Thole hopes to finish year above .300

NEW YORK -- Ever since the Mets recalled Josh Thole back in June, the rookie catcher's average has hovered around .300. Since August, it has never dipped lower than .283, nor soared higher than .324. And Thole is certainly aware of that.

"That's a goal I put into place every year, no matter where I'm at," Thole said. "I try to hit over .300."

Only two primary catchers in Mets history have hit over .300 while qualifying for the batting title: Mike Piazza (1999-01) and Paul Lo Duca ('06). Though Thole does not have nearly enough at-bats to qualify this season, therefore making him ineligible for that list, he is a prime candidate to join those two next year in his first full season as the Mets' primary catcher.

"That's a good list to be on, right?" Thole said.

Right. Thole knows he doesn't possess plus-power or speed, making batting average his primary weapon. Though average often fluctuates with luck, Thole's propensity to hit line drives helps him minimize the effects of chance.

This season, Thole has hit line drives 22.5 percent of the time, by far the finest rate of any Mets player. And it's that approach that has helped him regularly hit over .300 in both the Minor Leagues and the Majors.

"It's tough to hit .300 anywhere," Thole said, "so anytime you do it you feel good."

Finishing above that mark this season, however, may prove difficult. Starting regularly behind the plate takes its toll even on the most prolific offensive catchers, and Thole's current 1-for-10 skid has provided evidence of that, while dropping his average down to .291.

Yet both Thole and the Mets feel that he remains more than strong enough to accomplish his goal. Manager Jerry Manuel in particular has taken pains to keep Thole rested, most recently starting backup Henry Blanco behind the plate for Tuesday's and Wednesday's games against the Pirates.

"I don't see fatigue as playing a factor," Manuel said of Thole. "I think, for the most part, we've kept him somewhat fresh."

Window for Bay's return closing quickly

NEW YORK -- Though Jason Bay continues to run and participate in fielding drills with his Mets teammates, his window for a potential return this season is growing slim.

Bay, on the disabled list since July 26 with a concussion, still has not begun taking batting practice and will only do so "depending on how he feels," according to Mets general manager Omar Minaya. But with little more than two weeks remaining in the season, it would be nearly impossible for Bay to work his way back into game shape in time to return to the Mets.

Before suffering his concussion, Bay was hitting .259 with six homers in 95 games for the Mets, in the first season of the four-year, $66 million contract he signed last winter.

Manuel not focused on job status

NEW YORK -- Count Jerry Manuel among those not currently focused on his job status.

Asked Wednesday if he thought the Mets had provided him with the proper tools to succeed this season, the Mets' manager simply began laughing.

"Let me finish these games," Manuel said between chuckles. "Can I finish these games? And then I'll answer that question."

Manuel is in the final season of a two-year deal. Media has speculated that the Mets are not expected to pick up his club option for 2011, but the club has not weighed in on the topic.

Mets honor top Minor League prospects

NEW YORK -- Outfielder Lucas Duda may be struggling to adapt to the Major League level, but his contributions on the farm this season have not gone unnoticed.

The Mets on Wednesday named Duda their Sterling Organizational Player of the Year, after a Minor League season in which he hit .304 with 23 home runs in 115 games split between Triple-A Buffalo and Double-A Binghamton. Though Duda, 24, is just 1-for-32 in 12 games since his promotion to the Mets, earlier this season, he became the fifth Buffalo player in 125 years to hit home runs in five consecutive games.

The Mets also named Mark Cohoon, who posted a 2.57 ERA over 161 1/3 innings split between Binghamton and Class A Savannah, their Sterling Organizational Pitcher of the Year.

Each year, the Mets honor their top Minor League player and pitcher, along with one member of each of their nine affiliates, with their Sterling Awards.

This year's affiliate winners were right-handed pitcher Dillon Gee for Buffalo, outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis for Binghamton, shortstop Wilmer Flores for Class A Advanced St. Lucie, outfielder Cesar Puello for Savannah, outfielder Darrell Ceciliani for short-season Class A Brooklyn, infielder Aderlin Rodriguez for Rookie Appalachian League Kingsport, right-handed pitcher Domingo Tapia for the Rookie Gulf Coast League Mets, and outfielder Eudy Pina and catcher Hector Alvarez from the organization's two Dominican Summer League teams.

Many of those players represent the future for the Mets. Last year's Sterling Organizational Player of the Year, for example, was first baseman Ike Davis.