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04/07/2013 12:54 PM ET

Ailing Marcum's return date still in question

NEW YORK -- As Aaron Laffey slid into the rotation Sunday for his first start of the season, the Mets remained unsure of when Shaun Marcum, the man Laffey is replacing, might return.

"We don't know," manager Terry Collins said. "It's hard to say. If Shaun comes back pretty fast, I would think it's going to be a couple weeks. You're looking at maybe two to three starts."

Marcum has not completed even a bullpen session in more than two weeks, so he will need time to build up his arm strength after the nerve inflammation in his neck subsides. Collins' estimate -- a best-case scenario -- has Marcum returning sometime in mid- to late-April; a slower progression could keep him out until May.

Marcum has not resumed baseball activity since receiving injections in his neck this week to calm his inflammation. Until he does -- and, more importantly, proves that he can pitch without pain -- the Mets will not be able to set an accurate timetable for his return.

Collins' mix-and-match outfield produces early

NEW YORK -- The Mets entered this season with a blurred outfield picture, and it has not cleared considerably over the first week of the season. Yet manager Terry Collins has found a way to make it gel, mixing and matching all six of his outfielders into a melting pot of playing time.

Of the half-dozen outfielders on New York's active roster, only left fielder Lucas Duda has started each of New York's first six games. Collin Cowgill and Marlon Byrd have both started four times, Mike Baxter twice, and Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Jordany Valdespin once.

Despite so much discontinuity, the motley crew has produced. Including pinch-hit opportunities, Mets outfielders entered Sunday's play hitting .250 with three home runs, three doubles, 11 RBIs and 12 runs scored, also stealing three bases and walking 12 times. It may not be elite production, but it is hardly the black hole that the Mets feared heading into this season.

"In a perfect world, you'd like to have your three guys out there," Collins said, noting that he would prefer a more traditional outfield alignment. "But right now, we're going to mix and match. It keeps everybody sharp. It keeps everybody ready."

Given the luxury of a designated hitter for three games next weekend in Minnesota, Collins will be able to give his six-headed outfield even more playing time, slotting one of them at DH each day. The goal is to keep each individual outfielder sharp enough to contribute on a near-daily basis, either in a starting role or off the bench.

Those outfielders have also combined to solve New York's leadoff problem, with Cowgill batting atop the lineup four times, Valdespin once and Baxter once. Sunday, Baxter was back in the lineup batting fifth, a spot he had previously manned just five times in the Majors.

"I get excited when I get a chance to play, whether it's off the bench or starting," Baxter said. "I think with the group we have, we all bring unique skill sets to the table. I think T.C. does a good job mixing-and-matching that."

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