New York Mets' Jose Reyes follows the flight of his...

New York Mets' Jose Reyes follows the flight of his single against the Colorado Rockies in the third inning. (April 13, 2010) Credit: AP

DENVER - Jerry Manuel has not yet approached Jose Reyes about batting third in the Mets' lineup, but that day is coming very soon. Manuel started Angel Pagan in centerfield for last night's game against the Rockies at Coors Field and put him in the No. 8 spot in an effort to allow Reyes more time to get up to speed in his more familiar leadoff role.

Going forward, however, Manuel hopes to eventually get Pagan atop the order and slide Reyes into the No. 3 spot that David Wright occupied for the series opener. As tempting as it may have been to implement that plan at the start of this road trip with the Mets' offense slumping, Manuel believes that it is still a little early in Reyes' return from a hyperactive thyroid.

"I'm not ready for that one yet," Manuel said. "But what I did do was put Angel down and if we get that situation where he leads off an inning, that gives us a chance for Jose to hopefully get a hit with him in scoring position. But I got to give Jose a chance to get comfortable. I do believe, though - that at some point - when Pagan is playing center, Pagan can give us that leadoff factor, and then that frees me up to use Jose in that third hole and back everybody else up.

"That was my thought through the winter because I thought Pagan did such a good job in that first slot - a switch hitter with power, triples, those types of things. If you can add Reyes in that third spot, I thought that would have been a pretty good lineup."

Manuel is not alone in that assessment, either. It's shared by the front office, so that makes it a good bet to happen before Carlos Beltran returns from knee surgery. Beltran already is behind in his ambitious plan to be running in early April - he has not yet been cleared by doctors - and Manuel will feel compelled to tinker with the lineup if they continue to struggle.

The determining factor will be the progress of Reyes, who last night was making only his third start in a major-league game since May 20 of last season. Physically, Reyes is fine. But he clearly is not yet feeling like his All-Star self at the plate or on the basepaths.

Reyes was 2-for-8 with a double and three strikeouts in his first two games. As for dropping to third - a place in the batting order where he has never been used in his career - Reyes was not against it. Just as long as he's prepared enough for the job.

"We haven't talked about that yet," Reyes said before the game. "But I don't want to go there right now. I want to make sure I get my swing and my timing down. As soon as I can get my timing down, then it's a possibility. It's going to take a little time."

Reyes showed up early Tuesday afternoon for extra hitting with a crew that included mostly backups such as Frank Catalanotto, Mike Jacobs and Gary Matthews Jr. That repetition helps, but it can't be a substitute for the speed of an actual game.

Another example of that has been Reyes' reluctance to steal a base in the first two games - even in a crucial situation like the ninth inning of Saturday's 4-3 loss to the Nationals. Reyes led off with a single, and would normally try to put himself into scoring position with none out. Instead, he waited for Alex Cora's sacrifice bunt, and the Mets came up empty. Manuel wanted Reyes to stay put that day and that was OK with him.

Reyes swiped a few bases during his rehab in Port St. Lucie, but even that was more difficult than he thought it would be.

"I was running and it felt like second base was all the way back to the wall," Reyes said. "'It felt really far."

Newsday LogoSUBSCRIBEUnlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months