Injuries continue to hang over Mets

Injuries continue to hang over Mets

JUPITER, Fla. -- The overall health of the Mets, likely to be an issue most of the season, had become a lower-profile topic of late, what with Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Ryan Church and Endy Chavez playing, Luis Castillo threatening to play this weekend and Moises Alou more than a month away from playing. Beltran even shed his designated-hitter identity and played four innings in center field Thursday in what became a 6-5, 10-inning Mets loss to the Cardinals.

Chances are the Mets would pull a muscle if they were to strive for a clean bill of health. It appears to be beyond their reach. Delgado emerged from the trainer's room Thursday with ice wraps on his right hip -- hardly unexpected -- and on his left knee. And that was a new twist.

Delgado dismissed it and said postgame icing may be more common for him this season. But at last, Delgado played, and this time he even made contact. After his silver sombrero performance -- three strikeouts in one game -- Wednesday, the first baseman grounded out three times. Progress is relative. Manager Willie Randolph said he expects "a big year" from Delgado.

Two other Mets assured of places on the Opening Day roster, Brian Schneider and Marlon Anderson, didn't play -- again. Schneider is again experiencing tightness in his right hamstring. He hasn't played since Sunday, and the timing of his return to active duty is unscheduled.

"He's day to day like everybody else," Randolph said.

Anderson has been forced back to the bench. He played Saturday after missing time because he had bruised his sternum in a collision with Ryan Church. But since Saturday, pain has returned to the upper right side of Anderson's chest. The club has said his rib cage has been bruised -- an injury similar to but higher than the one he suffered years ago. Aware of how long a rib-cage injury takes to heal if the muscle tears, the Mets' primary pinch-hitter is being particularly cautious.

Anderson said he has more that enough time to find his timing.

"I can always go over to the Minor League side," he said, "and lead off every inning."

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The Mets will be without Church, as well. The right fielder played against the Cardinals on Thursday, and then returned to Viera, Fla., to take his wife, Tina, to the hospital for the birth of their first child, son Mason. Doctors intend to induce labor Friday. Church isn't sure when he'll return, except to say he'll play Monday for sure. The Mets are in Viera that day to play his former team, the Nationals. Mason will have to understand.

And to hear the players talk, two other players narrowly avoided injury Thursday. They tried to convince Mike Pelfrey that Jose Reyes nearly ran up his back in the third inning when each scored -- Pelfrey from second, Reyes from first -- on a double by Chavez.

"Come on, I had him by a least 50 feet," was Pelfrey's claim, though it was more like 25. "That would have been bad. But I turned it on to make sure."

Pelfrey's presence on the bases was a ego boost, too. He had missed four pitches and popped up another in one five-pitch turn in batting practice, and heard it from his colleagues. But he singled sharply to right in his first at-bat and hit a loud foul in his second one before grounding out.

Pelfrey wasn't quite as pleased with his performance in his primary role. A lack of command of his fastball had him behind in counts for most of his 4 2/3 innings. But he did throw 88 pitches -- far too many for 14 outs -- so he did increase his stamina.

But Pelfrey allowed six hits and two runs -- one earned. And pitching coach Rick Peterson pointed out to him the Cardinals had one hit in nine at-bats when they were behind in the count and five in 12 when they were ahead.

"It's good that I'm getting stronger," Pelfrey said. "But I've got to get more efficient and throw fewer pitches."

Marty Noble is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.