ST. LOUIS -- With each passing day, Mets manager Jerry Manuel's eagerness to bat Jose Reyes third in the lineup seems to ease.

Despite his earlier proclamation that Reyes could bat third at some point this weekend, Manuel kept mum on Friday when asked if his plans had changed. Though Reyes did start at shortstop vs. the Cardinals, he hit leadoff for the sixth straight game. And there's a chance he may never drop down in the lineup.

"I'm going to reserve that a little bit until he feels comfortable, until he feels good about it," Manuel said. "It's just a matter of putting some things in place with the pieces that we have."

Most important is finding someone who could slide in the leadoff spot if Reyes dropped to third. Angel Pagan, whom Manuel had previously discussed as an option, is mired in a 1-for-14 slump, dropping his average to .208 and his on-base percentage to .240. Gary Matthews Jr. took Pagan's place in Friday's lineup, batting eighth.

Mets to tread lightly against Pujols

ST. LOUIS -- Not since Barry Bonds has a player consumed the consciousness of a pitching staff like Albert Pujols. Most consider him the best in baseball, and there is only one recommended way to pitch to him.

"Carefully," Mets manager Jerry Manuel said. "Very, very carefully."

Entering this weekend's series with the Mets, Pujols was batting an even .400 with five home runs, 15 RBIs and an .886 slugging percentage. He is a lifetime .327 hitter against the Mets, and has hit a combined .431 with seven homers off the Mets' three probable starters this weekend: Oliver Perez, Johan Santana and John Maine.

Pujols enjoyed a frighteningly good 2009 season against the Mets, batting .469 with four home runs and 14 RBIs in nine games.

This year, the Mets may defer a bit more to his considerable talent. Considering that Matt Holliday -- Pujols' main protection in the St. Louis lineup -- sat out Friday's opener due to an illness, Manuel said he would be even more inclined to treat the league's top slugger with prudence.

"He's probably right now the best hitter in the game," Manuel said. "We have to hopefully not let him get in a situation where he has a chance to beat you."

Manuel does not, however, plan on pitching around Pujols unless the situation dictates it. Treading carefully is one thing. Giving up is quite another. With the game on the line, the Mets prefer to remain blind to Pujols' reputation.

"I pitch every hitter the same," Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez said. "Do you have respect because he's a great athlete? Yeah, but that's it. My job is to get him out. It's as simple as that."

Igarashi's name may be called vs. Cards

ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals are an overwhelmingly right-handed team, with seven of Friday's eight starters digging in from the right side. Which means that in a close game, right-handed Mets reliever Ryota Igarashi is more likely to pitch in a setup situation than lefty Pedro Feliciano.

The Mets are itching to give Igarashi more responsibility anyway, considering he has allowed merely one hit in 4 1/3 innings so far this season.

"With the lineup that they have, then Igarashi's probably the guy," Mets manager Jerry Manuel said. "We're not coming with Feliciano. We're coming with Igarashi."

Manuel was most impressed by Igarashi's last appearance in the ninth inning of a tie game in Denver, in which he flashed a sharp splitter to retire the heart of Colorado's order.

"The way Igarashi performed that last outing, he was like saying, 'Give me the eighth inning,'" Manuel said. "And that's what we wanted to see. We'll give him every opportunity to see what he can do in that situation."

Worth noting

ST. LOUIS -- John Maine, whose rotation spot would be in jeopardy with a poor start on Sunday night, threw his third straight side session prior to Friday's game. Pitchers typically throw only one side session between starts. ... Darryl Strawberry, who lives in St. Louis, dropped by to greet the Mets before Friday's game. ... Bobby Valentine, currently an ESPN analyst, dismissed speculation that he could return as Mets manager if Jerry Manuel is dismissed. Said Valentine on SIRIUS XM Radio: "I don't see that as being part of my future."

This date in Mets history -- April 16

Progress is relative. On this date in 1966, the Mets gained their first victory of the season in their second game. A modest achievement, it would seem, but the Mets had lost their first nine games in '62. They lost their first eight games in '63, their first four in '64 and their first two in '65. They didn't win on Opening Day until 1970.

On this date in 1971, the Mets beat the Pirates, 1-0, at Shea Stadium on a home run by Donn Clendenon in the fourth inning against Dock Ellis. Tom Seaver pitched a complete game, allowing three hits and no walks and striking out 14. Seaver holds the Mets record for career shutouts, 44. ... In 1988 on this date, David Cone gained the first of his 20 victories on the season, pitching three innings in relief of Sid Fernandez in the Mets' 6-4 victory against the Cardinals at Shea.