PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Given the difficulty the Mets have had in unearthing consistent first-base production over the past few years, it would have been reasonable to expect a slow start to this spring's competition between Ike Davis and Lucas Duda.
Instead, the opposite unfolded Friday afternoon at Tradition Field. In the Mets' first game of the Grapefruit League season, Davis blasted a two-run homer and Duda hit the ball hard twice, finishing 1-for-3 with a double.
"It was great, Ike and Duda both," manager Terry Collins said. "Really good to see. They came ready to play, they came ready to make the club, and certainly it was a great day for them both.
"I really think they're bound and determined to make every game count. As I told them both, 'I know it's Spring Training and we've got a long way to go, but each time you're out there, go get yourself ready to play.' And they showed that today."
Davis' Grapefruit League debut was more memorable than Duda's, simply because his hit went over the fence. The two-run blast off Christian Garcia gave the Mets an early three-run lead over the Nationals, who came from behind to win the game, 5-4.
It may be early in spring, but Collins raved that Davis' swing "looks significantly different," and the first baseman was equally pleased by his ability to drive the ball. Though his .327 batting average last spring did nothing to foreshadow the massive early season slump that followed, that went along with only one home run in 55 at-bats. He has already matched that total in 2014.
"It was good, a good day," Davis said. "I felt decently comfortable in there. Obviously they weren't throwing curveballs or anything yet, but it felt good to get one on the barrel.
"I can tell in BP I'm hitting the ball a little bit better than last year, obviously. But it's all about making contact and then hitting the ball on the barrel a little bit more often than I have. It's going to take time in games, and obviously I've put up decent numbers in Spring Training before."
Had Duda's second-inning drive not settled into the glove of sprinting Nationals outfielder Eury Perez, he would have finished 2-for-3 with a pair of doubles. As it was, Duda hit two balls hard en route to a 1-for-3 afternoon, the hit coming on a broken-bat liner that nearly reached the fence.
"I feel good so far and hopefully it will continue," Duda said. "The swing feels good and hopefully I can build on it."
And as for the competition?
"I'm always rooting for Ike," Duda said. "He had a great day today, and I was happy for him."
Niese expecting full health by Opening Day
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The left shoulder discomfort currently derailing Jon Niese may not be directly connected to the rotator cuff he partially tore last summer, but the two are nonetheless related.
"I kind of blame [the discomfort] on myself," Niese said, referencing its relationship to last summer's cuff tear. "This offseason, that's pretty much all I was working on. I neglected the other things, so everything was at an imbalance. That's when I started having the shoulder-pinching issues and discomfort."
In that sense, the discomfort Niese felt earlier this week may have been something of a blessing. The Mets' presumptive Opening Day starter will skip his first Grapefruit League start, but because his MRI results came back clean, he does not expect to miss much more than that. Niese will simply work on strengthening the scap muscles in the shoulder, which had been weak enough to alter the alignment of his shoulder blade. That, in turn, created the "pinching" sensation that forced him off the mound earlier this week.
"The MRI revealed that my shoulder this year is actually better than it was last year," Niese said. "[Mets team physician Dr. David Altchek] said everything was healed and everything was clean, it's just the fact that there are little weak spots."
Niese returned to camp Friday morning following a 24-hour trip to New York for the MRI. He is not sure how soon he will return to game action, but expects to be fully healthy for Opening Day.
"I don't foresee it being a setback if I get everything strong," Niese said.
• Shortstop Wilfredo Tovar tweaked his right hamstring rounding first base in the seventh inning Friday, but he did not believe the injury was serious. Tovar is expected to begin this season at Triple-A Las Vegas.
• Outfielder Eric Young Jr. participated in a full range of baseball activities on Friday and came away encouraged by the improvement of his midsection. Young, who tweaked one of his core muscles earlier this week, hopes to make his Grapefruit League debut within the next few days.
• In honor of third baseman David Wright winning MLB Network's Face of MLB contest, the Mets are offering a $5 ticket special to their Friday, April 4 game against the Reds at Citi Field. Fans purchasing $5 tickets will also receive a Wright T-shirt.