ST. PETERSBURG -- Tuesday marked a reunion of sorts for Mets manager Terry Collins and Rays manager Joe Maddon, who was Collins' bench coach for three years with the Angels in the late 1990s.
Both men reflected on their days in Anaheim, where they helped revolutionize the defensive overshift strategies that Maddon's Rays now employ more often than any team in baseball. A pioneer in advanced baseball thinking, Maddon convinced his former boss to use extreme shifts against dangerous pull hitters, most notably Mariners outfielder Ken Griffey Jr.
"That's how that pretty much began with the shifting," Maddon said. "I had his support to do it, and because of that, it was easy. Then after that, it just started to become more and more."
Collins recalled interviewing Maddon for a position on his coaching staff and noting that "his organizational skills were off the charts."
"This was at the beginning of the computer age as far as research and statistical information," Collins said, "and he was on top of it all."
The two kept in touch after Collins was dismissed in Anaheim, with Maddon eventually landing a big league managing job in Tampa Bay and Collins resurfacing last year with the Mets.
"I want him to do well," Maddon said. "I've been reading about stuff. I've been following stuff. I've got the iPad with all the different New York papers. Really, that's a big part of why I read them, just to see how T.C. was doing."
Tejada to ramp up running program this week
ST. PETERSBURG -- There is still no timetable for the return of Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada, who began jogging lightly Tuesday after taking the weekend off from physical activity. Tejada has been on the disabled list since May 7 with a right quad strain that the Mets initially hoped would sideline him for only two weeks.
"It just hasn't gotten better," manager Terry Collins said. "Maybe it was worse than we thought in the beginning."
Tejada will attempt to ramp up his running program Wednesday, though that comes with no guarantees; he has already sustained multiple setbacks during his five-week rehab.
Tejada's backup, Ronny Cedeno, ran on the infield dirt Tuesday in his own rehab from a strained left calf, but he has yet to appear in a Minor League game. And third-string shortstop Justin Turner played in an extended spring training game, but he did not test his sprained right ankle on the bases.
With those three shortstops all on the DL, the Mets have been proceeding on a nightly basis with fourth-stringer Omar Quintanilla.
"We've missed him a lot," Collins said of Tejada in particular. "Omar's come up and he's done a good job. Ronny did a good job. We've caught the ball. But Ruben is an offensive force, and right now it's obvious we're missing that."
Mets demote reliever Rauch from setup role
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Mets have officially reworked their bullpen hierarchy, reducing Jon Rauch's role in it.
Rauch will no longer be the team's dedicated setup man, manager Terry Collins said prior to Tuesday's opener against the Rays. Instead, Bobby Parnell will continue to see increased eighth-inning opportunities, with Miguel Batista sliding into a more high-leverage job. Of the seven members of the bullpen, only closer Frank Francisco still has a set role.
"We're going to take a look at some options we have," Collins said, referring to a conversation he had Monday with pitching coach Dan Warthen. "Dan and I talked quite extensively on the bullpen and where we've got to fit guys and where guys might be. There are no given guys now in any certain roles except for Frankie right now."
That marks a significant departure from the beginning of the season, when Collins slotted Francisco, Rauch and Ramon Ramirez firmly into the ninth, eighth and seventh innings, respectively. But with Ramirez on the disabled list and Rauch struggling mightily, Collins will now entrust most of his key outs to Parnell and Batista, along with lefty specialist Tim Byrdak.
Rauch, who has given up runs in three of his last four outings, now sports an 8.36 ERA dating back to April 29. He insisted his recent struggles have had nothing to do with the right elbow discomfort that sidelined him last week, calling his health "a non-issue."
"It's going to be more beneficial for the team to have those guys who are pitching well to be in those late-game situations," Rauch said, "until I can get back on track and hopefully earn my role back."
After serving up Russell Martin's walk-off homer Sunday at Yankee Stadium, Rauch re-tweeted several profanity-laced messages directed at his Twitter account, saying Tuesday that he wanted fans to be accountable for their words.
"It's entertainment to me," Rauch said. "But it's funny to me that people think they can take it that far with no consequences. It's interesting for me to be approached with that kind of language. If you're going to be bold enough to say that kind of stuff and stand behind it, then I'm going to let everybody see it. I think it gives people a lot more insight as to what we go through as players and as people in the public eye."
Mejia converting to bullpen role at Triple-A
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Mets finally have a concrete timeframe for top prospect Jenrry Mejia's return to their bullpen. Mejia will officially convert to a relief role later this week at Triple-A Buffalo, kicking off a two-week schedule that could end in his promotion to the big leagues.
"The best part is he's done it before," manager Terry Collins said of Mejia's history in the bullpen. "So he should be able to adapt to it pretty fast."
Mejia made his final start for Buffalo on Saturday, giving up five unearned runs over 4 2/3 innings. He has posted a 2.57 ERA in seven rehab starts split between three Minor League levels, working his way back from last May's Tommy John surgery.
Once Mejia begins pitching in relief, the Mets will give him two weeks to adjust to the role. If all goes well, he could join the big league bullpen before the end of June -- though he first needs to prove that he can pitch effectively on back-to-back days.
"If he gets here, and when he gets here, we'll make our own assessment of what needs to be done to make sure he stays OK," Collins said.
Mejia, 22, made his Major League debut as a 20-year-old in 2010, posting a 4.62 ERA in 30 relief appearances and three starts.
Mets, sandwich pick Plawecki agree to deal
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Mets have agreed to terms with supplemental-round Draft pick Kevin Plawecki, the team announced Tuesday, for a reported $1.4 million.
The 35th overall pick in last week's First-Year Player Draft, Plawecki struck out eight times all season and 29 times in his three-year career at Purdue, hitting .359 as a junior. He is one of the three finalists for the Johnny Bench Award, given annually to the NCAA's top Division I catcher.
The Mets last week agreed to terms with their top pick, shortstop Gavin Cecchini, for $2.3 million.