PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Luis Castillo sprinted from the Mets' dugout into the brilliant sunshine, taking his spot at second base.
He knows opportunities like this one are probably running out.
In the final year of a four-year, $25 million contract, Castillo didn't do anything special in the Mets' 2-1 loss to the Detroit Tigers on Monday to help himself stand out in a four-way competition for the starting second baseman's job.
He handled all the groundballs that came his way, even getting help from an umpire on one play. But he needs all the assistance he can get: Manager Terry Collins declared last month that he's looking for an offense-minded player in that spot, and Castillo has not hit — since 2009.
The three-time All-Star went 0 for 3 Monday, including two outs against Tigers starter Brad Penny, and is 2 for 13 this spring. Not encouraging for someone who is coming off a season where his average dropped to .235 and sulked as he hardly played after returning in July from a foot injury.
"Last year was tough for me," Castillo said. "I got to show them I can still play. If I don't make the team I don't know what I am going to do. I'm going to keep going and play hard and see what happens in spring training."
While he still has his locker in the high-rent district next to Jose Reyes and the other starting infielders, the three-time Gold Glove winner has it much tougher than his fellow veterans.
Castillo is trying to beat out Brad Emaus, a winter-meeting draft pick who spent last season in the Blue Jays minor league system; Daniel Murphy, who lost his starting job at first base to Ike Davis after an injury last year; and
Justin Turner, who was claimed off waivers from Baltimore last year and spent most of the season in Triple-A Buffalo.
Collins has praised all three for their offensive abilities.
It also doesn't help that along with pitcher Oliver Perez, Castillo has been cited repeatedly as prime examples of what went wrong the last few years for the Mets under general manager Omar Minaya.
"We've got to start paring it down," Collins told SNY about the second base job during the game.
One player who finally doesn't have to worry about securing a spot on the Mets' roster is R.A. Dickey. A 36-year-old knuckleballer who revived his career last season and earned a two-year contract, Dickey worked four innings. He gave up four hits and two RBI groundouts to Victor Martinez.
Dickey threw 47 pitches, then headed to the bullpen down the third base line for a simulated inning to raise his count to 75. Afterward he ran along the warning track in the outfield to complete his workout.
"I'd be ready for six or seven innings at this point," Dickey said. "I feel like I'm in a good place."
Penny, however, is still not feeling fully comfortable after two starts.
He didn't give up a run for his second straight outing and struck out four but allowed three hits in 3 1-3 innings.
"It's hard for me to get outs in spring training. I just want to get work in and throw strikes," he said. "The thing is right now I am not where I want to be."
Andy Dirks, competing for a spot in the outfield, had a double and a triple.
"He keeps doing stuff to help himself," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.
Leyland was excited to face Collins, who is wearing No. 10 in honor of Leyland. Collins got his first job as a big league coach from Leyland in Pittsburgh.
NOTES: The feel-good story of Mets' camp: Jason Isringhausen, who was drafted by New York in 1991, is making a strong bid for a relief role after not pitching in the majors since having elbow-ligament replacement surgery in June 2009. He pitched his third hitless inning of the spring, and will pitch again Tuesday. ... Leyland said LHP Daniel Schlereth (left hamstring) "is getting better," but that he doesn't know when he'll return.
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