Veteran INF Cora gets shot with Reyes sidelined

PORT ST. LUCIE, FLA.(AP) New York Mets veteran infielder Alex Cora(notes) knows what people are saying about his age and inability to play every day, but he looks forward to the chance to prove the naysayers wrong.

With shortstop Jose Reyes likely out for the start of the season because of an overactive thyroid, Cora likely will start the season in his place, with 20-year-old prospect Ruben Tejada(notes) a possibility to back him up, manager Jerry Manuel said Thursday.

The 34-year-old Cora has 12 years of major-league experience, including extensive time last year when injuries made him a necessity, though he also battled thumb injuries much of the season.

“People are talking about age and that I’ve slowed down defensively,” Cora said. “There is some statistical analysis out there that says I am losing my range. I will just try to work on a few things, but if that’s something I can improve, I will just keep working on it.

“Let’s put it this way: I have been in the big leagues for 12 years and it’s not because I hit .300.”

Cora, who owns a .246 career batting average, hit .251 with 18 RBI and one home run in 82 games last season, his first with the Mets. The club thought enough of Cora to re-sign him for $2 million. Manuel is confident Cora can handle playing every day with the expectations it would only be necessary for the start of the season.

“I would say early (in the season), that’s very feasible that he could play,” Manuel said. “If you look at the history, I think once the summer months hit then you might have an issue.”

When news about Reyes’ health surfaced, talk arose about Tejada being an option to replace the star shortstop, but Manuel said Thursday, “Cora would be our guy,” and it is still to be determined whether Tejada is ready to make the jump to the majors.

Tejada signed as a non-drafted free agent out of Panama in July 2006 and has played no higher than Double-A, where he spent last season in Binghamton as the youngest position player at that level. He batted .289 with five homers, 46 RBI and 19 stolen bases.

“If you happen to take a young player you’d have to … find the right spots you think the guy would have a chance to have success, and after that comes confidence and after that you let him go,” Manuel said.

Considered the organization’s best defensive infielder prospect, Tejada is an “interesting player” to Manuel, and the manager said he would still consider him an option to make the team.

“He has some tremendous instincts to play,” Manuel said. “I like him a lot.”

Cora has been impressed by Tejada so far, especially seeing he hasn’t been afraid to seek out veteran advice.

“He’s a very humble kid,” Tejada said. “He is willing to work. He is one of the first guys here, and he asks a lot of questions, which is a plus. He’s a young guy and you don’t see that very often.”

Cora’s health is a concern after he underwent surgery to repair ligaments in both thumbs - the right one on Aug. 20 and the left Sept. 21. He first sustained the injuries while sliding into second base in back-to-back games in May.

Cora said he is at 100 percent and hasn’t held back, other than being more conscious of sliding feet first rather than head first. His experience playing while injured last year also shows he is capable of contributing to the team, he said.

“I think I did a pretty good job playing last year, and it’s hard to play hurt,” Cora said. “I am not using that as an excuse, but basically I tried to do the best I could. Everyone knew about it, but the numbers don’t reflect the type of player I am. I don’t know if that’s going to be used against me, but I feel I can still contribute.”

For now, Manuel is still hoping Reyes returns in time to be ready for the start of the season, though that window is quickly closing with just over two weeks left in spring training. Reyes was told to rest until his thyroid levels return to normal, and the prognosis was that it would take two to eight weeks.

Manuel estimated last week Reyes would need to play in 10 exhibition games to be prepared for the season.

“I am still holding out,” Manuel said. “I am still believing he will show up here in parking lot No. 7 any day.”

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Updated Thursday, Mar 18, 2010