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03/25/06 3:27 PM ET

Wagner throws without pain

Mets closer believes return by Opening Day is still a possibility

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- It was the most fundamental and mundane activity for a pitcher -- simply "hurling the sphere," as Randy Jones used to call it. It was nothing more than a game of catch, really, with Aaron Heilman on one end and Billy Wagner on the other.

First one reporter, then two, then a herd. Then pitching coach Rick Peterson, then Al Jackson, who, like Wagner, knows a thing or two about left-handed pitching. All watching Wagner. Then the trainer, too.

Welcome to the Camp Met-acarpal, where digital duress now is diminishing because the middle finger on Wagner's business hand is once again operating without pain and with less stiffness. That was the bottom line Saturday morning after the Mets closer tossed for 14 minutes and threw a couple at something closer to max effort.

The finger isn't right -- still a tad stiff -- but it's right enough that Wagner expected to repeat the exercise Sunday morning and believed his availability for Opening Day still was a possibility. He didn't say it was likely.

Indeed, he put it this way: "I'd rather miss the first week than be out two or three times after that. God, I don't want to miss Opening Day. But we're going to play this smart. I'm not 100 percent, and I should throw a few more times before we break [camp], but if I can't, I won't. Then we'll see."

So here is latest medical update for the team that is scheduled to play the Nationals at Shea Stadium April 3: Pedro Martinez, scratched as starting pitcher because of insufficient preparation; Wagner, possible scratch because of finger stiffness; Carlos Delgado, fit for duty, recovered from left elbow tendinitis; Carlos Beltran, recovered from the bug that has been passed around the clubhouse the last three weeks; Cliff Floyd, hoping to play Sunday, but still weak from a bug that has prevented him from playing since Thursday.

The others? Still standing and functional.

"We're trying to get rid of all the sickness before the season," Willie Randolph suggested Thursday after he had sent Floyd home.

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The manager already was on the bus to Kissimmee and a date with the Astros on Saturday when Wagner drew a crowd and playfully derisive comments from his fellow pitchers.

"Ouch ... Oooo! Good extension," Steve Trachsel said. "How did that feel? Does that hurt?"

The Mets know how important Wagner can be to their chances, but they dealt with his temporary disability as they deal with most adversity -- with gallows humor. When Floyd coughed and covered his mouth with the neck of his T-shirt, the immediate clubhouse diagnosis was "bird flu." He smiled and coughed again.

The others had made the 90-minute trip to Kissimmee. Floyd, Delgado, Beltran, Glavine, Martinez, Heilman, Wagner, Trachsel, Victor Zambrano, Paul Lo Duca, Julio Franco, David Wright, Xavier Nady and Jose Reyes remained here.

"It's good to be a veteran," Trachsel said. "It keeps you off the busses."

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.