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03/22/09 7:15 PM ET

Murphy ascends to No. 2 hole

Manuel likes outfielder at top, OK with Castillo hitting eighth

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The day of decisions -- none that can't be reversed -- looms. Two weeks from Monday, the dress rehearsals are no more, and the Mets play games of consequence again. Now, just when personnel decisions should be coming in to sharper focus, it's all becoming curiouser and curiouser, as Alice would say. All of which is to say maybe and maybe not.

Luis Castllo is playing as if 2008 never happened. He's drawing walks, accumulating hits, running with greater speed and better acceleration than seemed possible 10 weeks ago, and he's making a case for himself to be restored to the top of the order and second base. So Sunday, after the Mets' offense had asserted itself against the Braves in a 12-1 victory, manager Jerry Manuel gave every indication Daniel Murphy will be in the second slot.

"In the evolution of Daniel Murphy, that may be the best spot," Manuel said. "I'd like to see him get as any chances as possible. I'm kinda leaning that way."

Of course, four weeks ago, the manager suggested Jose Reyes would be his No. 3 hitter, and he indicated strongly Sunday that surprising scenario was not the likely scenario.

So who can say, and who can say why he said it? Curiouser it gets.

Murphy batting second make sense at every level but one -- it denies Castillo at-bats in the place in the order where he is most likely to flourish. Manuel indicated early in camp he wasn't opposed to his veteran second baseman batting eighth.

While on the topic of Murphy on Sunday -- and he is one of the manager's favorite topics -- Manuel also made a point to praise the effort his left fielder-designate has put forth in his daily defensive drills with coach Razor Shines. He noted that Murphy has begun to run more like an outfielder, and Murphy has made efforts to "lengthen" his arm -- not in a physical sense, mind you -- but to condition his arm to make the longer throws required of an outfielder.

"His goal is for me not to defend for him late," Manuel said, which was to say Murphy wants to play nine innings and not be replaced for defensive reasons. That was no secret. The ninth inning has at-bats. Were Murphy to play nine with some regularity, the need for a defense-oriented reserve would seemingly diminish somewhat. Certainly Ryan Church and Carlos Beltran don't need late-inning understudies. So maybe, after all this, the Mets could benefit from carrying Bobby Kielty and his seemingly reborn right-handed bat, rather than Jeremy Reed, the most gifted defender among the No. 4 wannabees.

But Reed is hitting like Murphy of late. He produced four more hits and four more RBIs on Sunday. And Manuel insists that production in games of no consequence has its own consequence. Moreover, Murphy's defense, while improving, still is more liability than asset. Scouts make that observation on a regular basis, two likening Murphy to the Cardinals' Chris Duncan, who always provides effort in the outfield but doesn't always achieve outs.

"He's smoothed out some of the rough edges," an National League scout said of Murphy last week. "But he's still got some that are noticeable."

Murphy himself said last week, "I do everything awkwardly in the field."

He was conceding nothing, but acknowledging limitations exist.

And to confuse the matter more, Reed played some first base Sunday. Curiouser. He most likely will have a function on the Mets' 25-man roster introduced in Cincinnati April 6. Maybe.

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.