New York Mets player Jason Bay talking to reporters at...

New York Mets player Jason Bay talking to reporters at Digital Domain stadium during spring training. (Feb. 20, 2011) Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

Tuesday night's game against the Rockies wasn't the only thing postponed. The Mets announced a rainout and a Bay delay on the same evening.

General manager Sandy Alderson said the Mets are now targeting April 26, an away game against the Nationals, for the return of Jason Bay.

"I think it's unrealistic to expect him before then," Alderson said.

The slugging leftfielder has not been in the Mets' lineup since he suffered a concussion last July 23 in Los Angeles. He has been on the disabled list since the start of this season with a rib-cage strain and though he has started taking batting practice in Port St. Lucie, such injuries are often slow to heal.

This is the first time a date has been attached to the Bay watch and it means even at the most optimistic, the Mets will have to go at least two more weeks without him. It also means two more weeks of Willie Harris in left.

"I'm not going to sit here and tell you that I'm not excited to play," Harris said Tuesday. "I am excited to play. But I also know my role. That's Jason Bay's spot and it's my job to fill in for him until he gets back. That's my job.

"You don't want to see your teammates hurting," Harris added.

Harris, one of three non-roster invitees to make the Opening Day roster, had a fast start to the season in Florida. Although he struck out four times against the Nationals on Sunday, on Monday he went 1-for-3 with a two-run double. He's hitting .500 (4-for-8) with runners in scoring position this season, three of the hits for extra bases.

If he keeps that up, it might be difficult for the Mets to take him out of their lineup once Bay does return. Of course, he'll have to find a spot other than left.

"J.B. is our $66-million guy," Harris said. "He's going to be on the field. So I don't concentrate on 'If I play well, will it be hard for them . . . ?' That's out of my hands."

The length of the Bay convalescence also could change the shape of the Mets' roster. They added Jason Isringhausen and Ryota Igarashi to the team Sunday, helping to bolster a struggling bullpen and giving the Mets 13 pitchers. But that leaves them with only four position players on the bench.

The Mets will make up last night's game against the Rockies as part of a doubleheader Thursday. Had Tuesday night's game been played, all four players on the bench would have been righthanded hitters with a combined 70 career home runs, 68 of them by Scott Hairston. Not a lot of thump for Terry Collins to turn to late in games.

"I think it depends how the bullpen sorts out over the next four or five days," Alderson said when asked if the Mets would stick with the four-man bench, as they had planned to do until Bay returned. That planning was before the Mets considered having to go another two weeks without Bay, though, and before the bullpen gave away a second straight game Monday night.

Alderson also said that backup catcher Ronny Paulino (anemia) is expected back April 26, as well.

"That's a pretty firm date," he said, adding that Paulino has to take one more blood test before he is cleared.

The date for Bay's return remains much more a function of hope than hematology.