WASHINGTON -- Damion Easley will play again, Jerry Manuel said Wednesday, as soon as he has proven he can walk without pain, jog without pain, run without pain and as soon as he has taken batting practice. And only then will the second baseman be available to pinch-hit.

Suffice it to say, the picture Manuel painted was not at all encouraging, not with merely 12 games remaining in the Mets' season. The Mets manager didn't preclude the chance that Easley could play again, but he made it clear a return to the role Easley had filled ably until his right quadriceps betrayed him on Saturday was unlikely.

The condition of the torn muscle was such on Wednesday that Easley couldn't walk without pain. Moreover, he said the acts of sitting and standing prompted pain as well. Had this been another time of the season, Easley said, he probably would have been assigned to the disabled list.

And so it goes for the New York Met-icals. They lost Fernando Tatis to a right shoulder separation on Tuesday night, and now Manuel is looking at starting either Argenis Reyes or Luis Castillo at second base while his team tries to right itself and reach the postseason.

Tatis, it turns out, may not be lost for the remainder of the season as the Mets had said on Tuesday. Examination by the Mets' doctors earlier Wednesday determined that he had suffered a Grade 3 separation, that surgery was not necessarily required and that he conceivably could resume "baseball activity" -- as opposed to playing -- in two to three weeks.

Easley may be in the same situation. And of course, the Mets' chance of playing deep enough into postseason to afford Easley and Tatis the opportunity to play will be compromised by their absence in the interim. Each has been an important right-handed-hitting component in the Mets' offense. Tatis made it easier for the team to withstand the absence of Moises Alou, and Easley hit his way into more playing time.

Easley's right-handed offense and veteran presence contributed to the reduced reliance on Castillo as much as Castillo's compromised health did. Reyes started at second base again Wednesday, at least partially because Castillo was, in Manuel's words, "not quite as healthy as we'd like." The manager said Castillo had been struggling to run the bases because of his hips and knees.