Notes: Bannister set to make debut

Notes: Bannister set to make debut

NEW YORK -- With Victor Zambrano still recovering from a left hamstring injury suffered in his final Grapefruit League appearance, the Mets announced Sunday that rookie Brian Bannister will step into the rotation on Wednesday against the Nationals, making his Major League debut.

Bannister, a 25-year-old right-hander who impressed club brass with his poise and maturity during Spring Training, was originally slated to pitch next Sunday against the Florida Marlins. Zambrano is now scheduled to take that start.

"I just think they were happy with what I came in and did this spring," Bannister said. "I don't know if anybody expected what I could do. I'm just hoping to pitch well and hopefully contribute."

Bannister, who switched his uniform to No. 40 from No. 61 in preparation for the effort, said part of him was secretly rooting for his start to be moved up to Wednesday all along. That way, he could avoid the added pressure of having extra family and friends on hand at Shea for the game.

"You never get a second chance to make a first impression," Bannister said.

His parents are expected to be present for Wednesday's game, while his brothers and some of his close friends will have to settle for picking up the telecast on satellite.

"I'm not here to give them entertainment," Bannister said. "They'll be able to watch on TV."

Glavine ready: Tom Glavine may already have six Opening Day starts under his belt, along with 275 career victories and a slew of other honors accumulated over the course of his lengthy career.

But even the Mets' 40-year-old left-hander can't shrug off the optimism and excitement that the season's first game always seems to bring.

As the hours ticked off before New York's 2006 season is slated to officially begin, with Glavine throwing a first pitch to Washington's Brandon Watson, the veteran admitted he still feels his fair share of nervousness before starting off a campaign.

"I get butterflies every day I pitch," Glavine said. "Every time I go out there, I get them a little bit. You want to do well. You try to control it by trusting yourself and the preparation you put in."

The task -- assigned to Glavine two weeks ago when Pedro Martinez was lifted until later in the rotation -- will be Glavine's third Opening Day start as a Met, having also performed the duties in 2003 and 2004.

The first one, Glavine's debut with the team, happened to be a start he would rather forget, coming in a 15-2 drubbing at the hands of the Chicago Cubs. He doesn't mind as much when asked to look back on the second one -- a 7-2 victory over his former club, the Atlanta Braves.

"I've had really good ones and one really bad one," said Glavine, who is 3-3 with a cumulative 4.42 ERA when pitching the year's first games.

"I've been on both ends of it. Winning Opening Day is fun, there's no question about that."

Monday's contest will also feature the debuts of several of the team's new signature stars, especially first baseman Carlos Delgado, whom manager Willie Randolph has penciled in as the Mets' cleanup hitter.

If the fan reaction at a Shea Stadium workout Sunday was any indication, Delgado shouldn't have any concerns about how he'll be received in New York.

Delgado seemed to be a less-than-welcome presence when his Florida Marlins came to town last season, barraged often by jeers from the grandstands. But with thousands of season ticket holders on hand to watch the club performs drills on Sunday, Delgado was quite the popular figure -- his batting practice home runs drew far and away the loudest cheers, hooking shots around the right-field foul pole.

"There's something about Opening Day," Delgado said. "The uniforms look a little whiter, the fans are fired up. I just want to enjoy it."

Clearly, the fans were hoping for some reason -- any reason -- to cheer the new slugger. They'll almost certainly be doing so again on Monday, when Delgado is challenged by Nationals pitching instead of flat fastballs from a Mets coach.

Though Delgado said it would be nice to provide a signature "Welcome to New York" moment, he refuses to place extra emphasis on doing so.

"The worst thing you can do is put extra pressure on yourself," Delgado said. "This game is hard enough as it is. It would be nice to get off to a good start, but we've got 162 games. It's a long run."

On second thought: The Mets made a quick roster move in time for Monday's season opener, purchasing the contract of left-hander Darren Oliver and re-assigning left-handed reliever Pedro Feliciano to Minor League camp.

Feliciano had been told he would be on the Major League roster, but concerns about Zambrano's injury prompted the switch.

Oliver -- who posted a 1.46 ERA in eight Grapefruit League appearances -- could provide the club with more innings as a reliever, if necessary, Randolph said.

"We feel [Zambrano's] going to be fine," Randolph said. "It's just a precaution."

Lining up: Randolph released his tentative lineup for Monday's season opener early in the afternoon, with the most notable item placing Cliff Floyd sixth -- a place he has never batted in a starting lineup as a Met.

Jose Reyes will lead off for New York, followed by Paul Lo Duca, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado and David Wright, leading to Floyd in the six hole. Xavier Nady, Anderson Hernandez and Glavine will follow.

Randolph said the change was made to accommodate Lo Duca -- a strong contact hitter -- in the No. 2 hole, and to separate Floyd from the left-handed hitting Delgado.

"You do feel like 'The Man' when you're hitting third or fourth," Floyd said. "But sixth, seventh -- those are important roles on our team."

But Randolph, who met privately with Floyd to discuss the lineup, also said the move is not permanent and that Floyd should expect to see time in higher spots in the order, especially when Lo Duca is not in the lineup.

"I'm going to use Cliff in different spots in the lineup, depending on teams," Randolph said. "I'm just basically going to flip-flop him once in a while."

Coming up: By all indications, Shea Stadium appears to be ready for Opening Day, its concession stands, escalators and other facilities having gone through a dry test run for Sunday's workout.

An informal survey suggested -- as it does every year -- that the players were more than ready to escape Florida as well.

Now, all that's left is to get the season, the Mets' 45th, started. Glavine is set to take the start for New York in a 1:10 p.m. ET contest on Monday, with right-hander Livan Hernandez is set to pitch for Washington.

Bryan Hoch is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.