PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Terry Collins' infatuation with Luis Hernandez, a player with 15 career starts at second base, has more to do with an apparent distaste for Luis Castillo as the competition for the Mets' starting job enters the last two weeks of spring training.
General manager Sandy Alderson will have the final say on the Opening Day roster. But Collins clearly has developed an affinity for Hernandez, and when asked Tuesday about a New York Post report claiming he is the pick, the manager paused for a few seconds before answering.
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"Ah, I would say it was a little premature," Collins said. "But certainly there's no reason to think he wouldn't be the guy if that's what we think is going to be the best for us."
Collins did say "we," so he's not ready to anoint Hernandez yet, and there are other factors to consider. Brad Emaus, as a Rule 5 pick, must be offered back to the Blue Jays if he does not make the 25-man roster, and Castillo won't be kept in a bench role.
Given his situation, Castillo, 35, expects to be released any day now, and is as much in the dark about what's going on as anyone. Collins talked to him last week about "picking up the pace" -- the first-year manager believed he was sulking because of his predicament. But the three-time All-Star, who has not talked with Collins recently, sounds resigned to his fate.
"I'm ready for whatever happens," Castillo said. "To have 14 years in the big leagues and to be in this situation, it's very hard. I'm in much better shape than last year and feel like I can play."
Castillo arrives every day wondering what's next for him. He sounded incredulous he had not been handed the position by now. "What do you think?" he asked. "I know it's tough because we have a lot of guys here for the job, but people can see that I can still play. I don't know what their plan is."
Castillo has been healthy in spring training and one of the most productive among this field of candidates. He is hitting .280 (7-for-25).
Collins denied reports he is anti-Castillo, but it didn't help that Castillo, with so much to prove, refused to show up early for spring training. That didn't sit well with Collins, who just assumed one of the younger candidates would unseat Castillo. That hasn't happened, and now that Castillo has looked like a decent hitter lately, Collins has changed his tune on the expectations for second base.
"I think a lot of teams think it's strictly an offensive position," Collins said. "I don't particularly think that way. I think you've got to be able to play defense when you're playing the middle of the field. That double play in the bottom of the eighth with the bases loaded to save you a game is a pretty important play."
Castillo didn't help himself in last nights game against the Nationals, when he went 0-for-3 and was slow covering first base on a potential 3-2-4 double play ag .
Collins said Castillo will likely get two more starts this week before the others get a chance. Collins said there is no need to see Hernandez because he knows he can handle the position. Ideally, Collins will announce the choice in the week leading up to the April 1 opener. As for Castillo, well, he could be gone by then.
"There's a lot of managers I know that would like to take that veteran out of spring training," Collins said.
The Mets manager just isn't one of them.