PHOENIX - Now that it's clear that David Wright's absence will be prolonged, Mets manager Terry Collins juggled his infield again. Still, he stopped short of a full-scale reshuffling.

Daniel Murphy will return to third base, perhaps his best defensive position, with natural middle infielder Ruben Tejada shifting back to second base.

But for now, the range-deficient Wilmer Flores remains locked in at shortstop, even though moving Tejada to short would shore up the Mets' infield defense even more.

"I'm going to stay away from the shortstop position right now because it's a firestorm," Collins said before Thursday night's series opener against the Diamondbacks. "But I know Ruben Tejada should play in the middle infield."

Murphy's return to third base last night lasted less than three innings, however. He was removed from the game with a tight left quad in the bottom of the third.

With Wright out since early April, the Mets have run through several options at third base, including Murphy once before. Tejada had emerged as the latest candidate, especially now that his bat has heated up.

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Tejada was batting .310, bolstered by a six-game hitting streak in which he was 13-for-26. He started at third base throughout that span. But he lacks deep experience at the position, a fact that came to the forefront on Wednesday when he committed a pair of errors.

Collins, however, said the reshuffling was a week in the making and was unrelated to the rough night.

Although Murphy made the All-Star team last season as a second baseman -- despite his below-average range at the position -- he previously played third base.

"I think it makes us a better ballclub immediately," said Murphy, who discussed the idea with Collins and third-base coach Tim Teufel. "So we're going to do it."

But with Wright's status uncertain as he undergoes physical therapy for lumbar spinal stenosis, Collins said felt comfortable changing up the infield.

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"Dan Murphy is as good a third baseman as there is in this league," Collins said. "I've seen it in living color. I've seen this guy's reactions. He's got a strong arm. He's got good hands."

Collins did not rule out the possibility of moving Flores to second base, though he made it clear that he's grown weary of the constant scrutiny regarding the Mets' handling of the shortstop position.

Said Collins: "We're trying to play baseball here and stay off the back pages."

Of course, it's possible that the Mets' infield could shift again if Tejada cools off and with Dilson Herrera working his way back from a fractured finger. Herrera could be ready to return in a few weeks. Before his injury, he was playing second base and Murphy was at third.

For now, Collins believes flipping Murphy and Tejada will be enough to help steady the infield as the Mets wait for Wright to return.

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Said Collins, "We've got to start putting our best defense out there."

Notes & quotes: The Mets likely will stick with their six-man rotation, meaning Dillon Gee will make his next start instead of being skipped . . . Tejada led off with Curtis Granderson sitting against lefty Robbie Ray.