With Henry Blanco improving, the Mets optioned Omir Santos to Double-A Binghamton after yesterday's 7-6 win over the Marlins, a move that should pave the way for Jesus Feliciano to join the club Tuesday for the Padres series.

The Mets made the unexpected move of calling up Santos after Blanco needed a cortisone shot Thursday for a herniated disc in his neck. Because the shot usually requires a few days to take effect, Blanco was unable to play over the weekend, but he said Sunday that he will be fine for the next series.

"It's feeling much better," Blanco said, "so hopefully, this is it."

The release of Gary Matthews Jr. on Friday figured to clear space for Feliciano before the sudden need for a third catcher. But the Mets, without insurance for Angel Pagan, got lucky in that there was no situation that required them to use Jason Bay as their backup centerfielder over the weekend.

As for Feliciano, he went 1-for-6 Sunday for Triple-A Buffalo and is batting an International League-best .385 with a .426 on-base percentage.

Maine on mound

John Maine threw his first bullpen session Sunday since he was placed on the DL on May 21 with right shoulder weakness. That was pushed back a day, however, after Maine complained of migraines. He's scheduled to throw batting practice Tuesday.

Working his way back into the rotation could be another headache. The Mets anticipate that Maine will need one or two rehab starts before he is activated, and with Hisanori Takahashi the only weak link in the rotation at the moment, Maine might have to return as a reliever.

"That's not too radical," Jerry Manuel said. "But I think we'll have to look at all the options and see where we are as a team and see where he fits. We'll explore all the options out there for us and see what's best for the team."

Extra bases

Jon Niese and Takahashi became the first rookie lefthanders to start in back-to-back games for the Mets since Jason Jacome and Mike Remlinger did it twice in 1994. Before that, it hadn't happened since 1972, with Brent Strom and Jon Matlack . . . Dan Uggla's homer was his fifth against the Mets this year, the most by any opponent this season.

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