Pagan, Reyes hope to return vs. Cubs
Mets have missed duo who normally play atop lineup
ATLANTA -- Although Angel Pagan and Jose Reyes remained out of the starting lineup on Thursday, both appear to be nearing a return.
Pagan, whose right wrist tendinitis has now kept him out of three consecutive games, "didn't feel quite right" taking indoor batting practice on Thursday, according to manager Jerry Manuel. He did enter Thursday's 4-2 win over the Braves as a defensive replacement in the seventh inning, but Manuel purposely did not double-switch him with the pitcher so that Pagan would not have to bat.
He was on-deck when the Braves recorded the final out in the ninth inning. Manuel said that Pagan may have had to bunt had he been forced to make a plate appearance.
Regardless, Manuel still believes that Pagan may be able to start Friday afternoon's game in Chicago.
"I just want to be there healthy," Pagan said before Thursday's game, sporting a soft black wrap on his wrist. "I want to help the team."
Reyes, who has missed seven straight games with a strained right oblique, took batting practice for the second consecutive day and is also targeting a return this weekend.
The Mets could use the help. Without a pair of hitters who generally sit in the top third of the lineup at his disposal, Manuel has used Luis Castillo in the leadoff spot, while trying out various options -- from David Wright to Josh Thole to Lucas Duda -- in the two hole. The absence of Reyes and Pagan has forced the Mets to change their identity as an offensive club.
"They both require a lot of attention as basestealers," Manuel said. "They create a lot of problems for the opposition."
Manuel tries to give Duda more protection
ATLANTA -- Jerry Manuel's curiosity regarding rookie Lucas Duda has already seeped its way into his daily lineup. On Duda's second day with the club, the Mets manager penciled the rookie left fielder into the two hole, a perch he has never occupied in his four-year professional career.
Taken aback by the steady diet of offspeed pitches that Duda received in his first game as a Major Leaguer, Manuel shifted Duda into the second spot in an effort to protect him in the lineup, allowing him to see more fastballs -- which in turn should allow the Mets to evaluate him more accurately.
In his first two big league at-bats, Duda saw six breaking balls and just two fastballs from Braves starter Tommy Hanson.
"That kind of prompted me to say, 'I'm not really getting to see this guy do his thing,'" Manuel said.
Although Manuel chalked Hanson's strategy up to Atlanta's scouting department, it could actually have stemmed from the fact that Hanson and Duda previously competed against each other in high school. In his lone at-bat against a pitcher not named Hanson, Jonny Venters struck him out on three straight mid-90s sinkers.
Even so, with Angel Pagan and Jose Reyes nursing injuries, Manuel is desperate to see someone at the top of the lineup produce. Duda, he figures, has as good a chance as anyone.
"He was so impressive to me in batting practice," Manuel said, comparing the sound of Duda's contact with that of former Mets outfielder Moises Alou. "A different life coming off that wood that I hadn't heard in a long time."
Although Duda has never hit second in a professional lineup, he was naturally thrilled for the opportunity. Still somewhat starstruck from his big league debut, Duda didn't sleep much for a second straight night. He wasn't sure whether his position in the lineup might alter his approach.
"I don't know," Duda said. "Maybe I'll bunt."
Mets promote catcher Nickeas from Minors
ATLANTA -- Battling through injuries and staring down the path of a career Minor Leaguer, Mike Nickeas came close to quitting baseball.
Now, he is a Major Leaguer.
The Mets selected the contract of Nickeas on Thursday, allowing him to join the club in Atlanta, where he is in the process of buying a home. His wife, Rebecca, whose family is from the area, picked him up at the airport.
"It's still surreal," Nickeas said. "I literally pinched myself a couple times just to make sure it was really happening. It's a great feeling."
Nickeas, 27, nearly quit baseball this past winter after nagging injuries limited him to 61 at-bats the previous season. But, he said, "My gut told me not to quit," and so Nickeas returned to Double-A Binghamton to start this season.
After a brief stretch at Triple-A Buffalo, Nickeas, who hit .276 with five home runs in 293 Minor League at-bats this season, joined the Mets to provide them with catching depth down the stretch. Although they aren't likely to use him more than sporadically, Nickeas is still, finally, a Major Leaguer.
The catcher's wife, her family and co-workers, and scores of his friends were in attendance Thursday.
"It's crazy when you kind of put your nose down and work through it," Nickeas said. "Good things happen."
Because the Mets are scheduled to play a day game at Wrigley Field on Friday after their night game Thursday in Atlanta, starting pitcher R.A. Dickey flew to Chicago ahead of the team. "It's a tough schedule for us," manager Jerry Manuel said. "We've dealt with a tough schedule before. That's part of being in the Major Leagues." ... One game after making his Mets debut as a sub in left field, new acquisition Joaquin Arias started for the club Thursday at shortstop ... Jason Bay, working his way back from post-concussion syndrome, has been riding a stationary bike at Citi Field but has not progressed to additional activities.