Dom, J.D. level-headed amid dip in at-bats

September 18th, 2021

NEW YORK -- They are the forgotten Mets, standouts of the past two seasons who entered this year with starting jobs but have since become buried on the depth chart. Since last appearing on the lineup card Sept. 9, neither nor has started a game. They have combined for 13 plate appearances during that stretch, typically serving as the Mets’ top left- and right-handed pinch-hit options.

While it is not the role that either envisioned for himself, it is one they are both are doing their best to embrace. Nearly every afternoon, Smith and Davis head to the field for a session of early batting practice, taking dozens of swings even when most of their teammates limit their pregame work to an indoor cage. In that fashion, Smith and Davis hope to stay sharp for an opportunity that may or may not come.

“I’ve always told everybody -- and this is what me and Dom always say -- every day, there’s only [a limited number] of big leaguers in the world,” Davis said. “To wake up and be one of them, it’s all right. It’s not the end of the world. There are many bigger problems in this life, or in what’s going on in society, than saying, ‘I’m not getting enough at-bats in the big leagues.’”

Although neither Smith nor Davis figure to start much as September continues, the latter has perhaps a clearer path to future playing time. Jonathan Villar, who has started regularly over Davis at third base, is set to become a free agent. And while the Mets will certainly search for offseason reinforcements at the position, that pursuit should rank below starting pitching and outfield help on their priority list. As such, Davis could easily find himself in line for reps next summer.

Smith’s path is murkier, with Pete Alonso still blocking him at first base and left field an imperfect solution. A potential return of the designated hitter to the National League might help Smith, a sound defender who could theoretically push Alonso to a DH role. But that would require the Mets to entrust Smith, who is batting just .242/.305/.359 on the heels of his breakout season 2020 season, with the keys to a premium offensive position.

It’s something he thinks he can handle. Although Smith hesitates to use injuries as an excuse, he noted that lingering right wrist soreness and other physical ailments have affected him all summer; Smith ultimately pinned his lack of success on “a long list of different things that I can sit here and talk about for an hour.” His bounce-back will be critical. Unlike Davis, who is batting .300/.395/.459 but has lost playing time to a superior defender, Smith has struggled to do enough at the plate to push for additional reps.

“I don’t have any concern,” Smith said. “I know what I can bring to this game. So if I’m sitting here worried about stuff I can’t control, I’m just going to drive myself crazy. You know me, I’m not that type of person. I love life. I have fun. And I enjoy my job, my career.”

Close friends off the field, Smith and Davis are both under team control for three more seasons, at arbitration salaries that are about to start getting expensive -- particularly if they profile as bench players. Their roles will hinge on what the Mets do this winter, with Davis acknowledging that “a lot of changes are going to be made.”

What does that ultimately mean for them?

“I have no idea. None of us do,” Davis said. “... A lot of questions are going to be answered. For my sake, I love being in New York. I’ve always said that. I’ve always loved the fans being out here. I love the atmosphere. … If I have the opportunity to play here, I’ll be really happy. If not, I’ll be sad.”