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03/24/10 7:35 PM ET

Reyes returns, works out at Mets camp

Shortstop takes grounders, hits in cage on first day back

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- As Jose Reyes slowly zig-zagged his way from the left-field line to the third-base dugout and into the clubhouse, he was a walking case of oxygen debt. He covered his face with a towel and appeared quite spent. On this baseball morning, a man who does everything quickly -- he even dresses fast -- took his sweet time exiting. He huffed and he puffed, and when reached his locker and a crowd of newsmen surrounded him, he was spared by the Mets' media relations director.

"Let him catch his breath," Jay Horwitz said.

The Mets breathed more easily Tuesday when they learned their shortstop would not be lost for months. But Reyes' expression and body language following a 75-minute workout Wednesday said he needed more time to achieve relaxed respiration.

His mouth said, "I feel better than I expected," and offered no predictions about the timing of his readiness to play.

Still quick on his feet, Reyes side-stepped the "when" issue, using the time-honored "take one day at a time" escape. "I will get ready as soon as possible," he said.

Reyes did stretching exercises, agility drills and light running, took three dozen ground balls -- four of his throws were bounced -- and 20 swings in the batting cage. His final swing produced a line drive to right-center field, a sure-fire triple in normal conditions, probably a double had he been been running Wednesday. He spent time on four fields and had little down time before trudging off the diamond.

For one day at least, Reyes was followed around this Mets complex like no other person save Garth Brooks (2000), Kazuo Matsui (2004) and Pedro Martinez (2005). The media surrounded his locker before and after his workout. Those with flip cameras could see him sweat. Those not equipped could as well. At times, he looked quite gassed.

It was a lot to ask from a player who had spent the better part of three weeks on his couch in Long Island. He estimated he watched two dozen movies and whatever Mets games he could. Otherwise he did "just a little stretching," he said. "I didn't want to get out of control."

The Mets will sit on Reyes for now, making sure he doesn't overdo it.

General manager Omar Minaya said he, Reyes, manager Jerry Manuel and the trainers met Wednesday morning to discuss the plan for reconditioning an athlete in unique circumstances.

"The best way is what we did today," Minaya said, noting that program will be based on how Reyes reacts to the drills.

Reyes said he expected to be sore Thursday, said he felt "good." He denied the fatigue others saw, as did Manuel.

Minaya put the focus on stamina, not playing.

"That makes it easier," said Minaya. "He's coming from a [conditioning] baseline that was excellent."

Manuel monitored his shortstop's every step while Reyes handled ground balls and took swings. The manager didn't see Reyes during or after his running. But the manager emphasized he has to see Reyes play in an exhibition game before he can begin to make a determination about his in-season return.

"Baseball is a game you have to play," Manuel said.

The matter of rest must be addressed as well. A Mets player returning from the disabled list in midseason typically is given a day to recuperate after he has been found fit to play. The club, with its new prevention and recovery program, is likely to be more conservative than it was a year ago.

The elevated thyroid hormone blood levels that caused the suspension of Reyes' training camp will not be affected by his renewed activity, doctors have told the Mets. But the club is quite aware that the extended inactivity could put him for other maladies -- the pull of a muscle that has had three weeks free from strain. Manuel said Tuesday that Reyes' case is unique.

"I don't know of any other player who was totally shut down -- no running, no exercising," Manuel said. "So we're kind of feeling our way."

The Mets would not allow members of their medical or training staffs to discuss the program Reyes will follow with the media. And Reyes hadn't been told of any program.

"I just do what they tell me to do," he said.

Among the things he has been told not to do is eat seafood, which may have led to the elevated thyroid readings. Seafood, particularly shellfish, and Chinese food have been removed from his menu. He doesn't know if or when that restriction will be relaxed.

Reyes will be tested each week for the time being. But a change in his thyroid level now would come as a surprise -- a quite unwelcome one.

"What I've been through," he said, "it was kind of tough for me -- last year, this year. I haven't played in a real game in almost a year. Now I just want to play and help this team win. Let's see what happens."

Someone or some ones other than Reyes will decide when he will play, whether Opening Day is a possibility. He'll have some say when the time comes to decide. For now, regardless of his fatigue Wednesday morning, he says this: "I want to be there."

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