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Mets likely to place Bay on DL Thursday

Jason Bay in the Mets dugout.

Jason Bay in the Mets dugout. Credit: Getty Images

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- As the Mets wrapped up their Grapefruit League schedule Wednesdayat Digital Domain Park, Jason Bay was in New York, where further tests confirmed the initial diagnosis of a strained intercostal, or rib cage, muscle.

Bay is expected to land on the disabled list Thursday before official rosters are due by 11 a.m. But according to a person familiar with the situation, Bay's strain is not serious, and he could return as early as April 9 because his DL stint can be backdated from March 24.

General manager Sandy Alderson refused Thursday to make any official announcement because he wanted to speak first with Bay about his condition. But three hours later -- and with Bay already on a plane -- the Mets said there would be no decision until Thursday.

So for the second straight year, the Mets scrambled to find a last-minute replacement for a starting player. Last March, Daniel Murphy had been penciled in as the first baseman but suffered a strained knee during the final week of spring training, which opened the door for Mike Jacobs.

This time, the roster roulette was created by Bay, who felt discomfort in his left side during batting practice Tuesday. Injuries involving the rib-cage area can be especially troublesome for hitters, which is why the Mets told Lucas Duda he had made the Opening Day roster over Nick Evans, who cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Buffalo.

With Scott Hairston expected to fill the void against lefthanders -- he hit his fourth homer of spring training in Wednesday's 6-3 win over the Marlins -- adding Duda gives the Mets a power-hitting lefty off the bench. Or as a starter depending on the matchups, and Duda could draw the Opening Day nod Friday against Marlins ace Josh Johnson.

Duda batted .254 (18-for-71) with four doubles and two homers in spring training. Last season, the 25-year-old outfielder was a September call-up and hit .202 with four homers and 13 RBIs in 29 games. By comparison, Bay had six home runs in 95 games before a concussion ended his season in late July.

This year, in spring training, Bay batted .333 (14-for-42) with two doubles in 16 games but had not played since March 24 because of stiffness in his lower back. Five days later, he suffered the rib-cage muscle strain.

"It came down to the last day," Duda said of his surprise promotion. "Jason [Bay] is a great ballplayer and an even better guy, so you hate to see that. I'll just try to help the team until he gets back."

In the span of 24 hours, the Mets went from worrying about Carlos Beltran's status to figuring out how to juggle the lineup in Bay's absence. Beltran played rightfield Wednesday for the second straight game and went 1-for-3 with a strikeout.

Afterward, Terry Collins said Beltran would be a constant in the No. 4 spot, with Jose Reyes a fixture at leadoff and David Wright locked in at No. 3. Bay was expected to bat fifth, ahead of Ike Davis, but his absence has made the manager rethink how he plans to use the other five spots. Josh Thole could be moved behind Reyes, with Angel Pagan, a switch hitter, providing more protection down in the lineup.

"With Jason being out, I'm looking at a little different lineup on Friday, which I'm going to talk to some of the guys about," Collins said. "Hopefully, Jason is back real soon. I want to try and balance out the lineup a little bit."

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