NEW YORK -- With an injury to outfielder Albert Almora Jr. further testing the Mets’ position-player depth, the team on Wednesday made a somewhat unconventional move to call up seventh-ranked prospect Khalil Lee from Triple-A Syracuse. Lee was a direct replacement for Almora, who landed on the injured list due to a left shoulder contusion.
Lee, whom the Mets acquired from the Royals as part of the three-team deal that sent Andrew Benintendi from Boston to Kansas City on Feb. 10, struggled in Spring Training with no hits and nine strikeouts in 18 plate appearances (on top of some defensive issues). He then opened the regular season in a 1-for-10 funk at Triple-A Syracuse, though Lee recovered to go 3-for-6 with a double, a walk and two RBIs over his final two games at that level.
In a perfect world, the Mets would have given Lee, 22, a bit more seasoning in the Minors before calling him up for his big league debut. But this is not a perfect world. The Mets entered Wednesday’s play with Brandon Nimmo still nursing a bruised left hand on the IL and Almora landing there after sprinting face-first into the fence in pursuit of an Austin Hays fly ball on Tuesday.
Although initial X-rays on Almora’s neck and shoulder came back negative, as did concussion tests, the Mets wanted to evaluate him further on Wednesday to ensure he had avoided the worst. Almora’s knee, which struck the wall as well, was also somewhat swollen.
“Right after the collision, he was talking, he was moving, but after the game when I saw him, you could see that he was holding his left shoulder a little bit,” manager Luis Rojas said. “He just looked very, very tight, just holding that area, like tentative to move. Today, he’s walking slow.”
Lee’s stay on the active roster should be temporary, with Nimmo due back as soon as Friday when the Mets open a nine-game road trip with three against the Rays in St. Petersburg. Until then, he will be available off the bench as a defensive replacement and pinch-hitter.
The Mets activated Lee instead of their other replacement option, Johneshwy Fargas, for that reason. Fargas is not on the 40-man roster, so it was not worthwhile for the team to clear a space for what will likely be a temporary stay in New York.
From the trainer’s room
Also nursing his wounds on Wednesday was second baseman Jeff McNeil, who was out of the starting lineup after leaving Tuesday’s game early due to leg and back cramps. McNeil spent the rest of Tuesday hydrating, and was available off the bench on Wednesday if needed.
'Bench mob' strikes again
Given the injuries to Nimmo, McNeil and J.D. Davis, bench players Kevin Pillar and Jonathan Villar have not only started daily throughout the Mets’ seven-game winning streak, but contributed to victories on a regular basis. So it was again on Wednesday, when Pillar hit a two-run triple and made a difficult catch to rob Hays of an extra-base hit, while Villar singled, stole second base and scored. The Mets also received contributions from José Peraza, who collected two hits and two RBIs, and Tomás Nido, who caught Taijuan Walker’s quality start.
Since the start of May, Pillar, Villar, Nido and Peraza -- all reserve players to open the season -- are batting a combined .300 with four home runs, 14 runs scored, three stolen bases and 16 RBIs. Pillar and Nido have dubbed the group the “Bench Mob,” using it as a point of pride. Pillar, Villar and Peraza are all veterans who have been everyday players in the past, but are no longer in such roles.
“I think initially, you get to a point in your career, you still feel like you can be an everyday player,” Pillar said. “I can speak for myself. I’ve got to imagine Villar came here because he wanted a chance to win. Sometimes, you’ve got to sacrifice the opportunity to go out there and play every day to try to win."