At this time last season, the Mets privately and publicly wished for the return of key injured players. One year later, while acknowledging that they are once again shorthanded due to injuries, lamentations have been replaced by determination.


Minus two-fifths of their starting rotation plus their everyday second baseman and centerfielder, the Mets begin this week’s interleague series against Detroit and Minnesota at 39-30 and in second place in the National League East.

While conceding that his team could benefit with the presence of John Maine, Oliver Perez, Luis Castillo and Carlos Beltran, Jerry Manuel is adamant that if or when the quartet returns, their roles will not be that of savior.

“Those guys are still a part of (us). We have their best interest at hand,” outlined Manuel. “It’s better to be playing well than to have guys come back and try to be more than what they are capable of being. When you’re playing well, it’s easier to fit in. It’s easier to accept a role versus than trying to be something that you’re not.

Manuel told reporters before Sunday’s Subway Series finale that Maine “didn’t feel particularly well after his last start” for Triple-A Buffalo on Friday and that the organization has decided to “re-evaluate the situation.” When asked if Maine was going to be shut down, Manuel reiterated that Maine was going to be “re-evaluated” today and the organization “would come up with a plan of attack.”

Maine threw 88 pitches in 4 1/3 innings in the Bisons’ 6-4 win over the Indianapolis Indians Friday night. Maine yielded one hit and an unearned run but walked three and his hardest pitch was only 88 MPH.

The oft-injured righty told the Buffalo News, “I got no thought on it. I can’t control anything. Whatever (the Mets) say is whatever goes. If they want me in the bullpen, they can put me in the bullpen. I just want to get back there and pitch.”

Despite lacking a setup man, Maine’s offer does not seem like an option Manuel is seriously considering. Not after having traversed that course with Perez.

Perez was moved to the bullpen in an effort to redevelop control and speed in May following subpar outings in five of his seven starts. He only appeared in three games, allowing five earned runs, seven hits and five walks in 5 1/3 innings. Perez was placed on the DL on June 5 after complaining of “discomfort” in his right knee and there does not appear to be a time table for a return.

“No, he’s still in Florida right now,” Manuel said Saturday. “We haven’t made any decisions.”

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