ATLANTA - Any time that Jeff Wilpon, the Mets' chief operating officer, gases up the family jet to drop in on his team, it's a noteworthy development, especially for a .500 club with a lame-duck manager in Jerry Manuel.

But when Wilpon arrived Monday at Turner Field for his second trip to Atlanta this season, there were no meetings planned for the manager's office, no sit-downs scheduled with the coaching staff, like Wilpon had arranged during his May 17 visit.

This time, Wilpon watched batting practice from the top step of the visitors dugout while chatting with reporters - rather than taking his usual spot behind the cage - and briefly shook Manuel's hand on the manager's way to the clubhouse.

That was the only interaction between the two before the game and Wilpon said he expected to fly to Port St. Lucie immediately afterward. At this point of the season, with the Mets waiting to be mathematically eliminated, what's left to talk about?

All that's left is the firings, and Wilpon insisted he was not in Atlanta to wield the ax. In fact, he refused to go beyond casual conversation with reporters, politely declining to address the state of the team.


With only 31 games left, however, that time is coming for Wilpon, and in the case of these Mets, there are many, many issues to discuss, starting with Manuel and general manager Omar Minaya. "I'll be prepared to talk at the right time," Wilpon said. "Now's not the right time."

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The timing does appear right to replace Pat Misch in the rotation with Jenrry Mejia after the Mets' 9-3 loss to the Braves last night. Misch allowed eight hits and five runs, including a three-run homer to Jason Heyward, before he was pulled after just three innings.

In the big picture, Misch was only keeping the spot warm for Mejia, who aced his Triple-A test at Buffalo with Minaya in attendance. Mejia, with a fastball that topped out at 97 mph, extended his scoreless streak to 222/3 innings before giving up a solo homer to Syracuse's Michael Martinez in the sixth.

The 20-year-old righthander allowed five hits and one run over eight innings. He struck out nine without a walk and threw 103 pitches, 66 for strikes, to set up what is likely to be a Saturday start against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

Though that's not official, it's obvious the Mets would like to see Mejia as a starter with them. In nine minor-league starts, Mejia has a 1.28 ERA with 45 strikeouts in 421/3 innings.

When asked about Mejia starting in Chicago, Manuel replied after the game: "Sure. I think you have to consider that. No question about it. That could be me speaking out of turn again. But that could be something we'd like to see."

Manuel finally gave Oliver Perez a shot and it didn't work out so well. Brian McCann drilled Perez's second pitch into the rightfield seats for a leadoff homer in the seventh inning. It was Perez's first appearance since Aug. 1 and the streak of 25 games without playing was the longest for any player at any position in the majors this season.

"It's not easy," Perez said of the long layoff. "But you try to be professional."

The purpose of yesterday's visit, Wilpon said, was to drop off assistant GM John Ricco and watch the game before heading to Florida. With the Mets on the brink of another meaningless September, they seem to be caught between the mirage of playoff contention and the chance to evaluate some of their younger players.