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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Lennon: Manuel, HoJo doing what they can to get bats going

Mets manager Jerry Manuel watches his team during

Mets manager Jerry Manuel watches his team during a game against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. (May 5, 2010) Credit: Getty Images

WASHINGTON

Say what you want about Jerry Manuel. But if insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, as Albert Einstein once suggested, then the Mets' manager is the most reasonable person in the clubhouse these days.

Manuel already has used 29 different batting orders in 42 games. Ike Davis became the team's sixth cleanup hitter when the 23-year-old rookie made his debut there Wednesday night in the Mets' 5-3 loss to the Nationals. Angel Pagan was the sixth player to bat in the No. 5 spot that same night. Two days earlier, in Atlanta, Manuel had Rod Barajas as high as sixth before the catcher had to be scratched because of a stomach virus.

Detecting a pattern here? In Manuel's desperate attempts to squeeze something, anything, from his sputtering lineup, he has been forced to masquerade his complementary players as legitimate middle-of-the-order run-producers.

That's because the supposed core of the Mets' offense - Jose Reyes, David Wright, Jason Bay and, to a lesser extent, Jeff Francoeur - is hollow. Without a significant contribution from any of those four, especially in the absence of Carlos Beltran, the Mets won't win on a consistent basis.

Manuel knows it. Omar Minaya knows it. The Wilpons know it.

"It's going to be tough to put together any kind of offense," said Manuel, who believed that Wright needed a break so badly that he rested him Wednesday anyway. "We are really struggling in that area. All we can do is keep playing."

But the Mets can't even trust their own eyes anymore, never mind whatever methods they are trying to snap out of their offensive funk.

Manuel said he was convinced they were primed for a breakout performance against Livan Hernandez after watching batting practice. Instead, the Mets had four hits off Hernandez, including Pagan's inside-the-park homer, and one after he left - a solo homer by Fernando Tatis with one out in the ninth. Reyes went 0-for-4 to drop his average to .210. Bay went 0-for-3 to end his streak of 11 straight starts with at least one hit. He entered last night batting .270 but has only one homer, which he hit April 27.

The company line is that Bay has been streaky throughout his career. But without a productive stretch this year, it's been difficult for him to figure out what he's doing right or wrong at the plate. The same could be said for the others, too. "When you're out of sync, you're grasping at straws," he said. "You don't know what good feels like."

That's the problem. The Mets are going to the plate without a compass, and it is the job of hitting coach Howard Johnson to point them in the right direction. But it's an inexact science that has become more frustrating; the proven methods of the past don't seem to be working at the moment.

"I think as a coach you always have to have a long-term perspective as to where guys are in a season," Johnson said. "So you have to think long term just as much as short term, and that's why I say you have to be the voice of reason at times."

But patience is in short supply around the Mets these days, and if not for Johnson's popularity with ownership, he'd be in more serious trouble - maybe not through any fault of his own.

The Mets expected Reyes to need a prolonged adjustment period after his interrupted spring training, but no one could have predicted that Bay, after a .537 slugging percentage in 2009, would be at .399 in late May.

"It's hard to make an instant adjustment," Johnson said. "It's incremental. The answers aren't always as simple as they appear, and I think when you're dealing with the psyche of guys, you have to take that into account.

"I think there's a certain part of you that, yeah, if you hit the ball hard, you're pleased at some level. But at the end of the day, they want to have the results, and you can't control that, which is why this game is so damn frustrating."

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