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McNeil finding his groove with bat -- and arm

All-Star homered on first pitch, later saved a run on throw from right
@cdenicola13
July 14, 2019

MIAMI -- Minutes before Jeff McNeil led off Sunday afternoon’s series finale at Marlins Park, Mets manager Mickey Callaway told his All-Star to work an 11-pitch at-bat before homering. “I just laughed and said I’d do one on the first pitch,” McNeil quipped. McNeil did just that, sending fellow All-Star

MIAMI -- Minutes before Jeff McNeil led off Sunday afternoon’s series finale at Marlins Park, Mets manager Mickey Callaway told his All-Star to work an 11-pitch at-bat before homering.

“I just laughed and said I’d do one on the first pitch,” McNeil quipped.

McNeil did just that, sending fellow All-Star Sandy Alcantara’s first offering just over the right-field wall in the Mets' 6-2 victory over the Marlins that secured the club’s first series win in more than a month.

Box score

“I said, ‘Well, it better be a homer,’” Callaway recalled. “And he made it a homer. He pretty much can do whatever he wants to do.”

It marked McNeil's second career leadoff homer, the other coming earlier this month against the Yankees at Citi Field on July 3. McNeil has reached safely in 24 of his 57 leadoff plate appearances this season. Though McNeil finished 1-for-4, he is hitting .402 over his past 21 games. He added an RBI fielder's choice in the sixth.

McNeil also contributed on defense. With the Mets ahead 1-0 with two outs in the second inning, Jacob deGrom served up a bases-loaded single to Miguel Rojas. McNeil came up firing and recorded his first career assist from right field, where he started for the 16th time in 2019, to prevent the go-ahead run from scoring.

“Very satisfying,” McNeil said. “The homer was nice. To gun him down at the plate, that was huge. Stopped their rally and got us back in the dugout. Both huge plays.”

While McNeil has been reliable atop the batting order, much talk this weekend involved the Mets reshuffling their lineup to kickstart sputtering parts like Michael Conforto and Robinson Cano.

The reorganization has worked out well so far for Conforto (No. 2 spot) and Cano (No. 5 spot), as they both went deep in Saturday’s victory. Cano carried over the momentum of that go-ahead homer by collecting four hits and falling a triple shy of the cycle on Sunday.

Over his last 11 games, Cano is batting .385 with five runs, two homers and four RBIs.

“It started off as barreling it up and hitting it at people, then barreling it up and getting it through some holes, and now it's translating into some homers the last couple of days,” Callaway said. “It's good to see.”

The offensive performances combined with solid bullpen work the past two days (one run over six innings) helped the Mets capture their first road series since April, also in Miami, during the season’s first road trip.

New York seems to have found a winning formula before traveling to Minnesota for two contests and San Francisco for another four as the July 31 Trade Deadline looms.

“That’s the goal, turning it around here in the second half [to] make a run,” said deGrom, who went only five innings after throwing 94 pitches. “You’ve got to win series on the road to do that. That’s what we're looking forward to doing and continue to do for the rest of this road trip.”

Christina De Nicola is a reporter and game producer for MLB.com based in Miami. Follow her on Twitter @CDeNicola13.