Marcum should be OK, and Santana is working hard

to get back.”

Mets infielder Justin Turner, who recently came back from an

ankle injury, left after the third because of a strained calf. He

said it cramped up in the top of the second and again after

grounding out in the bottom half. He played a full inning on it

before exiting.

”I think it was a little tight from maybe compensating a little

bit for my ankle,” Turner said. ”I don’t know 100 percent. I

would bet that has a little bit to do with it. It’s not really sore

to walk around or stretch or anything. It’s more sore to touch.

When I pushed off is when I felt it.”

”Hopefully I’ll just get in and get all the treatment I need

and take whatever pills they have and get this thing calmed down in

a day or two,” he said.

Marlon Byrd homered, doubled and drove in three runs.

Edgar Gonzalez, competing for a long reliever role with the

Astros, gave up three runs and four hits in three innings.

Houston took the game as a chance to rest most of its regulars.

The lineup was filled with prospects, including shortstop Carlos

Correa, who was the first overall pick in last June’s draft.

It was his first start of the spring, and he went 1 for 4 with

an RBI and a stolen bases. The Astros managed just three hits

overall.

”All those guys we brought over here and all those minor

leagues we’ve played, it’s all about evaluation and giving our

staff here an opportunity to see some of those guys that are down

there,” Astros manager Bo Porter said. ”It was a good chance to

see what some of these guys can do.”

NOTES: Mets 3B David Wright will play in another minor league

game Thursday. Collins said he hopes Wright will be able to play in

a big league game Saturday against the Orioles. … Mets 2B Daniel

Murphy is expected to make his spring training debut Thursday

against the Nationals. Collins said that’s a good sign the team

isn’t planning on putting him on the disabled list to start the

season. He has been out since straining his side on Feb. 19.

Collins said he told Murphy ”if we are going to find out you are

ready, which you are telling me you are, we have to get you in big

league games.”’ … Mets LHP Pedro Feliciano said Wednesday he

will start the season with the Class A St. Lucie Mets, pitching in

the Florida State League, rather than going to Triple-A Las Vegas.

The Mets told the reliever earlier this week he would not make the

opening day roster because they wanted him to continue to build up

arm strength. Feliciano missed a week at the start of spring

training because of an irregular heartbeat that was discovered in

his physical.