NEW YORK -- In the 36 games in which Jose Reyes has played this season, the Mets have scored a combined 34 runs in the first inning. In the 38 games in which he has not played, the Mets have scored 19 runs in the first inning. It is not terribly difficult to understand the reason why.

In Reyes' absence, the Mets have understandably searched for any and every possible solution. Manager Jerry Manuel has have attempted the obvious, batting Luis Castillo first in the order. He has tried a roster of injury fill-ins, slotting Alex Cora and Angel Pagan and Jeremy Reed up top. And now he has reverted back to the unorthodox, batting Daniel Murphy leadoff on Sunday night against the Yankees.

"With the way that we're set up now, it's not so much a matter of whether or not we have speed at the top of the lineup," Manuel said, referring to the injuries to Reyes, Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran. "It's a matter of whether we think we can get good at-bats, and Murphy historically has given us that."

An average baserunner with one career stolen base, Murphy cannot provide the Mets what Reyes, Castillo or even Reed can. But what he can provide is discipline. Despite a lengthy slump throughout the month of May, Murphy ranks fifth on the Mets by seeing 3.98 pitches per plate appearance -- though Manuel's other two leadoff candidates, Castillo and Cora, rank first and third, respectively.

Manuel's hope is that if nothing else, Murphy can help wear down Chien-Ming Wang -- who has allowed a total of seven first-inning runs in seven starts this season -- early in Sunday's game. If it's a war of attrition, the Mets want to have enough ammunition.

"We've been first in the league in seeing pitches," Manuel said. "That kind of plays into what we do anyway, so it will be no different than what we've done before. We've always felt that a part of our offensive philosophy is to get a high pitch count from the opposing starting pitcher. For the most part, we've done that."

The problems, Manuel said, crop up when they face elite pitchers who throw strikes and don't allow the Mets to work deep into counts. Chris Carpenter and CC Sabathia both did that in recent days; A.J. Burnett presented his own set of problems. But combined, those three pitchers no-hit the Mets over the first three innings of their three most recent games.

In each instance, that early ineptitude has forced the Mets to battle back from behind. And in two of the three games, the Mets have been unable to do so.

Murphy, who has hit leadoff three times this season already, has seen an average of 5.33 pitches in his three game-opening at-bats last month against the Red Sox. The Mets, at this point, can hardly ask for anything more.