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Niese on being named Mets' Opening Day starter

As the Mets and Padres prepare to meet on Opening Day, the spotlight will be on the players suiting up and taking the field in New York.

But with thousands of eyes focused on the starting nine Padres skipper Bud Black and Mets manager Terry Collins pencil onto their lineup card, there'll be a handful of conspicuous names missing for each club on Monday.

The Padres will be without standout third baseman Chase Headley (thumb), who broke out last year before finishing fifth in the National League Most Valuable Player Voting, winning a Silver Slugger and Gold Glove Awards along the way.

Headley is expected to begin the year on the disabled list, and the Padres hope outfielder Carlos Quentin (right knee) won't have to join him. Quentin returned to Cactus League action this week for the first time since March 8.

New York, meanwhile, has an Opening Day starting pitcher not named Johan Santana for just the second time in the last six years. Jon Niese will get that honor, with Santana undergoing season-ending surgery on Tuesday to repair a torn left shoulder capsule. Santana will be joined on the DL by closer Frank Francisco, who had offseason surgery to remove bone chips in his right elbow. Francisco threw to live hitters this week for the first time since the operation.

But with the setbacks, there has been growth in each camp. While David Wright came out of the World Baseball Classic with a strained intercostal muscle on his left side, he is optimistic that he'll be available for Opening Day.

"I've been optimistic about Opening Day since I came back to [Mets Spring Training camp], and talked to the doctors and the trainers about the diagnosis," Wright said after hitting again in a Minor League game Tuesday. "It's another step closer, so I'm still very optimistic."

And in Padres camp, young second baseman Jedd Gyorko has emerged as a contributor. The 24-year-old entered the year as the organization's No. 1 prospect and hit .261 with five doubles, three homers and 10 RBIs through his first 24 spring games. Gyorko is making the transition from third to second base.

"He's handled second base very nicely. He's making all the plays [and] turning a real good double play. Hands are good. Feet are good," Black said. "He's done some nice things. You can tell this guy is a baseball player. He's calm on the field. He's got good instincts. He's comfortable on the diamond and he's comfortable in a big league environment. He's a self-assured, self-confident young guy."

And despite some of the roster holes and lingering injuries to big-name players, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson is hopeful fans will embrace the long-term vision the organization has.

"I kind of have a sense of what they're thinking, and that's motivation in itself," Alderson said of the fans. "My goal ultimately is for a lot of Mets fans to be happy with where we are -- not where we're going, but where we are."

Mets: Niese obvious contingency plan

With Santana unavailable, the easy choice to start Opening Day for the Mets was Niese, who posted career highs in nearly every major statistical category last season. In his first year since signing a long-term extension, Niese struck out 155 hitters with a 3.40 ERA in a career-high 190 1/3 innings.

He'll get a chance to set out for new career bests when he opens the year Monday.

"I'm real excited, obviously, for getting this opportunity," Niese said. "I want to thank the Mets for putting the trust in me to have this opportunity. But I'm going to treat it as any other start."

Through four Grapefruit League outings, Niese had posted a 1.53 ERA and struck out 12 in 17 2/3 innings.

Padres: Another opener for Volquez 

Monday will be Opening Day start No. 2 for Edinson Volquez in a Padres uniform, and his third overall. He also started Opening Day 2011 with the Reds.

"It was a big moment," Volquez said of when Black informed him of the decision. "I'm excited about Opening Day No. 3. It's a big honor. I can't wait for that first game in New York."

Volquez was 11-11 with a 4.14 ERA in 32 starts last season. He also appeared in three games for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic. He was the winning pitcher in the semifinal victory over the Kingdom of the Netherlands as the Dominicans went on to win the title.

"I do think it's a feather in the cap -- a special day," Black said of choosing Volquez for Opening Day. "You look for experience and how he is going to handle it. I do like that he pitched the first game for his country.

"He had a solid year last year and we think he can build off that."

Worth noting

• Other Padres players who gained valuable big-game experience in the World Baseball Classic this spring are Chris Denorfia (hit .381 for Italy) and Luke Gregerson (two shutout innings for Team USA).

For the Mets, Wright hit a team-best .438 with 10 RBIs in four games for Team USA before his injury. He was New York's lone representative in the tournament.

• Padres infielder Logan Forsythe is also a candidate to start the season on the DL after he suffered a setback with the plantar fasciitis in his right foot this week. Forsythe was the leading candidate to replace Headley at third. Instead, it appears Cody Ransom will be the Opening Day starter.

• Niese will be the third different starting pitcher in as many years for the Mets, and just the second pitcher other than Johan Santana to start the first game of the regular season since 2007. Santana opened from 2008-10, Mike Pelfrey got the nod in 2011, and Santana pitched Opening Day again last year.

Volquez will be the first Padres pitcher to start consecutive Opening Days since Jake Peavy opened in four straight from 2006-09. Volquez last year took the losing decision in a 5-3 loss to the Dodgers.

• Mets outfielders Marlon Byrd and Colin Cowgill both impressed this spring, each hitting .333 through 18 and 22 games, respectively. LaTroy Hawkins had thrown a scoreless 6 2/3 innings through Wednesday.

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