ATLANTA -- At least Josh Thole could joke. A few hours after a foul ball ricocheted into Turner Field's visitors' dugout and off his right ear, Thole could not even feign surprise that, in a year that also saw him sustain a concussion, he was the one to be hit.
"I expect nothing less," Thole said.
Thole was in the dugout in the fourth inning Sunday when Kris Medlen sliced a foul ball directly toward him. Standing in front of Thole, coach Wally Backman ducked, leaving the catcher exposed.
"It just happened so fast," Thole said.
The ball clipped Thole toward the back of his ear, which the catcher believes may have saved him. A Braves doctor examined him and concluded that Thole had not sustained another concussion. The only lasting effect was a badly swollen ear.
Said Thole: "It could definitely have been way worse."
Hairston will seek expanded role in 2013
ATLANTA -- Scott Hairston started his 10th consecutive game in the outfield Sunday, a notable feat. Signed last winter to serve as a right-handed bench bat and platoon outfielder, Hairston has played nearly every day down the stretch and will finish with close to 400 plate appearances, his highest total since 2009.
He is also enjoying the most productive season of his nine-year career, swatting a personal-best 19 home runs while slugging over .500. All of which leads Hairston to believe that when he becomes a free agent again this winter, he will be able to market himself as an everyday player.
"Wherever I wind up next year, I just want to have an expanded role," Hairston said. "I've been able to get around 360 at-bats this year, and I would hope to get at least that many next year, whether it's here or somewhere else."
It could make for a tricky situation, both for Hairston and the general managers interested in acquiring him. Hairston's greatest asset is clearly his ability to mash left-handed pitching, which he has done again this year to a .292/.323/.562 slash line entering Sunday's play. He has not been nearly as productive against right-handers, slashing .227/.273/.443 -- numbers comparable to his career totals.
But to benefit from Hairston's prowess against left-handed hitters, an acquiring team may have to entertain his desire for an expanded role. He has earned that negotiating platform -- consider his Wins Above Replacement, a catch-all statistic created to determine a player's overall worth. Hairston has produced a WAR of 1.9 this season, fifth on the Mets behind David Wright, R.A. Dickey, Jon Niese and Ruben Tejada.
"I pretty much played in every role possible, and the last few weeks or so I've been playing every day," Hairston said. "It's just one of those things where I really don't know what's going to happen. I'm just going to prepare myself this offseason as if I'll be playing every day."
Hairston said he has enjoyed his two years in New York and is close with general manager Sandy Alderson, who he met during his days with the Padres. But the Mets may no longer be the best fit for him; they already have an expensive right-handed bench type returning in Jason Bay, and Hairston is a sure bet to cost more than the $1.1 million he earned last season -- easily one of Alderson's best deals since taking over as GM.
At the end of July, when the Mets decided not to deal Hairston to a contender at the non-waiver Trade Deadline, the outfielder expressed interest in negotiating a contract extension. But those talks never materialized, Hairston said, meaning he will become a free agent in November.
His decision to return or go elsewhere may hinge as much upon playing time as on dollars and cents.
"I don't know what their plans are for next year," Hairston said of the Mets. "They haven't expressed that to me. And I don't know if they're going to let me know until the offseason. A lot of it's in the unknown."
Mets ready to take look at Familia as a starter
ATLANTA -- The Mets are intrigued by Jeurys Familia as a reliever. They're intrigued by Familia as a starter, too.
Simply put, the Mets want to see their prized rookie pitch as much as possible, which is why he will make his Major League starting debut Monday in Miami.
"I want to see him start," manager Terry Collins said of Familia, who has posted an 8.64 ERA in seven relief appearances. "I really like what I've seen out of the bullpen. I just think to cross all the t's and dot the i's, I need to see him start."
Because Familia struggled as a starting pitcher at Triple-A Buffalo this season, his future is as clouded as that of any Mets prospect. Collins admitted that Familia is not as far along in his development as Jenrry Mejia, another starter-turned-reliever-turned-starter who began this season almost universally ranked behind Familia on the organization's prospect hierarchy.
But the Mets are still intrigued enough by Familia's potential to want to see him as a starter; to succeed in that role, they know, Familia will need to develop a usable changeup to supplement his fastball and breaking ball. The right-hander will pitch in relief this winter for Gigantes in the Dominican League, though that will have no bearing on how the Mets view him come spring.
"I want to see how he approaches hitters," Collins said of Monday's start in particular. "I want to see length. Instead of just 20 pitches or 25 pitches, I want to see how he handles going out there for two or three innings."