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Cora has edge on youngster Tejada

Boston Red Sox pinch runner Aaron Bates, right,

Boston Red Sox pinch runner Aaron Bates, right, slides out as New York Mets shortstop Alex Cora, left, throws to first to complete a double play. (March 17, 2010) Photo Credit: AP

JUPITER, Fla. - Jerry Manuel publicly endorsed Alex Cora as the replacement for Jose Reyes in talking about the shortstop vacancy before last night's 5-2 win over the Marlins. Omar Minaya has mentioned 20-year-old prospect Ruben Tejada as a possible fill-in while Reyes recovers from an overactive thyroid, but the Mets still prefer the experienced Cora.

"I thought Cora would be the guy at this time," Manuel said. "If you happen to take a young player, you would almost have to treat it the same as [Jenrry] Mejia. You'd have to find the right spots that you think a guy would have a chance to have success, and then obviously after that comes confidence."

Manuel doesn't want to expose Tejada but might be willing to use him in a more protected part-time role, like his bullpen strategy for Mejia. The manager reiterated his plan for Mejia - using him more in middle relief - if the 20-year-old righthander makes the Opening Day roster. He flatly said "no" when asked if Mejia could be used as Francisco Rodriguez's setup man.

As for the Cora-Tejada debate, Manuel still isn't ruling out a return by Reyes by the start of the season.

Perez OK

The Marlins clocked Oliver Perez for six hits and two runs in four innings, but the best thing that could be said about the 73-pitch outing is that his surgically repaired knee remains sturdy. Perez also minimized a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the first inning, allowing only one run.

Said Perez: "I'm feeling more comfortable on the mound and I'm getting stronger."

Extra bases

The Mets plan to have Hisanori Takahashi make two starts, tentatively scheduled for March 27 and April 1. Takahashi pitched in relief yesterday but is being considered for a variety of jobs. "He's going to get a very strong look-see in all of those roles," pitching coach Dan Warthen said . . . Pedro Feliciano was forced to leave after getting hit in the leg with a comebacker. Manuel said he is fine.

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