Matsui agrees to work out at second base

NEW YORK -- The Mets have taken the first step toward switching Kaz Matsui and Jose Reyes defensively for the 2005 season, with Matsui agreeing to begin taking ground balls at second base while he bides his time in Port St. Lucie, Fla. <P> GM Jim Duquette said Monday that he had met with Matsui, who is currently on the disabled list with a lower back strain, before the injured shortstop headed to Florida earlier this month.

While Duquette said Matsui was "apprehensive" at first about making the switch, Matsui became agreeable to the process of taking ground balls on the other side of the infield as long as he would not have to play second base in the major leagues this season.

"He felt that if this was what the organization wanted, he was going to try," said Duquette, who broached the subject in a 15-minute meeting that included Matsui, interpreter Noz Matsumoto and Jeff Wilpon.

"It's not going to be easy," Matsui said in a statement. "I played the position my entire life, but [if] this is what the organization wants and they feel we'll be a better team this way, then that's fine by me."

Although it has never been officially confirmed, it is believed that Matsui – who received attention from several major league clubs, including the visiting San Diego Padres – signed with the Mets with the explicit understanding that he would be the team's shortstop through 2004.

That hasn't worked out exactly as planned, with Matsui proving to be an inferior defensive shortstop when compared to Jose Reyes, who was dislodged by Matsui's signing. Matsui has committed a major league high 23 errors, partially attributable to his weak throwing arm.

At the same time, Matsui's future health is a concern, especially after seeing Joe McEwing – a more experienced second baseman – go down to a fractured left fibula last week on a hard slide by Colorado's J.D. Closser.

For that reason, the Mets won't ask Matsui to even consider playing second base in a major league game this season, although Mets manager Art Howe said he'll be happy to see Matsui expand his versatility down in Port St. Lucie.

"The sooner the better for him to get a feel for it," Howe said. "He'll get some ground balls and we'll see where it goes from there."

Mets Notes

  • In order to make room for Monday's starter, Aaron Heilman, on the roster, the Mets optioned righthander Matt Ginter to Triple-A Norfolk.

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