CINCINNATI -- The Mets entered the final game of their three-game series against the Reds with a slightly limited roster. They were without Frankie Rodriguez on Thursday. No injury, mind you, but no rest, either.
The Mets' closer had thrown 30 pitches in an uncharacteristically stressful ninth inning during a 9-7 victory Wednesday night. The extra workload -- K-Rod throws 15-17 pitches in a typical inning -- and the short rest, prompted manager Jerry Manuel to approach the 12:35 p.m. ET game with J.J. Putz in mind as the closer.
The change is roles for Putz hardly was unexpected. Manuel said in Spring Training there probably would be several instances in which Putz would be cast in the role he had filled in his time with the Mariners. Moreover, Manuel likes to tinker. He likes to have his players prepared to serve in more than one role.
Additional evidence of that has developed in recent days. Manuel used Fernando Tatis at second base in the final inning of one of the last Spring Training games, mentioned Friday that the veteran third baseman and outfielder might play second in the regular season and reiterated the thought Thursday morning. Now, this may turn out to be something akin to Manuel's late Spring Training assertions that Minor League second baseman Jonathan Malo might win a job in the Opening Day roster or that veteran Elmer Dessens was a good fit for the pitching staff.
This possibility became a tad more probable when Gary Sheffield was signed. Tatis and Sheffield provide similar services, though Tatis is more defensively reliable and flexible. By developing Tatis' second-base skills -- whatever they are -- Manuel conceivably could field a stronger right-handed-hitting team with Tatis at second, Sheffield in right and Ramon Castro catching.
Before that can happen, the manager must be sure Sheffield is ready for right field. He speaks of playing Sheffield there soon. He said Wednesday that Sheffield might starts Sunday in Florida. By Thursday morning, his revised idea was to insert Sheffield in a game that had gotten out of hand. Such games seem to occur when Oliver Perez starts, not that Manuel was expecting that sort of game Thursday, when Perez made his first start.
But it could happen. The manager said he didn't have Perez on a short leash because of the pitchers uneven Spring Training. He was hoping for six innings from his most erratic and second-most-talented starting pitcher.
"Ollie's Ollie," Manuel said.
Perez's presence and his propensity for short starts didn't mix well with the unavailability of Rordiguez.
"We have a different structure," the manager said. "Everybody can get a piece of the action. Brian Strokes and Darren O'Day move up."
And with Perez pitching he chance that an early need for reliever will develop improves.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.