PHOENIX -- One of the folk heroes of the Mets' early season is ready to return. Mike Baxter, who distinguished (and injured) himself making a leaping catch against the left-field wall to preserve Johan Santana's no-hitter, will be activated prior to Monday's game against the Giants. The Mets plan to option outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis to Triple-A Buffalo to clear roster space. Baxter had little left to prove on his Minor League rehab assignment, batting .327 in 13 games over three levels while recently ramping up his outfield play. But he will not necessarily assume a significant role upon his return. Wary of the slow starts that Josh Thole and Jason Bay experienced upon returning after rehab assignments earlier this year, Mets manager Terry Collins said he will likely ease Baxter back into regular playing time. "That's the $64,000 question," Collins said. "We brought Josh Thole up, he got off to a rough start. We brought Jason Bay back, he's off to a rough start. How many times do you jump on the same merry-go-round?"
That said, if Baxter produces, he could ultimately cut into Bay's playing time. The Mets could even establish a left-field platoon to accommodate Baxter, who hit .323 in 65 games prior to his injury. Eight of those hits came in 18 at-bats as a pinch-hitter, making Baxter a valuable left-handed bat off the bench. A Queens native, Baxter has been on the disabled list since June 2, the day after he displaced his right collarbone against the outfield wall. Nieuwenhuis, who did not play Sunday and is batting .123 since June 16, is the clear choice for a demotion. The rookie outfielder had lost most of his playing time to Jordany Valdespin anyway, and now will have an opportunity to right himself at Buffalo. "Right now, I'm not contributing," Nieuwenhuis said. "Hopefully I'll get it going down in Buffalo and be back soon."