NEW YORK -- The Mets' inability to keep a full, healthy lineup on the field rolled into another week Monday, as they opened a critical four-game series against the Marlins without either half of their starting middle infield.
Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera struggled through agility tests on his sore left knee, which has affected him for the better part of this season. Between flareups of that knee injury, Cabrera batted .455 with three home runs and nine RBIs in nine games, earning National League Player of the Week honors. But he will not return to the starting lineup until at least Tuesday.
Cabrera did pinch-hit in the seventh inning of Monday's game, striking out against Kyle Barraclough.
"Do you hope 24 hours makes a difference? Yeah, you do," manager Terry Collins said. "But we don't know. This is the third time we've been through this to where it ends up being a little bit more extended than we thought."
The news was even less promising on second baseman Neil Walker, who was out of the lineup for the second straight game Monday due to back stiffness. Unlike Cabrera, whom the Mets hoped would be available to pinch-hit if needed, Walker was scheduled to be completely off limits. The Mets fear he may miss Tuesday's game, as well.
Because of that -- and because they optioned backup infielder T.J. Rivera to Triple-A Las Vegas to make room for Monday's starter, Rafael Montero -- the Mets played the first game of a critical series essentially with a two-man bench. Outfielder Jay Bruce and backup catcher Rene Rivera were the only players both healthy and available.
The club's one good piece of injury news was that outfielder Yoenis Cespedes returned to the lineup after sitting out Sunday with a sore right quad. Outside of that, the Mets are desperately looking forward to Thursday, when they can expand their active roster with reinforcements.
"Any time you have the expanded rosters, it helps you, it protects you, because you're banged up," Collins said. "But let me tell you something: If Yoenis Cespedes goes down, that's an awful lot to ask for Brandon Nimmo or Michael Conforto to make up for him. If you don't have your good players, your best players, and they don't play good, it's tough to replace them."
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.