PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Mets manager Terry Collins wasted no time in defending Ruben Tejada. Once more this week, he insisted that the embattled incumbent remains the team's starting shortstop, and that he'll receive the bulk of the playing time for the rest of camp.
"Not to me," said Collins, when asked if Tejada's situation remains unresolved.
Yet, little in Mets camp has been so straightforward, and that includes Tejada's seemingly tenuous hold on the job. And with less than two weeks until the season opener against the Nationals, the Mets still have plenty of questions to answer about their Opening Day roster.
Some position battles appear more clear-cut than others. For instance, Daisuke Matsuzaka appears to be a clear favorite in the competition for the No. 5 spot in the starting rotation, though Jenrry Mejia still has an outside chance.
But other areas appear murky, such as first base, where both Ike Davis and Lucas Duda have missed more than two weeks to injuries. Both had been expected to duke it out for the starting job.
Collins said either Davis (calves) or Duda (hamstring) would play in Thursday's exhibition game against the Braves.
"We want somebody ready to play first base," said Collins, who called the first-base situation the Mets' most pressing concern. "Right now, that's a big piece."
As is shortstop, where despite Collins' assurances regarding Tejada, the Mets continue to explore whether Wilmer Flores could be a viable alternative.
Concerns about his lack of range prompted the Mets to move Flores off shortstop after the 2011 season. But after he shed about 15 pounds at an offseason conditioning camp in Michigan, the Mets felt compelled to evaluate Flores at shortstop.
"The fact that he went and got his lower body in such good shape this winter has helped him a little bit," Collins said. "He's obviously a step quicker than he was. It's quite obvious when you watch him run."
Meanwhile, Tejada has struggled defensively this spring while hitting .120 (3-for-25).
Collins said he's been pleased with Flores' ability to cover ground. On Tuesday, Flores failed to turn a double play at second base. But he later bounced back by making a sliding stop to his right before making a strong throw across the diamond for the out.
"I feel great. I'm trying to get that confidence, get myself ready to go, and make all the routine plays," said Flores, who is hitting .206 this spring.
At the same time, the Mets have kept their eyes open for outside alternatives.
Though free agent Stephen Drew is still available, the Mets haven't moved any closer to meeting his demands. But they have explored the trade market.
A Mets official said this week that the team isn't engaged in any active talks, though they have dispatched scouts to monitor potential trade targets. Nick Franklin of the Mariners and Didi Gregorius of the Diamondbacks appear to be the most logical fits.
But for now, a deal seems far off, and Collins can only worry about the players he has in camp. After Wednesday's off day, the Mets have only 10 spring training games left to make their final roster decisions. Collins called the upcoming stretch "critical."
"We're going to tighten some things up around here," he said. "It's time to play it like we're getting ready for the season."