As Baty struggles, Mets face potential roster decision

May 21st, 2024

CLEVELAND -- The enduring image of the Mets’ 3-1 loss to the Guardians on Monday was not Starling Marte’s ejection, nor the team’s second-inning baserunning gaffe, nor even Francisco Lindor’s 0-for-4 homecoming at Progressive Field.

Instead, it was 's three-pitch strikeout with the bases loaded in the sixth inning, which put a quick end to the Mets’ best chance to rally.

Batting with a chance to give the Mets the lead in their series opener in Cleveland, Baty approached the plate hoping to attack reliever Nick Sandlin’s fastball and adjust to any other pitch. But when Sandlin threw a first-pitch heater on the inner part of the strike zone, Baty jumped back from the plate and didn’t offer at it. Sandlin followed with a splitter in the dirt that Baty waved at, then a fastball above the strike zone that Baty couldn’t touch.

He finished 0-for-4 with three strikeouts.

“Today, I just didn’t have a really good approach,” Baty said. “I didn’t have a really good plan at the plate. I’ve just got to have better at-bats.”

Multiple times after the game, Baty pointed to his 1-for-3 effort with two walks on Sunday as evidence that he’s still seeing the ball well at the plate, still doing the things he needs to do to be a productive big leaguer. The back of his baseball card tells a different story. Monday was the latest episode in a longer, deeper slump for Baty, who is hitting .165 over his last 27 games. Dating back to May 2, he has a 42 percent strikeout rate. Statcast’s new bat-tracking metric places him 220th out of 220 eligible players in terms of squared-up contact rate.

This has created an awkward situation for the Mets, considering Baty’s close friend, teammate and fellow third baseman, , has fared well since his promotion last week. There’s at least some level of redundancy to having both on the roster in what's essentially been a third-base platoon -- particularly considering that logjam is stopping the Mets from carrying a true backup infielder such as José Iglesias, who could help the club in multiple facets.

Baty has endured this sort of thing before, notably earning a demotion to Triple-A during a similar slump last season. He returned but has yet to become a consistently productive player in the Majors.

This year, Baty's defense -- long a bugaboo -- hasn't been the problem. Instead, it's his offense that has sputtered.

“I think he’s in between a little bit at the plate right now -- not doing damage on pitches that he needs to be doing damage, and then chasing,” manager Carlos Mendoza said.

Where the Mets go from here isn't entirely clear, but answers could come soon. When the Mets called Vientos up from Triple-A Syracuse last week, Mendoza suggested the team would evaluate him at least through the end of this road trip winding through Philadelphia, Miami and Cleveland. The team only has a pair of games remaining away from home, with an off day Thursday. If there’s ever an obvious time to stop and evaluate the roster, that would be it.

In Cleveland, the Mets will face two more right-handed starters Tuesday and Wednesday, offering Baty at least two more chances to demonstrate his value.

After that remains to be seen.

“Every hitter at some point is going to go through it,” Mendoza said. “He’s going through it right now, and we’ll get him right.”