WASHINGTON -- Most astonishing to R.A. Dickey were not the stories of the soldiers he met Tuesday at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. It was the fact that so many of those patients said that, if given the chance, they would go back overseas to serve their country again.

"It was humbling," Dickey said. "It makes you thankful for what you have."

Dickey and his Mets teammates made their annual pilgrimage Tuesday to Walter Reed, greeting the soldiers and eating lunch on the grounds. Some, such as third baseman David Wright and COO Jeff Wilpon, who flew down from New York, have made the trip year after year. Others were visiting the hospital and its patients for the first time.

"It's always a tremendous experience," manager Jerry Manuel said. "A sad experience in the sense that you see lives given up for the freedoms that we take for granted daily. It was really courageous to see what those young men and women do to provide the freedoms that we have, the lengths that they go to in giving up life and limb for the freedoms that we have. It's quite a special visit for us. We hope that we can encourage them in some way."

The visit was also special for Walter Reed's patients, many of whom like to talk baseball with the Mets.

"They like to talk about baseball, and we want to talk about their stories and what they've been through," Wright said. "It's amazing just to see how forthright and how dedicated they are to this country. It really does make your chest swell a little bit with pride and just realize what this country means to a lot of people."

Though the trip was not mandatory, all but four players attended: Dillon Gee, whom the team asked not to go due to his duties as that evening's starting pitcher, Carlos Beltran, Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez.

Asked about his absence, Perez offered no comment. Castillo indicated that such experiences are too traumatic for him, saying, "When you see people with no legs and no arms, when they go to fight for us and they're in the hospital like that, I don't like to see that." And Beltran said that he could not attend due to a meeting regarding the high school he is helping to build in his native Puerto Rico.

Beltran has attended similar events in the past.

"It's not that I'm against it," Beltran said. "Actually, I like it and I wanted to go. But I had my own things to do."

For the Mets, charity work often piles up. Later this week, for example, Wright, Wilpon and pitcher Mike Pelfrey plan on making their annual pilgrimage to Engine 10, the firehouse located next to Ground Zero in Manhattan.

"Forget about being the New York Mets and playing baseball," Wright said. "I think that just being American and living in this country, we owe it to those guys to say thank you and tell them how much we appreciate what they put on the line every day -- and a lot of times what they've sacrificed. You're talking about guys a lot younger than me that are going over there and giving up their lives trying to fight for our freedom."

Wright scratched late with bruised left finger

WASHINGTON -- Third baseman David Wright was a late scratch from the lineup in Tuesday's 4-1 win with a bruised left ring finger. He is day-to-day.

"I tried to go and kind of got overruled," Wright said. "They wanted me to try to play it safe and not get hurt any more."

Wright injured the finger when he slid into second base on a stolen-base attempt Monday at Nationals Park, Wright remained in the field for another two innings, until Luis Hernandez replaced him at third base as part of a mass substitution.

Though Mets manager Jerry Manuel penciled Wright into his original Tuesday lineup, the Mets scratched him roughly one hour prior to first pitch.

Wright is batting .292 this season, with 23 home runs, 91 RBIs and 18 stolen bases in 134 games.

Manuel to be cautious with Reyes' return

WASHINGTON -- Sometime prior to Wednesday's game, Mets manager Jerry Manuel plans to ask shortstop Jose Reyes if he is ready to return to the lineup.

"If he says, 'Yes, I feel good, I want to play,' I still might give him another day," Manuel said, laughing. But he was hardly kidding.

Friday is therefore the most likely return date for Reyes, who sat out his 11th straight game Tuesday with a right oblique strain. Though Reyes took batting practice for the third straight day, Manuel wants to see him start pulling the ball with more authority -- a sign that the muscle strain is no longer hindering his range of motion.

Because of the Mets' scheduled off-day Thursday, sitting Reyes for one additional game will actually give him two more days of rest.

Johan to meet with doctors in New York

WASHINGTON -- The Mets don't plan on reevaluating Johan Santana, who was scratched from his Tuesday start with a left pectoral strain, until they arrive back in New York later this week.

"Our doctors will take a good look at him, and we'll probably put together a plan from there," manager Jerry Manuel said.

That plan may entail caution for Santana, who still has three seasons remaining on his six-year contract with the Mets. After leaving his last start in Atlanta for precautionary reasons, the Mets, for similar precautionary reasons, replaced him in the rotation with Dillon Gee. Both Santana and his manager have said that he could have pitched had the Mets been in a pennant race.