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With Blanco away, Jerry will ride Barajas

Manager Jerry Manuel said he would try to ride Rod Barajas at catcher in the absence of Henry Blanco rather than look to get Josh Thole a start, such as Wednesday’s matinee series finale against the Washington Nationals.

Thole, 23, officially was promoted Monday when Blanco was placed on bereavement leave to be allowed to visit his mother, who is ill in Venezuela. Blanco must miss three days once being placed on the list. He’s permitted up to a seven-day absence without counting against the roster.

Thole could start Wednesday if Barajas is worn down and can’t catch a day game after a night game, or if the pounding on Barajas’ left index finger becomes too much. Barajas was struck Friday in his glove on a swing by Eli Whiteside on a botched pitchout.

Thole hit only .203 with no homers and 10 RBIs in 79 at-bats with Triple-A Buffalo, but that included a 1-for-24 start. He indicated he was fiddling with his approach at the plate because of the lack of early success, despite hitting some balls hard, which proved a disservice.

“I was trying to make adjustments that I didn’t have to make,” Thole said. “It’s what happens. Any time you go through a struggle, you want to change something -- fix something that’s not broken. That’s what I was doing.”

Thole has hit at every level, including finishing second this past offseason in batting in the Venezuelan Winter League. He hit .321 with no homers and nine RBIs in 53 at-bats with the Mets last September.

“I know my spot,” Thole said. “The biggest thing is just to come up here and have a chance. Whether it’s one day, two days, five days, if I get a chance I’m going to be ready.”

The Mets wanted Thole in Triple-A to improve his catching skills. He only returned full time to that position, which he played in high school, in May 2008 when he was with Class A St. Lucie.

“What we have heard is that he has caught very well,” Manuel said. “That was always our major concern with him -- his receiving. From what I understand he’s done a tremendous job in progressing.”

Said Thole: “Even from spring training I feel like I’ve made significant strides.”

DIFFERENT HAT: Yes, that was Dan Warthen spotted wearing a yarmulke in the dugout when he removed his Mets cap during Sunday’s game. The pitching coach explained that Ike Davis had received Mets yarmulkes from a rabbi, and gave one to Warthen. Warthen, who is Jewish, forgot he had it on when he placed his cap on and went out for the game, he indicated. “I wear them all the time. That’s why I have that little bald spot,” quipped Warthen, who attends temple.

Davis’ mother, incidentally, was raised Jewish but is not practicing. The first baseman has only been to a temple once in his life, by his recollection.

ROPE SHORTENING: Manuel admitted he’s growing frustrated with Oliver Perez, but the manager confirmed the southpaw will make his scheduled start, Friday against the Florida Marlins. Perez walked seven and hit a batter in 3 1/3 innings Sunday.

“From my point of view, as a manager, obviously you think about those things,” Manuel said regarding whether it's fair to the southpaw's teammates to continue to start Perez. “Sometimes from my point of view there is some frustration with that. But what I have noticed from watching the players and their reaction is one of great encouragement to Oliver. They want so bad for Oliver to do well. I don’t see it as a time or a place now where they are fed up with it. It’s, ‘This is our teammate. We need this guy. We know that when he throws strikes, he can be very effective. We like him. We’re with him every day.’ It’s great encouragement.

“I mean, yesterday between the innings, I normally don’t talk to a starting pitcher. I just have Dan (Warthen) ask him how he feels. But when he was struggling I went and he was kind of in the bottom part of the dugout, staying warm. And I went down there and there were three or four guys encouraging him, saying, ‘C’mon, man. You can do it. You’re better. You can do this. You can do this.’ I find that to be very encouraging for me to see that. You would think there would be some frustration on their part because of the fight that they put up and the times they’re standing out on defense and so forth.”

EX-YANKEE CLIPPARD: Nationals reliever Tyler Clippard leads major league relievers with six wins. Not too shabby for the former starting pitcher, who stewed about being moved to the bullpen for the 2009 season while driving from spring training in Florida to the Nationals’ Triple-A home in Syracuse.

“At that particular moment in time, there were a lot of questions going through my head with how the organization felt about me as a pitcher and what kind of confidence level they still had me,” Clippard said. “After you’re a starter your whole career and you get moved to the bullpen, that’s an unsure thing. But I took that negativity and tried to turn it into a positive outlook and it kind of snowballed from there. I started pitching well in Triple-A and kind of proved my worth all over again. Sometimes you need that in this game. It’s been a good transition.”

Clippard, 25, went 3-1 with a 6.33 ERA in six starts for the Yankees in 2007. He was traded on Dec. 5 of that year for right-hander Jonathan Albaladejo.

“I really am the same kind of pitcher,” Clippard said. “I feel like I’m a little smarter. I’ve matured a little bit physically. I’ve had that big league experience there and in Washington as well. It’s just a combination of all of that. I feel like my stuff is a little bit better, but ultimately I’m the same kind of pitcher.”

Clippard had a big moment in an opening-week series at Citi Field. He limited the Mets to one hit and struck out seven in three scoreless relief innings on April 10 to help preserve Washington’s 4-3 win.

Still, Clippard said that wasn’t necessarily a springboard.

“Not really,” Clippard said. “I was pitching well before that. That was just a great outing I had.”

HAMMY WHAMMY: Fernando Martinez appears headed to the minor league DL with a lower left hamstring injury. Martinez indicated it’s a similar injury that he suffered to the other leg two seasons ago at Double-A Binghamton, which forced him out of the lineup for six weeks.

ON TRACK: Ex-Met Steve Trachsel visited the Mets clubhouse Monday. He flew into New York as a stopover before starting a vacation in Italy. … Second baseman Luis Castillo was back in the starting lineup Monday after leaving Saturday’s game with discomfort related to a bone bruise at the bottom front of his left foot.