PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- As Jerry Manuel learned in his first night as Mets manager last June, Jose Reyes prefers to be on the field.

So it should have come as no surprise that Reyes, back from the World Baseball Classic, was a tad alarmed Thursday afternoon when he learned -- second hand -- of Manuel's immediate plans for him: No baseball on Thursday, no baseball on Friday. Play Saturday.

"Saturday?" Reyes asked with a start.

But before Reyes could make an issue of it, two other words were spoken that soothed him and made the day off far more acceptable: "Tomorrow's Lakeland."

And Lakeland means a game against the Tigers and at least 4 1/2 hours on a bus. As much as Reyes prefers to be on the field, he has no desire to be on a bus that long. Playing can wait.

That's what Manuel believes is best for him anyway -- some down time, lots of batting-practice swings, take a few hundred ground balls and "freshen up," as the manager says.

The regular season will bring more than enough opportunity to be on the field.

"Jose plays at such a high level [of energy], it's better not to get him going right now," Manuel said.

Manuel said Thursday he has other plans for his shortstop, and those could include Reyes batting third. But that thought contradicts not only Manuel's remarks from Wednesday morning, but also a sense of other people in the organization who are curious why the manager has even toyed with the idea or moving the shortstop from the leadoff position -- where he is comfortable -- to third.

"That's where I've hit all my life," Reyes said without expressing any reluctance to bat third. "I'd like to be a leadoff hitter."