NEW YORK -- Three months of speculation have now funneled into one final day of expectation. When the Mets clock into Shea Stadium on Friday, Ryan Church will likely be among them. Manager Jerry Manuel confirmed that much Thursday, expressing his most pointed hope yet for Church's return.

"If he does have another good night," Manuel said, "he'll be playing right field [Friday] night."

The performance in question came at Double-A Binghamton, where Church has been playing in rehab games since Wednesday. He finished 0-for-4 with a strikeout on Thursday night, but more importantly, played nine innings in right field and suffered no physical setbacks. So after two stints on the disabled list recovering from post-concussion syndrome, Church seems finally ready to rejoin the Mets.

Should he indeed return, Church will likely start Friday and Saturday against the Astros, and then sit Sunday afternoon against left-handed starter Randy Wolf. His presence will allow the Mets to rest current right fielder Fernando Tatis, while keeping the left-field platoon of Daniel Murphy and Nick Evans intact.

"He was a very good player for us for a while," Manuel said of Church. "Probably our best player for a long time. So I'd like to see him get back to that."

Also joining the Mets on Friday will be Luis Castillo, though his presence will not come complete with the same expectations. Castillo has used up all of his allotted Minor League rehab time, and so he will travel to New York to work out in front of a group of Mets coaches and staff. There, the team will decide whether to activate Castillo, or to send him to Port St. Lucie, Fla., for an additional slate of simulated games.

According to reports of Castillo's recent rehab assignment, the latter option seems a better bet.

"His swing wasn't all there," general manager Omar Minaya said on Wednesday. "And similar to his legs, it was getting better, but not to where he wants it to be."