SAN DIEGO -- Returning soon to the five boroughs: Johan Santana.

Santana will ramp up his rehab from a sprained right ankle with three innings Sunday at Class A Brooklyn. If all goes well, the left-hander should return to Citi Field next weekend, most likely Saturday against the Braves.

Feeling "great," according to manager Terry Collins, Santana is one day removed from his first bullpen session since spraining his ankle last month. The Mets originally intended for Santana to return early next week against the Marlins, but instead delayed his return until the Braves series.

In a related conversation, they have also delayed talk of using R.A. Dickey on short rest until at least mid-August. Citing matchup issues and frequent off-days over the next two weeks, Collins said he is eyeing a stretch of 13 straight games from Aug. 14-26 to use Dickey on short rest, if necessary. The aim is to give Santana, Chris Young and Jon Niese extra rest, while keeping rookie Matt Harvey's schedule as regular as possible.

"There are all sorts of thoughts going on," Collins said. "We want to make sure we protect [Harvey] as much as we can. ... The one thing you don't want to start doing is just throwing it all out there and trying to jumble all of the rotation up and have guys not be comfortable with what they're doing."

Francisco activated, but has new ailment

SAN DIEGO -- One reliever returns, another hits the disabled list. And neither is completely healthy.

Such is the current state of New York's bullpen, which received an apparent boost Friday when closer Frank Francisco returned from the DL. But how much of a boost remains to be seen. Sidelined since June 23 with a left oblique strain, Francisco no sooner returned than he complained of soreness in his right lat muscle.

Then, to make room for Francisco, the Mets placed Tim Byrdak on the DL with soreness in his left shoulder.

In any case, the Mets have their closer again, following a five-week recovery from an injury that was supposed to take two weeks to heal. In addition to suffering multiple setbacks with his oblique, Francisco received an injection in his knee midway through his rehab and now is dealing with lat soreness.

Asked if he was ready to return, Francisco said simply: "Let's see tonight. We'll go on the field and see."

"It's something that I hope goes away pitching," Francisco continued, noting that he previously tore his lat in 2010. "I'm going to pitch through it and hope it goes away."

If healthy, Francisco boasts the credentials to give the bullpen a significant boost. Though he entered Friday's play sporting a 4.97 season ERA, Francisco converted 10 of his last 11 save opportunities with a 1.76 mark before going on the DL. In his final four rehab appearances with Double-A Binghamton, Francisco fired four scoreless innings with three hits, three strikeouts and no walks.

But the Mets may have trouble bridging the gap to Francisco without Byrdak, their primary left-handed specialist. Byrdak, who will receive an MRI Monday in New York, said he has been feeling discomfort in his shoulder since July 26. Though he does not believe the injury will take two weeks to heal, Byrdak saw Francisco's return as an opportunity to receive some extra rest.

"Knowing the roster move, I didn't want to leave [manager] Terry [Collins] a man short," Byrdak said. "The best position to take was to go ahead and go on the DL, give it some time to calm down."

Worth noting

• Outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis tore the plantar fascia in his right foot Friday in a game for Triple-A Buffalo. The Mets plan to examine Nieuwenhuis over the next few days to determine whether surgery is a viable option. "Surgery is often not necessary in those cases, so we'll just have to see," general manager Sandy Alderson said.

• Ronny Cedeno started a second straight game at second base Friday -- in part, Collins said, because Daniel Murphy is battling through right wrist soreness a day after Barry Zito plunked him with a pitch. Cedeno was 3-for-5 with a career-high five RBIs on Thursday.