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Versatile Pagan a good fit leading off

Versatile Pagan a good fit leading off

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NEW YORK -- Stocked with leadoff hitters, the Mets had to dip into their reserves when Jose Reyes hit the bench with a left hamstring injury earlier this week. Though Reyes was out of the question, the Mets could have simply bumped second baseman Luis Castillo up one spot in the lineup, drawing on his experience as a leadoff hitter with the Marlins and Twins. The fact that they didn't was no mistake.

"That tells you that they trust in me," Angel Pagan said. "I'm having a hot bat right now, so that's something that you've got to see, too. They need somebody that gets on base so the big guys can get some RBIs and we can put a team away early."

Pagan batted leadoff for the second straight game on Sunday, and should continue to do so as long as Reyes remains sidelined. Though Reyes hinted at Tuesday for a possible return and Mets manager Willie Randolph called that a "best-case scenario," the Mets have stressed that they won't push him.

Pagan has given them a reason not to.

His hot bat aside -- though a .371 average entering Sunday's play is hard to ignore -- Pagan has adapted to every role the Mets have thrust at him this season. Signed as a fifth outfielder, Pagan first worried about making the club, then about cracking the starting lineup once Moises Alou went down with an injury. Ever since that time, he's been moving up the lineup -- first to the second spot, when Castillo was mending a knee injury, then to the first spot, when Reyes hit the bench. In each role, he's excelled.

"As long as he swings the bat well," Randolph said, "it doesn't really matter where he's hitting."

The production has shown Randolph that even once Reyes returns, Pagan has the pedigree to spell him or Castillo at the top of the lineup, should either need a rest. That's big for a team that, before acquiring Castillo last season, shuffled quite a few hitters -- David Wright and Carlos Beltran included -- in and out of the No. 2 spot, and that made a point during Spring Training to ensure a schedule of increased rest for Reyes.

Still, Randolph said he won't likely use Pagan at the top of the order if both Reyes and Castillo are healthy -- "I like Luis in the two spot," Randolph said. But Pagan, a leadoff hitter for much of his Minor League career, wouldn't mind the chance.

"I do enjoy it," Pagan said. "I know what I have to do. I now have to be patient so that they can see what the pitcher's going to bring, and just be on base as much as I can. That's what the leadoff hitter's spot is all about."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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