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Juan Lagares returns and Michael Conforto stays

Mets outfielder Juan Lagares runs drills during a

Mets outfielder Juan Lagares runs drills during a spring training workout in Port St. Lucie, Florida on  Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. Photo Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

MIAMI — Michael Conforto used his latest stay of demotion on Thursday to emphasize where he believes his development as a player will be best served.

“It’s tough for me to say which would be better for me, because I really believe that the best thing for my development is for me to play against the best in the world, to play at this level and to consistently face these guys,” said Conforto, who kept his spot despite the activation of centerfielder Juan Lagares from the disabled list.

With a crowded Mets outfield featuring Yoenis Cespedes, Curtis Granderson and Jay Bruce, Conforto appeared ticketed for Triple-A Las Vegas to start the season. When Lagares strained his oblique close to Opening Day, it opened the door for Conforto.

To make room for Lagares, the Mets optioned reliever Paul Sewald to Triple-A Las Vegas, restoring a traditional seven-man alignment to the bullpen.

Manager Terry Collins said Conforto brings a threat off the bench, one that opposing managers must plan for late in games. For now, having that weapon outweighs the everyday playing time Conforto would get in the minors.

Conforto came through off the bench Thursday night, hitting a pinch-hit, run-scoring double in the eighth inning to tie the game.

“It’s hard because I’m a development kind of guy. That’s what my background is,” Collins told reporters. “But right now I’m a winning kind of guy, and those other three guys have huge track records going for them. We’ll do the best we can to try to keep [Conforto] sharp and hope nobody is hurt, but if they do, we certainly have a quality backup.”

For now, the Mets feel comfortable keeping Conforto around for as much as a month even in a reduced role off the bench. But after that — assuming that the Mets’ outfield stays the same — the need for playing time could force a demotion.

Conforto has made the most of his chances, homering in each of his two starts this season, including Wednesday night’s win over the Phillies. He could start again this weekend.

Lagares was available as a defensive replacement on Thursday night, an especially useful weapon at spacious Marlins Park. Collins said he could be in the starting lineup on Friday night to give the Mets an extra righthanded bat against Marlins lefthander Adam Conley.

Sign of progress

The slumping Jose Reyes was benched for Thursday night’s series opener against the Marlins. He came off the bench in the sixth inning to deliver a two-out single, raising his average to .079 (3-for-38). “He’ll probably be back in there tomorrow,” Collins said before the game.

Extra bases

Matt Harvey remains on track to make his next scheduled start in Sunday’s series finale against the Marlins. A cramp in his left hamstring knocked him out of his last start early . . . Closer Jeurys Familia should be ready to return from his suspension on Thursday. He has pitched on consecutive days and hopes to make an appearance at Double-A Binghamton on Tuesday.

New York Sports