Mets hope Castillo can contribute

Mets hope Castillo can contribute

NEW YORK -- The Mets' summer is to take a curious turn Saturday night. Things are getting curiouser and curiouser, as they said in Alice in Wonderland. Luis Castillo is to return to active duty, and, according to manager Jerry Manuel, start at second base. Imagine that.

Castillo, the Opening Day second baseman, will play for the first time since July 2, start for the first time since June 30, and do so after the club gave many indications -- some subtle, some not so subtle -- that second base would remain the domain of Argenis Reyes and Damion Easley, even after the veteran Castillo returned from his extended assignment to the disabled list.

Castillo's return, against the Astros and Brandon Backe, creates a dilemma for Manuel, who had come to appreciate the work of Reyes and Easley, and thought it had become a critical component in the Mets' reversal. Moreover, Reyes could be the player the Mets remove from the big league roster to accommodate Castillo.

With Robinson Cancel assigned to the Mets' Triple-A New Orleans affiliate on Friday to make room for Ryan Church, the club has few options -- demote Reyes, Nick Evans, Daniel Murphy or a relief pitcher. The manager embraces none of the options.

"It's difficult to send out a player who has played well," Manuel said, fully aware that the player removed can be added to the roster on Sept. 1, when the roster limit increases from 25 to 40 players.

Manuel has spoken repeatedly of how Reyes regularly is involved in Mets rallies. "He's always in the middle of what we do," is how the manager has described Reyes' contributions. But now, with Castillo back and Manuel seemingly committed to playing him -- at least for one night -- Reyes is one of the three second basemen and the only with options remaining.

Evans and Murphy have options, as well, but Manuel said he intends to retain his rookie platoon in left field and use Fernando Tatis in a platoon in right field with Church, and not with Murphy in left. And pitching coach Dan Warthen said Friday afternoon the team scarcely can afford to reduce the number of pitchers in the bullpen to six.

Castillo, 33 next month, was placed on the disabled list because of what the club termed a strained left hip flexor. Before he was assigned to the DL, and Friday night too, he referred to the injury as a strained left quad. He also had been slowed by sore knees, after effects of offseason surgeries to clean out both joints.

He didn't play in Spring Training games until the final week, upsetting former manager Willie Randolph and other members of the club's hierarchy who thought he had reported overweight and in poor shape.

The fact that the Mets had just re-signed Castillo to a four-year, $25 million contract added to their dissatisfaction.

Players often have said they consider Castillo a "gamer," but the club privately has questioned that. "That's what we thought, too," a member of the hierarchy said last week, when it seemed the Mets were intent on not bringing the veteran back until September. "But we haven't seen it."

Yet Manuel twice made note Friday that Castillo had been on two World Series championship teams, as an endorsement was necessary, even though Castillo had played for only one.

Castillo clearly had lost weight when he returned to the Mets clubhouse on Friday. He didn't say how much. He repeated several times that he was "prepared to play" and willing to do whatever he was asked to do. He also said, "I don't know what they have in mind. ... If I don't play, it's OK. ... I feel good. ... I like to play."

The second baseman was batting .261 with a .365 on-base average before he landed on the DL. He had 245 at-bats and -- unusual for him -- he had hit three home runs.

Pitching matchup
NYM: RHP John Maine (10-7, 3.82 ERA)
Maine's sore shoulder is likely to limit him to about 100 pitches per start from now on. And Warthen says he senses Maine's fastball will be compromised for the rest of the season. The condition of the shoulder seemed to affect the pitcher in each of his two most recent starts. Each ended at five innings. Maine has exceeded five innings once in six starts. He hasn't faced the Astros this season, but he has a 3-0 record and a 1.57 ERA in three career starts against them. The composite production of the Astros' players who have faced him is 10 hits and 11 strikeouts in 42 at-bats.

HOU: RHP Brandon Backe (7-12, 5.62 ERA)
Backe's rollercoaster season took another nose dive in his most recent start, when he surrendered 11 runs on nine hits in 5 1/3 innings against the Diamondbacks. He has demonstrated control at times and lacked command at others, so the Astros are uncertain what they will get from start to start. Backe's most recent start against the Mets, Aug. 1 in Houston, produced a no-decision. He allowed three runs on 10 hits in six innings in an Astros victory. He has a 1-1 record in four starts against the Mets since the beginning of the 2005 season. Carlos Beltran has been the Mets' most productive player against Backe. He has five singles in 12 at-bats, a .417 average, against him.

Carlos Delgado made history when he struck out in the first inning Friday night. The strikeout was his 100th this season. Delgado now has fanned at least 100 times in 13 straight seasons. Until Friday night, Reggie Jackson was the lone player with that dubious distinction. ... Bobby Ojeda, who led the 1986 Mets in victories, 18, and who wore No. 19 in his five seasons with the team, removed No. 20 from the Shea Stadium countdown on the left-center-field wall before Friday night's game. ... Two forgotten Mets pitchers moved deeper into the shadows Friday. Orlando Hernandez will undergo surgery on his right foot. Matt Wise, who unlike El Duque, did pitch this season, left the Mets' headquarters in Port St. Lucie, Fla., where he had been rehabbing his right shoulder, and returned to his home in Arizona. His shoulder had not responded. ... The Mets and Dodgers now are tied for the most shutouts in the National League with 10. ... Johan Santana has allowed two or fewer runs in seven of his nine most recent starts. His record in his past 37 starts in August is 26-3, with his ERA at 2.03. ... The Mets have scored in the first inning in 12 of their most recent 15 games. They lead the big leagues in first-inning runs with 106.

This date in Mets history -- Aug. 23
Left-handed rookie Don Gullett struck out eight straight batters and pitched four innings with no runners reaching base in beating the Mets, 7-5, at Shea Stadium in 1970. The Reds won on a three-run, pinch-hit home run by Jimmy Stewart against Tom Seaver in the seventh inning. ... The Giants scored twice in the ninth to beat the Mets, 2-1, in San Francisco in 1975. A double by Willie Montanez against Skip Lockwood and a bases-loaded walk to Mike Sadek by Tom Hall produced the two runs.

Eight years later, Walt Terrell hit a home run and pitched a complete game in an 8-3 victory in San Diego. He had established a Mets record -- that stands today -- 17 days earlier when he hit two home runs in one game, against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Terrell, who made his Major League debut with the Mets in 1982, appeared in 89 other National League games and hit no other home runs.

In 1992, David Cone made his final start with the Mets before being traded to the Blue Jays for Jeff Kent and Ryan Thompson, and Bobby Bonilla tied a Mets record by hitting a home run in his fourth straight game, also in San Diego. ... In 1997, Todd Hundley hit a grand slam to lift the Mets to a 9-5 victory against the Padres. ... In 2002, the sixth-longest losing streak in Mets history reached 12 games -- it got no longer -- with a 10-4 loss in Colorado. In retrospect, the streak was the beginning of the end for manager Bobby Valentine. ... The Beatles played a return engagement at Shea in 1966.

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Up next
• Sunday: Mets (Oliver Perez, 9-7, 3.93) vs. Astros (Randy Wolf, 8-11, 4.81), 1:10 p.m. ET
• Monday: Mets (Mike Pelfrey, 12-8, 3.86) vs. Astros (Brian Moehler, 9-4, 3.87), 7:10 p.m. ET
• Tuesday: Mets (Pedro Martinez, 4-3, 4.97) at Phillies (TBD), 7:05 p.m. ET

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