Bay's season debut to come tonight

Bay's season debut to come tonight

NEW YORK -- If nothing else, the Mets can be certain that they have not rushed Jason Bay back to active duty.

Though manager Terry Collins quipped that he "wanted him four days ago," Bay will not return to the Mets until Thursday's series finale against the Astros. That will give the outfielder enough time for one last Minor League rehab game Wednesday with Class A St. Lucie, where he homered twice on Tuesday.

"One more day is one more day," Collins shrugged.

The manager has reason to be anxious for the return of Bay, who has missed the first 18 games of the season with a strained left intercostal muscle. Having Bay will allow Collins to slide Angel Pagan back up the lineup to the two hole, where he is most comfortable, while simultaneously providing better protection for middle-of-the-order sluggers Carlos Beltran and Ike Davis.

Though Bay managed only six home runs in 95 games before his season-ending concussion last year, he averaged 31 per year over the previous five seasons.

"I don't want to put it all on Jason Bay," Collins said. "Obviously he's a big piece of the puzzle here -- that's why he's here. He's a very, very good baseball player. He's a fine offensive player. He's a good defender. He runs the bases well. We need him in our lineup. But I don't want to have to think Jason Bay, when he comes back, he's the guy. This is a team of 25."