VIERA, Fla. -- Only minutes from Carlos Beltran's much-anticipated return to the Mets in rightfield, Jason Bay was forced to bow out of Tuesday's lineup because of a muscle strain in the left rib cage that is likely to land him on the disabled list to start the season.
On Monday, the Mets finally cleared Beltran for his first Grapefruit League game since March 6, and he looked healthy Tuesdayroutinely swatting balls over the leftfield wall during batting practice. But it was in the middle of the same session that Bay was injured, and the Mets sent him back to Port St. Lucie for further examination. So much for the Opening Day lineup.
"It didn't get off to a very good start, that's for sure," manager Terry Collins said. "Hopefully, he's back and it's something that's minor, and if it's not, we'll have to rework what we're going to do to replace him."
General manager Sandy Alderson said he would not know Bay's status for Friday's opener against the Marlins until Wednesday or Thursday. But given the nature of that injury, Bay almost certainly is headed to the DL.
"It's a possibility, of course, this late in spring," Alderson said. "We'll just wait and see what happens later this afternoon and probably over the next couple days to get a feel for what it actually is and how it is progressing. So we will have a move or two that we don't make until the very end.''
If Bay does wind up on the DL, that opens the door for Lucas Duda, who started in place of Bay Tuesday. Another possibility is Nick Evans, but he would have to clear waivers first, and the Mets did not expect to know his status until Wednesday.
Bay has not played since Thursday, so the Mets can backdate his DL stint for an April 9 return, at the earliest. If the injury proves minor, the Mets likely will pick Duda as the short-term replacement. That way, they could avoid exposing Evans to waivers again when Bay is ready.
Tuesday's injury was just more bad news for Bay, who struggled through a frustrating first season with the Mets after signing a four-year, $66-million contract. He played only 95 games because of a season-ending concussion at the end of July, batting .259 with six home runs. Although a rib-cage injury is not as serious as a concussion, it can take a long time to heal.
"They can be extremely nagging," Collins said. "We've got to be very, very cautious because I don't want to lose this guy for a month. If we have to lose him for a week to 10 days, that's a heck of a lot better than losing him for two months."
Bay's departure was a sobering development shortly before a game that was supposed to feature the Mets' Opening Day lineup. Beltran went 1-for-3 with a single and two groundouts from the cleanup spot.
"I had more energy for sure," Beltran said. "Playing in the minor leagues is boring. It was great because I had the opportunity to play with the guys. It made me feel that all the work I put in during spring training had paid off."
It also was encouraging when Beltran made a nifty sliding catch at the rightfield line. He still needs time to get completely comfortable at his new position, but he won't let his arthritic knees make him a liability in right.
"I have to slide out there," he said. "I can't protect anything."
Now that Beltran's back, and Bay is in limbo, the Mets are feeling unsettled as they look ahead to Friday's opener. So on a day that should have provided a reason for optimism, it only swapped one significant injury for another.
"Two days to go to the regular season, you don't want to see that happen," Beltran said. "Hopefully, what he has is minor. At the same time, I was thinking about me. Today was a good day for me. Bay's out, but I think he's going to be fine."