Costly miscue for Lindor in twin-bill opener

May 6th, 2021

The one solace of Francisco Lindor’s deepening early slump was that until Wednesday, it had not affected him on the field. Over the Mets’ first 23 games, Lindor remained a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop. His flashes of brilliance at the position far outnumbered his mistakes.

Then Wednesday happened. Although Lindor only committed one error at shortstop in Game 1 of a doubleheader in St. Louis, it was a significant one, allowing Paul DeJong to hit a decisive two-run homer in a 4-1 loss to the Cardinals. Lindor also finished 0-for-3 at the plate, running his hitless streak to 24 consecutive at-bats.

It has been a difficult few weeks for the $341 million man, whose slump has played a significant role in the Mets’ overall malaise. That, in turn, at least partially led to the firings of hitting instructors Chili Davis and Tom Slater. Following the Mets’ rainout on Tuesday evening, Lindor spent time in conversation with new hitting coach Hugh Quattlebaum, who came away believing the shortstop was “in a really good place mentally.”

“It still is really early in the year, and this is a guy that’s always figured out how to hit,” Quattlebaum said. “He’s trying to feel some things out that have worked in the past.”

In Game 1 of the doubleheader, Lindor demonstrated no obvious improvement, popping up in his first at-bat and grounding out in his other two. But it was his throwing error on a routine grounder in the bottom of the fifth that most hurt the Mets, resulting in two unearned runs against starting pitcher Marcus Stroman.

Afterward, manager Luis Rojas downplayed the thought that Lindor’s offensive slump might have played a role in his rare defensive lapse, calling it “just an error … he made a bad throw.” And indeed, offense is far more of an issue for the four-time All-Star, who came to the Mets in an offseason trade with the Indians. Lindor’s hitless streak isn’t threatening to break any records quite yet (Rey Ordóñez holds the franchise mark with an 0-for-37 stretch back in 1997), but it is still the type that affects someone in Queens only once every few years. The last Met to endure such a long hitless stretch was Brandon Nimmo, who went 0-for-28 at one point in 2019.

“Yeah, I am going through a slump,” Lindor said on Tuesday. “Yeah, I am not performing to the best of my abilities. … I’m working as hard as I can.”

On one hand, the Mets aren’t overly worried, considering Lindor’s track record as a .285 career hitter with significant power entering this season. On the other, quite a few of Lindor’s at-bats have bordered on non-competitive, as he’s lunged at balls outside the strike zone or made weak contact on strikes. His groundout in the third inning against Cardinals starter Kwang Hyun Kim saw Lindor try to pull a ball off the outside part of the plate, grounding it weakly to shortstop. That’s the sort of thing that’s been typical throughout this slump.

So while the Mets do believe Lindor will emerge from this dark place, Rojas benched him for Game 2 of the doubleheader, hoping the rest might help clear his head. The last thing the Mets need is Lindor’s offensive slump leaking over into his defense, resulting in more plays like his Game 1 error.

“It’s frustrating, but at the end of the day, that’s on me,” Stroman said. “I’ve got to make a better pitch in that scenario. … I trust my defense wholeheartedly each and every time I’m out there. Lindor has made incredible plays for me already. It’s a long season. He’s going to bail me out in some big games, I’m sure, plenty of times.”