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Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Updated: July 20, 10:28 AM ET
Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran return

By Ian Begley
Special to ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- New York Mets shortstop Jose Reyes was one of baseball's best players in the first half.

After missing 12 games with a hamstring injury, Reyes is ready to pick up where he left off.

The All-Star returned to the New York lineup on Tuesday, batting leadoff in the Mets' 4-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals. The Mets (48-48) also got All-Star right fielder Carlos Beltran back. Beltran missed three games due to a viral infection that he said resulted in fevers of "104, 105" degrees.

Reyes gave everyone a spark on offense and defense. He had two hits and scored a run in five at-bats. It was his 44th multihit game of the season.

"It is a relief," Reyes said. "I had no problems, no setbacks."

The Mets offered a special $7 ticket for Tuesday's game in honor of No. 7's return, and fans let out a big cheer when Reyes ran onto the field about 30 minutes before gametime.

The effervescent Reyes was itching to return to the field when he spoke with reporters prior to Tuesday's first pitch.

"It's exciting," Reyes said of his return, "because the first half was enjoyable not only for me but for the whole team. We played very good baseball. Now I'm healthy again and I'm going to continue to do my job and continue to help this team as much as I can."

Prior to going down on July 2 with a strained left hamstring, Reyes was batting a major league-high .354 with a .398 on-base percentage. Even after missing more than two weeks, Reyes entered Tuesday leading the majors in triples (15) and multihit games (43). His 30 stolen bases ranked second in the league.

"It's a huge plus for us, a boost of energy," Mets manager Terry Collins said of the returns of Reyes and Beltran.

But Collins quickly added: "If (Reyes) hits a ball in the gap, I'll be holding my breath."

Reyes, who is a free-agent at season's end, has dealt with hamstring issues in the past.

A right hamstring injury limited the speedy shortstop to just 36 games in 2009. In 2004, he played in only 54 games because of various leg injuries that were so bad the Mets tinkered with changing how he runs.

Reyes said before Monday's game that he didn't feel the need to prove -- to observers or other teams -- that he was completely healthy.

"I don't need to prove (anything) to no one. Injuries just happen," Reyes said. "I feel good. I just need to continue to play and continue to play hard."

Collins said he would monitor Reyes on Tuesday, given the hot weather in New York. First-pitch temperatures are expected to hover around 90 degrees.

"We'll see how he reacts," the manager said.

On Monday, Collins noted that he'd keep a close eye on Reyes in the coming days because the team is scheduled to play 15 games without an off day.

"I'm going to be very cautious of him in Florida (where the Mets play from July 22-24), take a good hard look at what he's doing, because any time you start to strain muscles, a lot of it's due to dehydration in the muscles," Collins said.

Reyes, who said his hamstring has been "pain-free" for the last week, convinced team brass that he was ready to come back by completing six innings of a minor league rehab game with the Brooklyn Cyclones on Monday.

The day before, Reyes went through base-running exercises in front of Collins, general manager Sandy Alderson and a few representatives of the team's medical staff.

"I didn't see any doubt that I'd be in the lineup today," Reyes said on Tuesday. "I told trainer (Ray Ramirez on Monday) that I'm ready to go so I don't need to play more games."

To make room for Reyes, the Mets demoted Ruben Tejada to Triple-A Buffalo. Josh Thole also was placed on paternity leave on Tuesday. But when Thole's replacement, Triple-A catcher Mike Nickeas, couldn't make it to Queens in time for the game, Tejada remained with the team. He is likely to be demoted when Thole returns to the roster.

Reyes and Beltran will be counted on to jump-start a Mets offense that totaled just three hits in a 4-1 loss to the Marlins on Monday. The team also struggled offensively in losing two of three to the NL East-leading Phillies last weekend.

"It's tough for me not to be there with my team, helping them out. But we played very good teams, (so) that happens sometimes," Reyes said. "... Hopefully we turn it around starting today."

Beltran, who is also a free agent at the end of the season, hit third and started in right field on Tuesday. He missed the last three games with a viral infection that caused a high fever and aches. He was available to pinch hit in the ninth-inning of Monday's loss and said after the game that he was well enough to return to the lineup.

Beltran took early batting practice Tuesday and was satisfied with the results despite still being congested.

"I feel pretty good," he said before going 3-for-3 with two walks and a run scored against St. Louis. "Feel the ball has been going off the bat good."

He hit his 29th double in the first inning Tuesday.

Entering play Tuesday, Beltran led the NL with 28 doubles and was tied for fourth with 44 extra-base hits.

"No question," Collins said Monday night when asked if his team should expect an improved offense with Beltran and Reyes back in the fold. "There's no doubt. Any team in this league that loses guys like that is going to have a tough time getting offense generated."

There has been plenty of trade speculation surrounding Beltran. After Alderson, traded Francisco Rodriguez to the Milwaukee Brewers, he stated that he would wait until the team gets closer to the trade deadline before he decides whether to deal Beltran or any other of the Mets' potential trade chips. He wanted to see if his team was still in contention for a playoff spot.

The Mets entered play Tuesday in fourth place in the NL East, 12 games back of Philadelphia and 9½ behind Atlanta, which leads the NL wild-card race.

In other injury news, Collins said reserve Scott Hairston's injured shin is still bothering him. Hairston left Monday's game in the third inning after fouling a ball off of his left shin. Collins said Hairston had a sizeable bruise on the top of his left foot. Collins said Hairston was available for pinch-hitting duty.

Ian Begley is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.