SAN FRANCISCO -- The catch that saved Johan Santana's no-hitter was nice, but Mike Baxter does not want it to define his career. Returning from the disabled list Monday after an eight-week absence, Baxter aims to continue producing as well as he did before displacing his right collarbone during Santana's June 1 no-no.
"I hope he plays as well as he did the first time before he got hurt," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "He was absolutely outstanding for us, not only offensively but defensively. He was remarkable coming off the bench and getting a big hit."
It was a long road back for Baxter, who was in such pain in the days following his injury that he spent the first two to three weeks sleeping in a reclining chair. When the Mets were on the road, Baxter had no access to his teammates.
"You're with the team every day, and then you get hurt and now all of the sudden you're out of the mix," said Baxter, who hit .323 overall and .444 as a pinch-hitter prior to his injury. "Obviously it was very difficult to not be around in the clubhouse. Any baseball player you ask will tell you that's one of the best parts of the game. When you miss out on that, it's very frustrating."
It was especially frustrating, as Collins noted, because Baxter "earned his way into the lineup and earned his way into staying in the lineup" before landing on the DL. Winning a roster spot out of Spring Training and quickly establishing himself as one of the game's most productive left-handed bench bats, Baxter had begun receiving more regular playing time in the weeks leading up to his injury.
Now fully healthy following a 13-game rehab assignment, he will return to his familiar bench role at first. But with New York's outfield situation in flux -- Jason Bay is scuffling mightily, Lucas Duda and Kirk Nieuwenhuis are in the Minor Leagues and Jordany Valdespin is an unproven product -- the opportunity clearly exists for Baxter to nose his way into additional playing time.
As for the catch? Outside baseball circles, the Queens native's celebrity has not grown much.
"I'm totally under the radar," Baxter said, laughing. "I'm unrecognizable. I'm just another guy in Whitestone and Long Island City. It's good. It's fine that way."
Harvey gearing up for second Major League start
SAN FRANCISCO -- Not long after arriving at AT&T Park on Monday afternoon, Matt Harvey stepped out of the Mets clubhouse to explore the grounds.
"I haven't been to these ballparks," Harvey said. "I've never seen them. I'm trying to soak everything up as much as possible."
Even Harvey admitted that butterflies will still be present when he makes his second start of the season Tuesday night against the Giants, squaring off against four-time All-Star Tim Lincecum.
"He's won two Cy Young awards," Harvey said. "Watching a guy like that and getting to face him is awesome. It's kind of surreal, but at the same time, it's what I'm here for. I'm here to compete against those kinds of guys."
Despite his 11-strikeout, scoreless debut last week in Phoenix, Harvey still has just 5 1/3 big league innings to his credit. In the days following the top prospect's debut, manager Terry Collins cautioned that Harvey will not be that sharp every time out. That much is inevitable; at 23 years old, Harvey will certainly scuffle at points between now and the end of the season -- especially once the league grows accustomed to him.
How he responds will go a long way toward determining the track of his career.
"I guess I hope he never gets challenged, but I know he will be," Collins said. "And if he's going to be, I'd rather have it sooner than later so he learns how to get through a tough time. I really think that he's prepared himself for that."
Francisco eyeing weekend return to Mets
SAN FRANCISCO -- A new timetable is taking shape for Mets closer Frank Francisco, who could make his return from the disabled list as soon as this weekend in San Diego.
Francisco, who threw Sunday after scratching himself from Saturday's rehab appearance with soreness in his left side, is scheduled to pitch Tuesday and Wednesday for Double-A Binghamton. If he comes out of those appearances without issue, Francisco could return in time for Friday's series opener against the Padres.
That much, however, is far from certain. Francisco has been on the disabled list since June 23 with a strained left oblique that the Mets initially expected to take two weeks to heal. In addition to suffering multiple setbacks in his rehab, Francisco has also received an injection for an unrelated knee issue.
Prior to his injury, the closer saved 18 games in 21 chances with a 4.97 ERA. Bobby Parnell is 3-for-5 in save opportunities in Francisco's absence.
Collins reiterated that he does not expect the Mets to make a trade prior to Tuesday's 4 p.m. ET deadline. Though outfielder Scott Hairston has been linked to multiple teams in recent days, the Mets do not appear inclined to deal their most productive bench bat.
Collins plans to rest third baseman David Wright either Tuesday or Wednesday against one of San Francisco's right-handed starters, Lincecum or Matt Cain. Wright has played in 99 of the Mets' 103 games this season.
Santana (right ankle sprain) will return to the mound Thursday for a bullpen session, according to Collins. As long as all goes well, Santana should appear in one of the Mets' first few games on their next homestand, which begins Aug. 6.