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Reyes' triple brings sigh of relief

Mets shortstop Jose Reyes takes batting practice at

Mets shortstop Jose Reyes takes batting practice at Tradition Field in Port St. Lucie, Fla. (Feb. 19, 2010) Photo Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Jose Reyes has played more than 800 major-league games, appearing in an NLCS, a World Baseball Classic and an All-Star Game.

And yet, Reyes may have been more nervous before yesterday's intrasquad game than at any other time in a Mets uniform. When he walked to the plate, in front of a few hundred fans at Tradition Field, it was for the first time since May 20 at Dodger Stadium, where he limped off the field and later wound up on the disabled list.

So after the October surgery to clean up scar tissue from a torn hamstring tendon, and months of rehab, Reyes finally was ready to play again. After all that waiting and worrying, he attacked the first pitch from Tobi Stoner and pulled a deep drive down the rightfield line.

"To be honest with you, it felt a little weird when I stepped into the batter's box," Reyes said. "It's been a long time that I didn't face big-league pitching. And when I hit the ball, I said, 'Oh my God, I have to run now.' "

That was the scary part. Reyes started to run the bases only last week, and did so just twice. Despite that limited work, his instincts - not to mention speed - kicked in as he hustled past first base, circled second and slowed up with a stand-up triple.

Again, more relief.

"I just feel happy that I made it to third base with no problem," he said.

Reyes had been so focused on playing again that where he batted Monday was an afterthought for him. Jerry Manuel has pledged to try Reyes as his No. 3 hitter during spring training, and the idea immediately paid off with a two-run triple.

"I feel very confident that he can handle that," Manuel said. "I think it gives us a great balance if we can pull that off. Hopefully, that will work for us. He's a very talented player - extremely talented. It's a big presence that we missed. When he's right, he can do some special things."

Reyes played only 36 games last season. After he landed on the disabled list May 26, the Mets, who were 25-20 and a half game behind the Phillies, went 45-72. With a gap-hitting style and elite speed, Reyes' game is tailored for Citi Field, and he looked right at home Monday positioned beside David Wright.

"I think it's good to see him back on the field because that's where he belongs," Wright said. "I think you could tell by his body language, just the smile on his face, that no matter where he's been, he's just happy to be out there."

With more than a month before Opening Day, however, Reyes plans to pace himself. As soon as he noticed the ball kick up chalk down the rightfield line, and measured how far Jeff Francoeur was from it, Reyes knew he would have a shot at third. It was such a no-brainer that Reyes didn't push himself to maximum velocity. Not yet.

"This is my first game in almost a year," Reyes said. "I can't be running like crazy because there's still a lot of time left. I have to leave something for the beginning of the season."

Reyes will start again Tuesday in the Grapefruit League opener against the Braves, and although he's batting third, he still envisions himself as a leadoff-type hitter. When it was suggested he was now more of a run-producer than base-stealer, he laughed.

"No, no, no - I don't want to say that," Reyes said. "I'm going to keep it the same."

The Mets will be happy with that, regardless of where he hits in the lineup.

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