PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Come Saturday or Sunday, the most critical component in the Mets' bullpen ought to be in place and functional. Francisco Rodriguez was back in camp Monday, due to throw a bullpen session on Tuesday or Wednesday and likely to pitch over the weekend.

And, to afford some balance to the Mets' day, Kelvim Escobar was shut down.

Such is the status of the late-inning bullpen sequence the Mets projected in January. Escobar would fill the void in the eighth inning that was created on the last day of July 2006, when Duaner Sanchez was injured. Since then, only J.J. Putz filled that role -- rather briefly last season -- with any consistent performance. And now the pitcher whom general manager Omar Minaya thought would be right for the job, the pitcher he guaranteed $1.25 million, is all but guaranteed to begin the season assigned to the disabled list because of weakness in his shoulder.

Not that Escobar was expected to be ready for Opening Day once the Mets put an embargo on his pitching last week. He had been throwing, though not on a mound. But now Escobar has taken a step in the other direction. He will do no more than exercise the shoulder that allowed him to pitch in Winter League games in December. The Mets' program of prevention and recovery appears to be emphasizing the latter.

At least -- and at last -- Rodriguez has recovered. He returned to camp on Monday wearing sunglasses, not contact lenses, and thoroughly convinced that conjunctivitis is thoroughly contagious. His case, which began before he arrived to camp on Feb. 19, has cleared up enough that the Mets' doctors cleared him to resume activity as a member of the team.

But Rodriguez's five-month-old daughter -- she's a twin -- six other members of his family and the nanny have pink eye as well. And he's concerned the twin brother may contract the same malady.

"It was awful," Rodriguez said. "My eyes were all watery all the time and itchy. I wanted to scratch them out. ... Now, my little girl. I feel so bad for her. ... I had my right eye totally closed in every morning for a week when I got up. I had to open it with my fingers. It was disgusting. But now I'm OK, and I don't need that much time."

Before camp opened officially, Rodriguez said he needed no more than three weeks to prepare for the regular season. Now, he has four.

"Just no more can go wrong," Rodriguez said. "I want to be ready."