Jose Reyes, who went 3-for-4 Tuesday night in the Mets' 3-2 loss to the Nationals to take over the National League batting lead, said after the game that he is still experiencing problems with his troublesome left hamstring.

"I feel like my leg's not quite there yet, where it needs to be," said Reyes, who returned from his second stint on the disabled list because of the leg on Aug. 29. "It's good enough to play, to be on the field. I give you everything that I have."

What he has is not his best, even though he moved ahead of Milwaukee's Ryan Braun, temporarily at least, by raising his average from .329 to .333.

Braun, who started the day at .331, played in a late game in Milwaukee and was hitless in his first four at-bats to drop to .328.

Reyes admitted he thinks about the leg when he is considering stealing a base or turning a double into a triple. He has not attempted a steal since Aug. 30. His last triple came July 21.

"It's not the same," Reyes said. "Early in the season, I was healthy. It's not the same now because I just came off the disabled list. I don't want to blow up my leg running like crazy out there. If I feel good, I run like crazy, but now my leg's not where it needs to be. That's why I'm not going to go crazy."

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Manager Terry Collins has noticed it, too. He's torn between his desire to keep Reyes in the lineup and see the free-agent-to-be wreak havoc on opposing defenses with his speed.

"I watch it," Collins said. "The other night, he hit a ball that in May's a triple. He stopped at second base . . . I'll be the first guy to stand up and say I've emphasized the fact that he's got to stay healthy. It's so important for us to keep him in the lineup."

The Mets have never had a batting champion. Reyes has enough plate appearances to be the first even if he hurts the hamstring further and doesn't take another swing this season. But he's trying to prevent that from happening and so is his manager.

"He and I talk every single day about it," Collins said. "I talked about [Thursday], the day game after consecutive night games. He said, 'I want to play,' and I said, 'We're going to Atlanta. That's going to be a big series for us. I have to have you ready for that.' I think on the reverse side, to make sure I keep him in there more, he's a little more cautious."

Asked if that is a good thing, Collins said: "That's hard for me to answer. He wants to be himself. As I've told him, 'You've got to be careful. You can't blow it out again. You just can't do it.' I don't know what I'd say if he hit a triple or hit a ball and blew that hamstring out to where he not only missed the rest of he's going to need surgery on it. He's just got to be careful with it."

Notes & quotes: Ryan Zimmerman's two-out single off Bobby Parnell in the seventh drove in the tiebreaking run . . . Lucas Duda had three hits and an RBI for the Mets . . . Dillon Gee allowed two runs in 52/3 innings . . . Former Yankee Chien-Ming Wang gave up two runs in five innings . . . Jason Bay got the night off to rest a sore right shoulder . . . Rookie Chris Schwinden will get his second start Thursday against Washington.