Manuel trying to guard against fatigue

Manuel tries to guard against fatigue

NEW YORK -- Mets manager Jerry Manuel would never say he wants to see a rainout. But Manuel also wants what's best for his team, and those two desires may have conflicted with one another Saturday.

As rain threatened the Mets' afternoon game with the Rays at Citi Field, Manuel acknowledged that an unscheduled day off wouldn't be the worst thing for his injured and tired team.

"When I come to the park, I come to play. I come to get a game off the schedule, period," Manuel said. "But if they call the game, I'm not going to go mourning. I'll be all right with that, too."

Injuries to Carlos Delgado and Jose Reyes have both weakened New York's lineup and shortened its bench. Without their leadoff and cleanup hitters, the Mets have had to rely even more on David Wright and Carlos Beltran -- two of the National League's top four hitters.

Managing his team in the wake of injuries and the onset of fatigue will be one of Manuel's biggest challenges over the next month. He knows his team can only ride its two stars for so long.

"As difficult as it is without [Reyes and Delgado], it becomes even more difficult when the responsibility is placed on Carlos [Beltran] and David [Wright]," Manuel said. "Then you have to take in the factor of fatigue, and you have to manage that. That's where it becomes trying."

The Mets have also placed a heavy load on the shoulders of 40-year-old Gary Sheffield, who has replaced Delgado in the middle of the order. Sheffield has already appeared in 56 games this season, starting 38 of them. Following a blistering May in which he hit .348, Sheffield has seen his average dip to .250 in June and .276 on the season.

Sheffield was not in the starting lineup on Saturday after starting 10 consecutive games. Jeremy Reed got the nod in his place.

"The most important thing that has to happen is communication between us as to what best suits him, what matchups he'd like and what history he might have with pitchers," Manuel said of determining Sheffield's playing time going forward.

Manuel has said repeatedly over the past several weeks that the Mets need to keep their head above water while playing without some of their key players. Exactly how long that stretch is, however, has yet to be determined. There are not firm timetables for either Delgado or Reyes. Reyes has taken batting practice, but he still feels pain in his right hamstring when making "quick moves."

Manuel is remaining positive, though.

"When you reflect back on what we've lost, then you have to feel good about where we are," Manuel said. "When you reflect back on some of the losses we've had, then you've got to be somewhat discouraged about where you are. We've done some good things and put ourselves in some good positions. We haven't quite finished like we'd like to, but at the same time, we've fought and competed."

Tim Britton is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.