Anxious all spring to return to active duty following surgery to repair a torn capsule in his left shoulder, Conforto made his Grapefruit League debut hours later as the Mets' designated hitter and leadoff man. Finishing 1-for-4 with a ground-ball single, Conforto gave the Mets even more reason to believe he can beat his goal of a May 1 return.
"I hate to put a timetable on anything, because like we know, it's hard to make those kind of assumptions," Callaway said. "But the way he's progressing now, I'd say there's a good shot of that."
Conforto will return to the lineup Saturday, playing center field for the first time in a Grapefruit League game. Although Conforto is almost certain to remain in extended Spring Training when camp breaks, the outlook on his short-term future is rosier than it was a month ago.
"We've progressed quite a bit in the last three to four weeks," Conforto said. "If you had asked me at the beginning of Spring Training, I wouldn't have known what to tell you. I'm happy with the way things have gone. I'm happy that my shoulder feels great."
Two down The Mets optioned reliever Hansel Robles and catcher Tomas Nido to Minor League camp on Friday, reducing the total number of players on their big league roster to 32.
A favorite to make the bullpen at the dawn of camp, Robles posted a 9.26 ERA and a 1.80 WHIP in eight spring appearances. He will open the season at Triple-A Las Vegas, where the Mets want to see him do "the little things," according to Callaway. Over three Major League seasons, Robles owns a 3.97 ERA, with 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings.
Robles' demotion further clarifies the Mets' roster situation with three days left in camp. Of the 32 remaining players, three are certain to begin the year on the disabled list. Two others, Conforto and Jason Vargas, are also likely to land there, while first baseman Dominic Smith will begin the year in extended Spring Training. Realistically, that leaves pitchers Zack Wheeler and Jacob Rhame, and infielder Phillip Evans, as the only Mets still fighting for roster spots based on performance.
See you next year As expected, pitcher Rafael Montero will undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, forcing him to miss the entire 2018 season. Montero said he first felt pain during Tuesday's outing against the Cardinals, but didn't think much of it until he awoke the next morning with a swollen elbow. A subsequent MRI revealed a completely torn ulnar collateral ligament.
Montero will travel back to New York City on Sunday, then meet a doctor Monday to determine when and where he will undergo the procedure.
"You have to be ready for this kind of situation," Montero said through an interpreter. "It happens very often, you can get injured during the season. But from my perspective, I have to get rid of this and prepare for next season. I'm looking forward to it."
Camp battles When the Mets removed Evans from their 40-man roster this winter, he thought immediately about what he needed to do to return to the Majors. A career infielder, Evans worked on other positions -- not just the outfield, where he has shined in Grapefruit League games this spring, but also catcher, where he began taking reps in February.
The experiment has been successful enough that Evans, a long shot to make the Mets' roster two months ago, is now one of just a handful of players left on the roster bubble. If the Mets decide to carry five bench players instead of four on their Opening Day roster, it will be largely because Evans, who is slugging .457 with an .839 OPS, distinguished himself this spring.
"Honestly, up until this point I've done everything I wanted to do," Evans said. "I definitely want to go back where I was at in September to start the year. That was my goal coming into the offseason, so I prepared as best I could, got in shape, worked at other positions and worked on my swing. I'm definitely happy with where I'm at."
Injury updates Vargas threw catch off flat ground for the second straight day on Friday, with pitching coach Dave Eiland standing next to him receiving throws. The Mets will continue to monitor Vargas as he recovers from surgery to remove a broken bone from his right hand, hoping -- but not necessarily expecting -- he can take his first rotation turn April 3 or 4.
As of Friday afternoon, Vargas was at the hospital receiving treatment for a stomach virus that the Mets consider minor.
The kids are all right For the first time, 19-year-old Andres Gimenez cracked the Mets' starting lineup on Friday. MLB Pipeline's top-ranked Mets prospect, Gimenez played the entire game at shortstop, finishing 2-for-3 with an RBI.
"It's a dream come true, playing with the big leaguers, playing with some of my heroes that I've watched just on TV," Gimenez said. "Playing here, it's big for me."
Up next Left-hander P.J. Conlon will start Saturday as the Mets continue trying to shield the Cardinals from seeing their Major League pitchers. While Conlon opposes Mike Mayers in a 1:05 p.m. ET game in Jupiter, Fla., available on MLB.TV, Noah Syndergaard will pitch in a Minor League game in Port St. Lucie.