JUPITER, Florida — Jon Niese struggled in his first spring start that was delayed by shoulder trouble, allowing four runs in two innings of the New York Mets' 9-8 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday.
The Mets' opening-day starter last season, Niese pitched until June before being sidelined by a partially torn rotator cuff. He returned in August, going 5-2 with a 3.00 ERA the rest of the way. The left-hander allowed six hits and walked two Tuesday.
"It took a little while for me to get going, to get back into the competition, but I felt good," Niese said. "I kind of started off slow and I was kind of able to gradually build up."
Niese said the Mets haven't talked with him about pitching opening day, but it is his goal.
"I think I'm almost there," Niese said. "I'm not 100 percent as far as where I want to be pitches-wise. They are getting more crisp. Obviously, I'm not really consistent now."
The Cardinals tagged Niese for four runs in the second. Kolten Wong hit a two-run homer in the inning, hours after manager Mike Matheny expressed his support for the struggling second baseman.
Shortly after discussing Wong, Matheny interrupted his answer to another question, looked to the field and exclaimed, "Did you see that?" Wong was doing back flips from a flatfooted start after pregame stretch.
Fighting strep throat, Adam Wainwright made only one big mistake in 3 1-3 innings: Josh Satin hit a 2-1 pitch over the center field wall, giving the Mets a 1-0 lead in the second.
Cardinals: After watching the Cardinals allow 28 runs over two games, Matheny looked for a strong outing from Wainwright. The Cardinals' ace told his manager he'd try to cram seven innings into his 40-pitch limit.
If Wainwright reached the goal? "He said, 'You can hit anywhere in the order all year,'" Wainwright said. "So after the first inning when I threw seven pitches I was like, 'All right! Here we go. I can do this.'"
Mets: Niese threw 32 of his 50 pitches for strikes, and was pleased with the 89 mph stadium radar reading he saw. Niese believes the velocity should rise as he progresses further in the spring. Niese also noted that Tuesday's outing put him on pace to build arm strength for 100 pitches.
Matheny said top outfield prospect Oscar Taveras is still experiencing tightness in his hamstring and has missed enough time that he likely won't make the club out of spring training.
"He needed to come in and have everything go right in order for that to be a possibility," Matheny said. "It's definitely something that's holding him up."
Jason Motte threw another bullpen session Tuesday as he works his way back from ligament replacement surgery. After his final pitch, pitching coach Derek Lilliquist exclaimed, "Looks like you are ready for live BP," meaning Motte could throw to hitters in a controlled setting in his next outing.
WHO'S ON FIRST?
With Ike Davis (calf) and Lucas Duda (hamstring) struggling to stay healthy this spring, the Mets started Matt Clark at first base. He went 0 for 3 with two strikeouts. Duda is expected to return to the lineup in the next day or two.
PAY FOR PLAY
Cardinals shortstop Aledmys Diaz is guaranteed $8 million under the four-year contract he agreed to last weekend. He receives a $2 million signing bonus and salaries of $500,000 this year, $1.5 million in 2015 and $2 million in each of the final two seasons.
Infielder Matt Carpenter gets a $1.5 million signing bonus under his $52 million, six-year deal and salaries of $1 million this year, $3.5 million in 2015, $6.25 million in 2016, $9.75 million in 2017, $13.5 million in 2018 and $14.5 million in 2019. The Cardinals have an $18.5 million option for 2020 with a $2 million buyout. He gets a $500,000 payment if traded from now through 2017 and $1 million if dealt during the remainder of the contract. Carpenter also gets a suite on road trips.