PHILADELPHIA -- When the Mets optioned Matt den Dekker back to Triple-A Las Vegas on Sunday, they told him not to hurry. Regular center fielder Juan Lagares was still feeling some soreness in the back side of his right rib cage, and there was a chance the Mets would have to place him on the disabled list.
That chance became a reality Monday, when an MRI in New York revealed that Lagares had strained his right intercostal muscle. The Mets placed him on the DL, recalling den Dekker and immediately slotting him in the starting lineup.
There is no timetable for Lagares' return, but intercostal strains often take two to four weeks to heal.
"I don't think you can ever put a date on these kinds of things, these intercostal strains or those oblique tears or anything else," manager Terry Collins said. "That's already what I told him yesterday morning when he said he was OK. I said, 'You've got to be honest, because if it gets worse, it's not two weeks. It could be four.' So we'll have to wait and see."
Lagares' injury comes at a time when he had finally begun earning everyday playing time in center field. In 42 games, Lagares is hitting .288 with two homers, 18 RBIs and 19 runs scored.
In his absence, den Dekker and Chris Young will split time in center field. The Mets are currently playing with a four-man bench in an effort to assuage their taxed bullpen, and should call up another outfielder -- either Kirk Nieuwenhuis or Andrew Brown, both of whom are capable of manning center -- at some point this week.
"He's going to get some playing time, and we'll find out what we've got," Collins said of den Dekker. "Before he broke his wrist last spring, he was the guy. He was the guy. I had Minor League guys telling me at one time that he and Juan were neck and neck in center field. We've seen what Matt can do defensively, so certainly we're not afraid to put him out there."
Eric Young Jr., who cut into Lagares' playing time earlier this season, remains sidelined with a strained right hamstring and is not eligible to return until June 10. Young will begin an outdoor running program Tuesday in Port St. Lucie, Fla.
Until either he or Lagares returns, the Mets will have to mix and match in their outfield. Collins does not blame Lagares for playing in Sunday's game despite his injury, believing he was fully healed when he took the field.
"We did our due diligence," Collins said. "They tested him in the training room. They put him through some things where they said if it had been acting up, they'd have seen it. He said there was absolutely nothing wrong, and then we took him downstairs to hit. Obviously, there were four sets of eyes on him to see if he was flinching or if his swing changed, and he came out of there feeling great. Then all of a sudden as the game went on, he just started getting worse."
Eveland makes successful return to bigs with Mets
PHILADELPHIA -- Returning to the States after a year in Korea, left-hander Dana Eveland and his agent struggled to find even a Minor League deal. Eveland had enjoyed his time in Korea, traveling there for the promise of financial stability, but regretted his inability to latch back on with a big league team.
"We begged everybody," Eveland said of his offseason negotiations, "and the Mets were nice enough to say yes."
Flash forward half a calendar year, and the Mets are thrilled they did. They called up Eveland from Triple-A Las Vegas on Sunday to revive a tattered bullpen, and Eveland debuted in Monday's 11-2 win over the Phillies, retiring Chase Utley and Ryan Howard in the eighth inning to preserve Bartolo Colon's strong start.
"I got thrown right into the fire," said Eveland, who entered in a 5-1 game.
An eight-year veteran of seven big league teams, Eveland had grown tired of shuttling between the Majors and Minors by 2012. Then 29 years old, he sought the financial stability that Korean teams often provide for American players, inking a deal with the Hanwha Eagles.
What he did not realize was that he would also become a celebrity in the Far East, with people recognizing him at shopping malls and in the streets.
"It was the first time in my life I ever felt like a superstar," Eveland said.
A two-batter appearance against the Phillies may not exactly spark similar celebrity stateside. But for Eveland, it had been a long time coming. Entering the game with a four-run lead, two men on base and no outs in the eighth, the left-hander retired Utley on a fly ball and Howard on a strikeout, eventually giving way to Jeurys Familia.
Mets plan to mix and match in leadoff spot
PHILADELPHIA -- Injured outfielder Juan Lagares' absence means the Mets, once again, are in search of a leadoff hitter.
Matt den Dekker filled the role Monday against the Phillies, but that is not a permanent solution. den Dekker will not play every day, meaning manager Terry Collins may have to mix and match his leadoff hitters the same way that he cycles his outfielders.
"We've got to figure it out," Collins said. "We've got to figure out who's going to lead off, and that will start tomorrow for sure."
Collins mentioned shortstop Ruben Tejada as one potential leadoff candidate, but Tejada is also not playing every day; he rested Monday in favor of Wilmer Flores. Chris Young could bat first against left-handed pitchers, but he is not an ideal choice vs. righties. None of the five Mets who do play almost every day -- Daniel Murphy, David Wright, Curtis Granderson, Lucas Duda and Travis d'Arnaud -- are obvious leadoff candidates, either.
That means the job could ultimately default to 40-year-old Bobby Abreu, who owns a .500 on-base percentage since May 25. But Collins plans to be careful not use Abreu more than two or three games in a row, limiting his functionality in that role. Until Lagares or Eric Young Jr. returns from the disabled list, Abreu, Chris Young, den Dekker and Tejada should all split leadoff duties in some capacity.
• The Mets entered Monday's play with the league's lowest ERA (2.21) since May 22. Their staff held opposing hitters to a .201 batting average over that span.
• The Mets lead the Majors with 15 outfield assists. Chris Young, Eric Young Jr. and Granderson all have four apiece, while Lagares, who set the franchise rookie record last year with 15 outfield assists, does not have any in 2014.