PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Whether it turns out to be Angel Pagan or Brady Clark who gains Major League status Monday because of the absence of Moises Alou, he would be wise not to rent an apartment or buy any green bananas once the Mets return to Shea Stadium. Alou, looking fit and feeling better, said Tuesday he is hoping to return to the lineup before the end of April.
If he does, Alou will beat the more optimistic prognoses by days and the widely held assumption about his return date by about two weeks. And the Mets' batting order, seemingly too left-handed now, will be whole, balanced and, for the first time, in place.
The veteran left fielder, who turns 42 on July 3, underwent surgery to repair a hernia on March 6. His problem is the most damaging among the myriad of maladies the Mets have suffered in this M*A*S*H unit spring not only because it removed his productive bat from the lineup, but because his presence would provide protection for Carlos Delgado and allow Endy Chavez to fill the role that suits him best, No. 4 outfielder.
Alou returned to the Mets camp Tuesday for the first time since the surgery he underwent in New York. He said he wanted to see his teammates and be seen and, perhaps see some pitches -- no swings -- in the batting cage to keep his eye sharp. He characterized his condition as "almost normal," said he was "optimistic about my rehab" and was "waiting for the green light" that would allow him intensify his rehab.
He already has ridden an exercise bicycle, and he is likely to begin light running next week. He estimated he might resume baseball activities by mid-April. If he were to miss all of April, he would miss 27 games -- six each against the Phillies and Braves and two against the Cubs. Pagan or Clark or -- less likely -- both could be on the roster because of his absence. Chavez could start games for the same reason.
Alou recounted the episodes that led to his problem, saying he experienced pain in his right testicle on successive days. He felt a shooting pain moving toward his stomach when he tried to stand from lying on his stomach. His immediate self-diagnosis was: "I've got a hernia." He has no idea how it developed.
The surgery, two days later and after more pain and growing concern, left him relieved -- the possibility of cancer passed through his mind -- repaired and disappointed. "It was devastating and still is," he said. "Opening Day is next week, and I'm not going to be there." He said people from his native Dominican might have traveled to Miami for the first game. But the disappointment, of course, is based mostly on his absence from the lineup.
"I came to camp in the best shape of my life," he said. "Since November, I was in great shape. I never lost my playing shape ... I never got fat or had a beer belly. Whether I was going to come back to play or look good in the beach, I was in shape. ... And I had to pop off about getting 500 at-bats. It wasn't popping off. I was serious."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.