DENVER -- Kirk Nieuwenhuis cannot recall -- or conveniently forgot -- if he skipped school in order to attend Opening Day one year at Coors Field. Raised in nearby Highlands Ranch, Colo., then later becoming a football and baseball star at Denver Christian High School, Nieuwenhuis grew up idolizing Todd Helton, Larry Walker and other stars of the late-90s Rockies.
Needless to say, tickets were in demand with Nieuwenhuis leading off Friday and playing center field for the Mets.
"I'm not sure of the number," Nieuwenhuis said, laughing. "But quite a few."
Once a temporary replacement for injured center fielder Andres Torres, Nieuwenhuis has bullied his way into additional playing time with his offensive and defensive contributions, including a leadoff single Friday. Because of it, he will remain in the lineup even when Torres returns next week, with manager Terry Collins indicating that Nieuwenhuis will shift to left.
"You've got to play a guy where he fits the best," Collins said. "Where does Andres fit the best here? Well, his most success has been in center field."
That's no different for Nieuwenhuis, even if many scouts have long dubbed the 6-foot-3, 215-pound rookie a future corner outfielder. Nieuwenhuis, for his part, does not particularly care what position he plays, as long as Collins continues penciling his name onto the lineup card.
"It's been a fun ride so far," he said. "It's only been two or three weeks I guess, but it's been a blast just to be a part of this team."
Lutz gets first start in Majors, could stick around
DENVER -- Zach Lutz swears he was not nervous when he first strode into the Mets' clubhouse earlier this week, nor when he made his debut as a pinch-hitter with the bases loaded against the Marlins on Tuesday. Nor was the rookie nervous on Friday, with his name in the starting lineup for the first time.
But Lutz finally felt the grip of the big leagues late Thursday evening, after arriving at his hotel room and wondering about the whereabouts of his bags. Within minutes, there was a knock at his door.
"It finally hit me," Lutz said, laughing. "It beats the Minor League bus rides, for sure."
There is a good chance that Lutz may enjoy the luxuries of big league life longer than expected, with manager Terry Collins indicating that -- even with Ronny Cedeno on the disabled list -- the Mets do not necessarily need to keep Jordany Valdespin on the roster as middle-infield depth. Because Justin Turner is capable enough of playing shortstop in a pinch, Collins said, Lutz has a good chance to stick around next week when the Mets activate outfielder Andres Torres from the DL.
For now, Lutz is simply growing acclimated to Major League life. The rookie started at first base Friday against the Rockies, with Collins wanting to give the slumping Ike Davis a day off against left-handed starting pitcher Drew Pomeranz. Though Lutz is a natural third baseman, he has played enough first in recent Minor League seasons to feel at ease at the position.
"Before each game I always go over there and get work in," Lutz said. "I'm definitely comfortable there."
Young could join Mets' rotation in May
DENVER -- The microscope has focused more sharply on rehabbing pitcher Chris Young this week, now that Mike Pelfrey is almost certainly headed for season-ending elbow surgery. Young has been facing live batters in Port St. Lucie, Fla., and according to manager Terry Collins, could be ready to join New York's rotation by mid- to late-May.
Though Young will not be ready to pitch in extended Spring Training before that season ends, he will appear in simulated games beginning next week and could join Class A St. Lucie shortly thereafter. The Mets also want to see Young, who underwent right anterior shoulder capsule surgery last May, pitch at the upper levels of the Minors before re-joining their roster.
There is still no telling how well Young, 32, will take to live game action, considering he has not completed a full big league season since 2007. But after thriving in four starts for the Mets last April, Young could be a long-term solution for the rotation spot currently belonging to Chris Schwinden.
As for Schwinden, who started Friday in place of Pelfrey, the Mets are committed to giving their 25-year-old right-hander a fair shot at keeping his job. Schwinden held his own during a four-start debut last September, and had been thriving in Triple-A Buffalo's rotation so far this April, posting a 2.05 ERA in four starts.
"He's going to get an extended look," Collins said.
Right-hander Mike Pelfrey's appointment with Dr. James Andrews has been rescheduled for Monday in Gulf Breeze, Fla. Pelfrey said Thursday that he is "99 percent" certain he will undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
The Mets plan to dress up in Western garb Sunday evening before boarding their charter flight to Houston. Every member of the team and coaching staff will wear Western-themed clothing as part of a team bonding exercise.