PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Each day as the Mets move closer to the beginning of their season, the further Jose Reyes seems to be from playing on Opening Day. The club dances around the issue, and Reyes knows only how much he wants to be there. Perhaps a determination hasn't been made. But each day seems to bring more spoken reasons that would defend and explain having the shortstop seated while his teammates stand on the foul lines at Citi Field on April 5.

The days remaining before Johan Santana faces the Marlins number seven, and one of them is an open date -- no game one week from Sunday. There is talk of assigning Reyes his own day off before he plays, probably in a Minor League game. And from all indications, the club is unsure when his first in-game duty might happen. So each day, the likelihood of Reyes making his return after the first three games and before the team's first road trip increases.

And unmentioned thus far in the public discourse is the temperature of the three night games the Mets are to play after their Opening Day engagement with the Marlins.

"I can't tell you he's not going to be ready," general manager Omar Minaya said on Saturday, Reyes' fourth day back in camp.

But the other side of that equation remains unspoken.

"We're not going to rush for the sake of one game," Minaya said. "Having him play the whole [or the vast majority of the games] is the most important thing."

Reyes has no sense of it because he doesn't know how dedicated the club is to its "Prevention and Recovery" campaign. What does "conservative" mean in a set of circumstances the Mets have identified as unique? Will the P&R program prompt the club to be days more careful than it might have been if the same circumstances existed a year ago, when no slogan or campaign was in place.

"They don't tell me anything," Reyes said on Saturday.

And he said he hasn't asked.

The Mets say everything is predicated on how Reyes responds to the workout of the previous day. They also recognize Reyes can't be expected to downshift before second base if he has hit a ball into the right-field corner. And who knows how well Reyes will swing the bat? But manager Jerry Manuel did say on Saturday that Reyes' batting practice had been "very encouraging."

Then again BP is not an accurate measure of readiness. Exhibition games are played for a reason other than preparing the starting pitchers. Reyes hasn't see a pitch from a big league opponent since May.

Nothing is established except this: Manuel acknowledged it would difficult to play Reyes on Opening Day if he hadn't played a big league game before Friday. Would it be significantly easier if he has played two games?

Reyes' workouts have increased marginally in length and intensity since Wednesday, when he appeared fatigued after 75 minutes. Manuel said he intends to "incorporate [Reyes] into the team's activities" and that "at some point, he'll run the bases." But neither plans have been developed with a schedule attached. Reyes did some base-to-base running Saturday morning, but when the manager said "run the bases," he meant something more strenuous.