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Lennon: If Reyes is ready, play him on Opening Day

New York Mets shortstop Jose Reyes throws the

New York Mets shortstop Jose Reyes throws the ball during the minor league spring training baseball game in Port St. Lucie, Fla. (March 30, 2010) Photo Credit: AP

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla.

Jose Reyes, in a process that already feels like forever, was closely supervised Tuesday as he played in a Triple-A game against the Memphis Cardinals.

Not only was Jeff Wilpon stationed atop the scouting tower overlooking Field 7, he was joined by Boomer Esiason and Craig Carton.

It's unclear if the two were there in a consulting capacity. But as the Mets wrestle with the decision on whether to start Jose Reyes on Opening Day, they need to worry less about the public abuse they took for last season's medical pratfalls and focus more on the player's actual readiness.

If Reyes is fit to be in the lineup - and he looks close - then start him Monday against the Marlins. If he needs another 40 at-bats or so in the minors, then activate Reyes later in the week. It's not that complicated.

Obviously, the temptation now for the Mets is to baby Reyes, who has a history of leg injuries and is returning from hamstring surgery. But the recent thyroid condition put him on his living-room sofa and it appears that the 20-day layoff had little noticeable effect on him.

"I think it is a difficult decision," Jerry Manuel said, "but I do think that we have to exercise caution because of the fact that he is a guy that we look to have out there for over 150 ballgames. So I just think that he has to continue to accumulate plate appearances here."

The key word being "here" as in Port St. Lucie. Maybe it was a Freudian slip on Manuel's part to suggest that Reyes should remain behind when the Mets bus over to St. Petersburg after tomorrow's noon game against the Nationals. But the whole concept of timing is sort of an inexact gauge for Reyes' progress.

At this stage, there is nothing physically wrong. He disobeyed orders by hustling for a double on a line drive over the centerfielder's head in his first at-bat and later sprinted full tilt to first base on three groundouts.

After Reyes was pulled from the game - as scheduled - he flew through baserunning drills, sprinting from first to third, scoring from second. While it was not unusual for trainer Ray Ramirez and conditioning coach Rick Slate to be monitoring, Reyes did attract Wilpon.

The COO watched Reyes from the on-deck circle. When it was over, Reyes flashed a big smile to Wilpon as he walked past, but the shortstop resisted the urge to campaign for his return. Wilpon also politely declined to give any sort of timeline.

After last season, the Mets are out of the prediction business. It was at this same complex that any hope of a Reyes comeback imploded a year ago. Last June, less than 24 hours from coming off the disabled list, Reyes pulled himself out of a minor-league game and an MRI revealed he had torn his hamstring tendon and he never made it back.

That fear lingers with Reyes, as well as the Mets. But they also have to know that this is different. His legs are fine. And if he can play, the Mets need him - sooner rather than later.

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