Nimmo's back at full tilt, but skid reaches 5

September 19th, 2021

NEW YORK -- Barely a day after returning from the injured list to complete his rapid recovery from a right hamstring strain, found himself racing around the Citi Field dirt like a man without much concern for his legs. Upon driving a ball off the top of the right-center-field fence, Nimmo dug in for second, then third, diving for a triple.

It was a bright spot for the Mets on an otherwise dreary Saturday night in Flushing, where they lost a fifth consecutive game -- this one, 5-3 to the Phillies -- to fall ever further out of the National League East and Wild Card races. Of course, Nimmo’s reputation as an oasis is long and well-deserved. On this night, he also added a solo homer and a run-saving catch in center field, accounting for nearly all of the good vibes that the home team could muster.

Jean Segura’s two home runs off Carlos Carrasco and Bryce Harper’s two-run double against Brad Hand wound up sinking the Mets regardless, despite Nimmo’s best efforts.

“The playoffs are the main goal,” Nimmo said. “But I’m still not going to go out every day and just, like, give it away. I’m still going to go out there and try to win. That’s just how I’m wired.”

Following Saturday’s 2-for-4 performance, Nimmo’s on-base percentage boosted to a career-high .418 -- lofty even by his own elevated standards. Since becoming a full-time player in 2018, Nimmo’s .402 OBP ranks third in baseball behind only perennial All-Stars Mike Trout and Juan Soto.

The only problem is that Nimmo has struggled to remain on the field, eclipsing his current total of 79 games just once in his six-year career. It has been a mixed bag of injuries for Nimmo, who missed his most significant time in 2019 due to a bulging cervical disc in his neck. Another freak injury -- a partially detached ligament in his index finger -- cost Nimmo two months of this season, before a more traditional hamstring strain knocked him out for a fortnight.

Nimmo at least returned from that ailment without delay, giving him and the Mets confidence that he can remain healthier in future seasons.

“He does a good job coming in every day, getting treatment, and getting himself prepared to do everything he does,” manager Luis Rojas said. “He’s very thorough. … He’s just got to keep doing that. … I think he’s getting better and better just because he has great interest in keeping himself out on the field.”

Overall this season, Nimmo is batting .303/.418/.431 with six homers in 274 at-bats, mostly batting first and second in the lineup. In center field, he has improved from -4 Outs Above Average last summer to +3 in 2021, in large part because his average sprint speed has shot up nearly a full foot per second. That type of boost is what allowed Nimmo to track down a sinking Freddy Galvis liner in the second inning on Saturday, diving to rob him of an RBI hit.

Catches like that could give the Mets confidence to retain Nimmo as their everyday center fielder going forward -- a potential departure from past offseasons, when his role wasn’t always clear. Two winters ago, team officials talked about acquiring Starling Marte to replace him, which never grew into a reality. Nimmo’s own name has come up in various trade rumors, though nothing has happened.

Now, he is entrenched as an important part of New York’s core for at least his age-29 season, after which he can become a free agent. The Mets will head into the winter with only two natural outfielders -- Nimmo and prospect Khalil Lee -- on their 40-man roster. One other, Kevin Pillar, can return on a contract option, while converted infielders Jeff McNeil and Dominic Smith will also remain under team control. The Mets might re-sign Michael Conforto or go after some other free-agent outfielder -- perhaps even Marte, who could push Nimmo to left.

No matter how that mix shakes out, however, Nimmo will remain an important part of things.

“He’s run into some injuries, but he does a good job just taking care of himself,” Rojas said. “That’s why he’s bounced back.”