Baxter returns, with increased role on tap

SAN FRANCISCO -- Nearly two full months after suffering a separated right shoulder in the catch that preserved Johan Santana's no-hit bid, Mike Baxter rejoined the Mets for Monday's series opener against the Giants.

Baxter insisted he is content returning to his former role as a lefty bat for the bench and occasional starter. He also insisted he is no more recognizable in his native Queens than before the catch that helped end the franchise's no-hitter drought at 8,019 games.

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Mike Baxter rejoined the Mets on Monday after recovering from a separated shoulder.

"I'm under-the-radar," Baxter said. "Totally under-the-radar. I'm unrecognizable. I'm just another guy in Whitestone, in Long Island City. It's good. It's fine that way."

As for the playing time, Terry Collins may have other ideas for Baxter's role.

Baxter is on the bench Monday with the Mets facing left-hander Madison Bumgarner. But with right-handers Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain on tap the next two games, Collins said he plans to have Baxter in the starting lineup.

Will that be in left field in place of floundering Jason Bay, who is 0-for-his-last-22?

"Not necessarily," Collins said, before upgrading the likelihood to "maybe."

Baxter said the left-field wall collision caused the ligament that connects the sternum and collarbone to tear, resulting in a separated shoulder.

Uncomfortable on his side in a bed, he spent the two or three weeks immediately after suffering the injury sleeping in a reclining chair. He started playing catch roughly five days before beginning a rehab assignment with Class A St. Lucie on July 15.

Baxter initially served as a DH during his rehab assignment. He finally appeared in left field a week later with Double-A Binghamton. He finished the minor league tour with Triple-A Buffalo, logging 57 plate appearances between the three levels while hitting .327. He has not had to make any diving plays or made any catches near a wall while rehabbing.

"Offensively I felt like when I got to Buffalo I got to a point where I started feeling better at the plate compared to Port St. Lucie and Binghamton," Baxter said. "With that in mind, obviously there are always adjustments at the next level. But I'm as prepared as I could be."

Santana, by the way, has not given Baxter any kind of gift to recognize the left fielder's contribution to the no-hitter -- tracking down Yadier Molina's shot in the June 1 game.

"He's doesn't have to," Baxter said.

Not even a watch?

"I don't wear them," he said. "I'm good."

As for his role, Baxter said he is content assuming the pre-injury role, although Collins may have more in store, starting him regularly against right-handed pitching.

"Tonight my job is to come off the bench if I get an opportunity," said Baxter, who displaced Kirk Nieuwenhuis on the roster. "I'm going to go day by day from there. I'm just going to try to continue to have good at-bats and play good defense. That's really what I was saying from Day 1, and that's my role on this team. I'm just thankful to have that role."