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ST. LOUIS - Consider this a defense of Ryan Church.

You wouldn't think the Mets' talented right fielder would need much defending, what with Church ranking among the NL leaders in batting average, on-base percentage, multi-hit games and doubles so far this season.

Oh, and that misplay at Citi Field last week against the Padres notwithstanding, the guy wields a pretty mean glove and throwing arm.

So why the hate coming from Jerry Manuel and the Mets' front office?

Why sit him for Gary Sheffield in Sunday's finale against the Brewers at Citi Field against right-hander Jeff Suppan, when all the lefty Church is doing this season is raking against righties (.387)?

For reasons I still don't quite understand, Manuel and the Mets seem to have had it in for Church since the weekend all of us arrived in Port St. Lucie two months ago for spring training.

You might remember that mid-February morning when Manuel, out of nowhere, proclaimed that Daniel Murphy - who had all of 131 major-league at-bats at the time - was a better hitter than Church. And that Church might end up platooning in right with Fernando Tatis.

Sure, Church was coming off a 2008 season that essentially was a wasted year after he suffered his second concussion in late May.

But Church had been the Mets' undisputed MVP the first two months of last season and deserved the benefit of the doubt after gamely coming back from one of the most horrific concussions I've ever seen (and I covered the NFL for more than a decade).

To this day, I wonder sometimes how Church wasn't paralyzed - or worse - after his head took the full brunt of Yunel Escobar's knee at second base that May night in Atlanta.

Yet Church ended up missing less than two months, and his reward on the first day of spring training this year was to be insulted by his manager with comments Church had no idea were coming?

The platoon in right with Tatis didn't happen, in part because Church proved one of the Mets' best hitters this spring. But Manuel & Co. weren't through showing up Church.

Bringing in the 40-year-old Sheffield this month to take time away from Church in right - when Sheffield hadn't played the outfield regularly in more than two years - was a head-scratcher then, and hasn't changed since.

Throw out the hoopla of Sheffield's 500th home run and you'll notice he's hitting .182 while so far proving to no one that he has much left. So in other words, Sheffield gives the Mets less value at the plate and less value defensively than Church.

By all means, start Sheffield regularly!

Even the biggest supposed knock against Church - that he can't lefties - isn't holding up. Church is batting .333 against lefties this year after a not-terrible .264 last year (and that was with two concussions).

You hear whispers that the Mets think Church doesn't want to be in New York, which doesn't add up to the Church I see every day in the clubhouse. That would be the Church regularly wearing an "I (heart) NY" shirt and telling reporters how much he enjoys the city.

Are the Mets acting out against Church out of guilt for botching his post-concussion treatment last year, when they inexplicably put him on a cross-country flight to Colorado with his brains half-scrambled?

It makes you wonder.

Whatever the reasons, it's high time the Mets' campaign against Church comes to an end and they make him a regular again, starting here tonight against the Cardinals.

This so-far underachieving team, already in danger of being left in the dust by the young and red-hot Marlins, needs all the productive players it can get.


The Mets signed veteran outfielder Wily Mo Pena to a minor-league deal yesterday and assigned him to extended spring training. Pena, 27, will report to Triple-A Buffalo after that.

The righty-hitting Pena, originally signed by the Mets as an amateur free agent in 1998, had refused a minor-league assignment from the Nationals last month and was granted his unconditional release.

Mets at Cardinals - Tonight 8:15 - SNY WFAN (660 AM) LHP Oliver Perez (1-1, 7.84 ERA) vs. RHP Todd Wellemeyer (1-1, 4.50)

Author:Fox Sports
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Added: April 21, 2009

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