By Rich Coutinho
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Last week, during one of his pre-game press conferences, I asked Terry Collins why he had not considered Josh Thole as an option to hit second behind the effervescent Jose Reyes.

Collins said, “I just think he does not have enough speed to bat up high in the order.  No disrespect to Josh, but he is not that fast.”

I thought that defense was pretty weak. Consider Reyes had his best season for the Mets in 2006 when Paul LoDuca — who was not exactly an Olympic sprinter — hit behind him.

Thole is the perfect hitter behind Reyes for a number of reasons, and he showed that during his stint in the slot Sunday. First of all, he is the most patient of all Mets hitters. He’s not afraid to take pitches and is extremely comfortable hitting with 2 strikes. He will see a plethora of fastballs hitting behind Reyes and does not strike out a lot. That means he might allow Reyes to swipe an early base, move him to third on an out, and let David Wright score an early run without the benefit of a hit.

In 2006, the Mets led the majors in first inning runs, which put teams at an immediate disadvantage, much in the same way they did Sunday in Atlanta against the Braves.

The obvious question here is: What message will this send to Angel Pagan, who has been projected as the No. 2 hitter all spring? Teams that are 5-11 cannot worry about messages. And the sad fact is, Pagan has not hit in the early going and looks tentative at the plate. I do believe the Mets’ center fielder will hit, and moving him down in the lineup may take a little pressure off.

Quite frankly, the Mets need to put their best hitters up in the 1st inning to take some pressure from their struggling pitching staff. When Jason Bay returns, you might think about moving Pagan back to his customary No. 2 spot, but right now Terry Collins has to push the envelope.

The Mets’ manager received much criticism in certain circles for the way he treated Sunday’s game, as evidenced by using two starting pitchers in relief. But Collins handled it the right way. The Mets’ season has already entered the danger zone, and as a consequence, these games take on an added significance, even though it’s only April. His instincts told him that — and that made him bat Thole No 2. It was a good thought, and he needs to keep Thole there for that very reason.

The Mets start a 9 game stretch against the Astros, Diamondbacks and Nationals, which could help them make up the valuable ground they lost in the last 10 days. They will likely get Bay back sometime in the next few days, and that could give them a lift.

Thole was a big part of the Mets’ losing streak-busting win on Sunday, and it would be prudent for Collins to keep that in mind when he writes out the lineup card Tuesday.

Agree? Disagree? Weigh in with Coutinho below…

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