BY DAVID LENNON
April 2, 2004
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- You didn't have to be a doctor to interpret what Jose Reyes' smile meant yesterday. Although his status for Tuesday's season opener in Atlanta remains sketchy because of a healing right hamstring, Reyes' demeanor was a reversal of the previous day, when he was forced to halt batting practice because he felt a twinge in his upper leg.
Reyes not only glided through running drills in the early afternoon but also returned to the batting cage, where he swung tentatively from the left side at first but eventually attacked pitches from both sides of the plate. Between turns, Reyes joked with manager Art Howe and bench coach Don Baylor near the on-deck circle, then took grounders at second base.
The performance was no mirage, just an indication of how tricky a recovering hamstring strain can be to read. Reyes has been bombarded by reporters' questions and teammates' advice since he suffered the injury March 14, which has confused the 20-year-old and probably caused a little paranoia.
A Mets official said yesterday that Reyes' setbacks this week were not necessarily red flags and could be nothing more than minor discomfort during a delicate rehabilitation. That's why the Mets gave Reyes the green light to participate in yesterday's workouts. It doesn't mean he is any closer to returning, and an Opening Day appearance is still unlikely, but yesterday's session was definitely a positive sign.
"I'm so happy," Reyes said. "Yesterday I almost cried. I had no idea what happened."
The next crucial step, and the one that tripped up Reyes on Sunday, is running the bases, and he said he'll give it another try today. Every move he makes is examined in detail because of his importance to the Mets, who are reluctant to put too much emphasis on Opening Day.
General manager Jim Duquette said the Mets could put Reyes on the disabled list and backdate him 10 days, making him available for a game against the Expos in Puerto Rico April 11. "We still haven't made a final decision on him," Duquette said. "We'll see how he recovers from today's workout. We'll hold out until the last possible minute. It's definitely hard to predict, and that's why I'll take as much time as I can."
Reyes missed three weeks with a similar hamstring strain last season at Triple-A Norfolk. Despite skipping four games with the Mets because of the lingering injury, he hit .307 with five home runs and 13 stolen bases in 69 games before suffering a season-ending ankle injury.