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Mets' bases-loaded rally in eighth cut short

Rojas elects to keep Smith on bench at crucial point of ballgame
@AnthonyDiComo
July 31, 2020

NEW YORK -- Despite the lack of formal record-keeping during Summer Camp, little doubt existed as to the identity of the Mets' hottest hitter. Dominic Smith homered multiple times in live game action, routinely smoking the ball to straightaway center field. All the while, he knew he was ultimately ticketed

NEW YORK -- Despite the lack of formal record-keeping during Summer Camp, little doubt existed as to the identity of the Mets' hottest hitter. Dominic Smith homered multiple times in live game action, routinely smoking the ball to straightaway center field. All the while, he knew he was ultimately ticketed for the bench.

What Smith may not have realized was the extent to which he would stay confined there early this season. Manager Luis Rojas declined to use him as a pinch-hitter in a key spot during the Mets' 4-2 loss to the Red Sox on Thursday at Citi Field, and Smith has now played in just three of their seven games despite logging at least one RBI in each of those appearances.

Box score

"We're looking definitely for that spot where we can get Dom more games," Rojas said afterward. "He definitely deserves it."

Certainly, Rojas would like to avoid further results like Thursday. Trailing by a run in the eighth, the Mets rallied when Matt Barnes hit Pete Alonso with a pitch and J.D. Davis singled him to third. The next batter, Michael Conforto, struck out, much as he did in a key ninth-inning spot the night before.

A Yoenis Céspedes walk then loaded the bases for rookie Andrés Giménez, who grounded out to end the inning and the Mets' best threat to tie.

Rojas' reasoning for sticking with Giménez was two-fold. Earlier in the game, the Mets burned multiple infielders when Robinson Canó pinch-hit for Brian Dozier, singled, then returned to the bench as Giménez pinch-ran for him. Doing effectively the same thing in the eighth inning would have forced Rojas to bring Luis Guillorme into the game on defense, leaving the Mets with no middle infielders left on their bench.

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Secondly, Rojas had built trust in Giménez after the rookie singled, tripled and knocked home a run the previous night against the Red Sox.

"We're always thinking of where we're going to use [Smith], how we're going to play him," Rojas said. "He's ready to go, always in the dugout, always has a helmet, a bat in his hand. He's ready to hit. … The trust in Dom is a high one, obviously -- a guy that can come off the bench and do something. The decision to leave Giménez there was because that trust is in Giménez also."

Few around the organization doubt the brightness of Giménez's future, but a 60-game season carries with it an unusual urgency, and Smith may still be the Mets' hottest hitter. Facing lefty Josh Springs earlier this week in Boston, Smith cracked a three-run homer to highlight what seemed like an offensive breakout for the Mets. The next night, against another left-hander, Smith was back on the bench.

Smith is tied for the team lead in RBIs despite playing in less than half of the Mets' games.

Part of the reason why Smith has struggled to crack the lineup is because the Mets have faced five left-handed starters in their first seven games. That should change this weekend in Atlanta, after the Mets face a sixth lefty in the series opener on Friday.

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In the interim, Rojas indicated he could become more aggressive using Smith off the bench -- a role in which he excelled last summer with a 1.031 OPS in 37 pinch-hit plate appearances. The difference is that the Mets frequently used Smith as a substitute for the pitcher; this year, with a designated hitter in play, such opportunities don't exist.

The DH at-bats have largely gone to Céspedes, who is batting .182 with 12 strikeouts in 22 at-bats.

"I mean, I can't worry about that stuff," Smith said late in Summer Camp, when asked how he thought he might fit into the Mets' revamped offense. "I don't write the lineup. I don't make the decisions. All I can do is control what I can control."

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.