PHILADELPHIA -- After visa troubles, a major health scare and an irritating injury all conspired to keep backup catcher Ronny Paulino sidelined for more than two months, the catcher's second introduction to the Mets finally came Friday at Citizens Bank Park.
No sooner had Paulino arrived than he proceeded out to the bullpen to catch R.A. Dickey's throwing session.
"I just want him to be comfortable," Dickey said. "It's the first time in a long time he's caught me."
Though Paulino may not need to catch the knuckleballer anytime soon -- that's Josh Thole's job -- he should play regularly when the Mets oppose a left-handed starter. His first test will come Sunday against Phillies lefty Cliff Lee -- precisely the type of challenge the Mets envisioned when they signed Paulino, a career .338 hitter facing lefties, to a $1.3 million contract last winter.
First, however, Paulino must grow accustomed to his new pitching staff.
Due to a visa issue in February and March, Paulino was forced to report to spring camp nearly a month late, losing valuable development time in the process. Upon his long-anticipated arrival, a routine physical then revealed notably low levels of hemoglobin in his blood stream. The Mets placed him on a treatment program, then on the disabled list.
"I was feeling fine the whole Spring Training," Paulino said. "I didn't think there was anything wrong with me."
But there was enough wrong with him to concern Mets officials, who proceeded cautiously with Paulino's recovery. What they did not expect was to watch Paulino then tweak a muscle in his midsection during rehab, setting the catcher's return back yet another week.
So it was a long road that led Paulino to his locker at Citizens Bank Park, grinning Friday and saying, "I finally made it."
But for Paulino, the learning curve has only just begun. Dickey is doing his part to help, teaching Paulino the intricacies of the knuckleball while providing him with a crash course on his own tendencies. But catching can be instinctual, meaning Paulino must continue to practice in order to learn his new staff.
That process begins now.
"You can do all the talking you want," manager Terry Collins said. "You've got to catch them, certainly, to get an idea. But he's played long enough, he'll be able to adapt fast."
Bay among Mets still battling flu bug
PHILADELPHIA -- Jason Bay's cracked voice told the story more accurately than his words ever could.
"About as good as I sound," Bay said when asked how he felt prior to Friday's game against the Phillies.
One of several Mets battling the flu in recent days, Bay was nonetheless in the lineup Friday, playing left field and batting fifth. And pitcher Mike Pelfrey, who lost 11 pounds after contracting a particularly nasty case of the virus, was able to convince manager Terry Collins to let him make the start.
"He said he actually feels a lot better than he did in his last outing," Collins said.
Along with Bay and Pelfrey, Chris Young has also been battling sickness in recent days.
Dickey recalls his brush with royalty
PHILADELPHIA -- R.A. Dickey did not feel compelled to spend his pregame hours Friday watching coverage of Prince William and Kate Middleton's wedding in London. Dickey's brush with British royalty came 10 months earlier, when Prince Harry threw out the first pitch at Citi Field.
Dickey's assignment that day: teach the prince how to throw a baseball overhand, American style.
"He came in throwing like cricket, with a locked elbow," Dickey said. "He wanted to throw [from] in front of the mound. I said, 'If you ever want to come back to New York, you better get back up to the rubber.'"
The one other Met with British ties, dual-citizen Mike Nickeas, was optioned to Triple-A Buffalo prior to Friday's game.
After throwing three innings over the previous two days, Pedro Beato was unavailable Friday out of the bullpen. ... Angel Pagan has been receiving treatment for his strained left oblique in Port St. Lucie, Fla., but has not begun baseball activities. ... Though Jason Pridie started in center field Friday for the fifth time in seven games since his promotion, manager Terry Collins said he will look to give Willie Harris and Scott Hairston more starts in Pagan's absence. ... Class A Brooklyn Cyclones tickets go on sale Sunday at 9 a.m. ET on brooklyncyclones.com, or at MCU Park on Coney Island.