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04/26/09 1:55 PM ET

Santos currying favor with Manuel

Schneider still Mets skipper's guy when he returns

NEW YORK -- The latest player to fall into Mets manager Jerry Manuel's favor is Omir Santos, a backup catcher who made the club after Brian Schneider hit the disabled list last week. And so Manuel spent Sunday morning lavishing praise on Santos, who was about to start his third game in four days.

"I think from all indications, [pitchers] really love throwing to him," Manuel said. "And if they like throwing to him, then I've got to make some guys happy."

All of that is fine in a pinch, but it begs the question of Santos' role in the near future -- Manuel insists that the muscle strain in Schneider's back has healed enough that he has a strong chance to return when he is eligible to come off the disabled list this Friday.

It would be difficult to keep Santos on the roster when Schneider returns, though Manuel said he would consider the possibility of carrying three catchers -- a strategy that would only make sense if the Mets had expendable players on their bench or in their bullpen, which they do not.

What Manuel did make clear is that Schneider, despite hitting .143 during the first two weeks of the season, would immediately step back into the starting catcher's role upon his return. Ramon Castro, the most powerful hitter of the three but also the most limited defender, has played only sparingly in Schneider's absence, due at least in part to the Mets' limited exposure to left-handed pitchers. And Castro's backup role, regardless of whom he spells, isn't likely to change.

"Brian's our catcher," Manuel said. "He's our guy. I know he is struggling, and he has had some issues physically that led to that struggle. So he'll be the guy that will have every opportunity to be the catcher. Once that opportunity has presented itself and we've got to win some ballgames, then we'll make a decision based on that."

Castro's multitude of injuries throughout his Mets tenure have cast doubt on his ability to be an everyday catcher, in turn solidifying Schneider's position on the depth chart.

"I think it's a little premature to say that he'd be fighting for a job when he comes back," Manuel said.

At this point, what's important to Manuel is that he feels he has found a suitable catching option should injuries continue to plague Schneider or Castro -- certainly a possibility, considering the ample time both have spent on the DL in the past two years alone. Manuel particularly liked the way Santos was able to handle Mike Pelfrey's hard sinker on Saturday afternoon.

"When I look back there, he seems to be very quiet," Manuel said. "I like when a catcher can get a tough sinker and hold it. He seems to be able to hold that pitch."

This isn't the first time a player has fallen so suddenly in the manager's favor. Manuel has shown a tendency this year to become infatuated with certain players, as he did with pitcher Dillon Gee in Spring Training and infielder Jonathan Malo toward the end of camp. Santos is the latest in that progression.

For a 27-year-old catcher, that's both a blessing and a curse. Neither Gee nor Malo is expected to spend much time with the Mets this season, and Santos will likely suffer the same fate. But in the interim, the manager's good graces are not a bad place to be.

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