Canó 'where and when' option at 1B for Mets

Veteran 2B willing to help team win; Smith healthy; Alonso hits 1st spring homer

March 31st, 2022

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The last time Robinson Canó played first base in a professional game, he called Albert Pujols and asked for a first baseman’s mitt. Pujols was kind enough to ship him one.

Although Canó still owns that mitt, he left it at home in the Dominican Republic because he didn’t think he’d need it. So, when he plays first base on Thursday for the first time since 2018, Canó isn’t sure what he’ll do. He might ask Pete Alonso to borrow a mitt, or perhaps he’ll find one elsewhere in the clubhouse.

“I’ll figure it out,” Canó said, laughing. “Maybe I’ll play with my [second baseman’s] glove at first base. It’ll be easy.”

The reality is that a switch from second to first is never easy, which is why the Mets are testing Canó there this spring. While it’s unlikely Canó will see significant time at first in the regular season -- he’s at least third on the depth chart behind Alonso and Dominic Smith -- the team does want to find ways to keep Canó’s bat in the lineup. If that means a spell at first base every now and again, the Mets at least want to have that option available to them.

“I’m aware that there might be an adjustment,” manager Buck Showalter said. “I’m sympathetic to that. But I think he’s so excited to be back with the team and be in a position where he can contribute. It’s going to be ‘where and when’ as opposed to ‘if’ right now.”

Canó, who missed the entire 2021 season after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance, echoed Showalter’s sentiment, saying he’s “happy to be in the lineup and be able to play.” He expressed some skepticism about the first-base experiment, given that he’s only played 14 games there in his entire professional career -- all in 2018 with the Mariners. But he’s willing to try for the sake of playing time and the sake of the team.

“I’m going to do my best, that’s what I know,” Canó said. “I know that’s a challenge. At the end of the day, the goal is to win. I’m willing to help.”

Healthy and happy

Heading into mid-August, sitting on a 2.40 ERA, Drew Smith “felt like I was obviously having the best year of my career so far” in 2021. Finally recovered from his Tommy John surgery in ‘19, Smith had become a trusted member of Luis Rojas’ bullpen, typically pitching in the final third of games.

Then Smith strained his right lat muscle, knocking him out for the rest of the season. Although Smith had fully rehabbed by late September, the Mets chose not to risk anything by activating him, because they were out of contention at the time. The entire episode was frustrating for a pitcher who didn’t anticipate ongoing physical issues more than two years after surgery.

“It was a little gut-wrenching, to be honest,” Smith said. “I had never really had a problem with injuries up until I had Tommy John. And then ever since then, it’s just been … little nagging things. I talked to other guys about it, and they had the same thing after TJ. It feels like it takes your body a while to get back to your normal state.”

This spring, Smith finally feels healthy. He endured a brief scare earlier this month when an ill-fitting cleat caused him some foot discomfort, but that passed quickly enough for Smith to make a perfect Grapefruit League debut in the Mets' 5-3 loss in 10 innings to the Astros on Wednesday. During the outing, Smith showcased an altered cut fastball, which he has begun manipulating to give it more vertical break.

Given the fact that Major League Baseball intends to expand rosters from 26 players to 28 in April, Smith -- who is already on the 40-man -- should be on the inside of the Mets’ roster bubble when they head north next week. But he’s not assuming anything entering the final days of camp.

“I try not to think about that because as anybody can see, our roster is extremely stacked, extremely competitive,” Smith said. “At the end of the day, you’ve just got to go out and perform. I know if I pitch to my ability and do what I’ve done in the past and stay healthy, there’s no reason I shouldn’t be a part of the [roster].”

Pete goes deep

It took an uncharacteristic eight games and 23 plate appearances, but Pete Alonso hit his first Grapefruit League homer on Wednesday, taking Adam Morgan over the left-field wall at Clover Park. Alonso’s swing, he said afterward, is about where he wants it at this point in spring.

“I knew it was going to come,” Alonso said. “The thing about home runs is that if you swing at a good pitch and if you don’t try to hit it, you just try to square it up, those are the times it goes. The times that you itch for it and you want it so bad, typically you end up swinging at something you don’t want to.”

New hire

The Mets on Wednesday announced the hiring of Katie Pothier as their new executive vice president and chief legal officer. Pothier replaces David Cohen, the club’s general counsel from 1998-2021. A New Jersey native and Rutgers alumna, Pothier comes to the Mets following six years with the Rangers and eight with the Padres -- both as an executive vice president and general counsel.

“Katie is very talented and will be a great leader in our organization,” Mets president Sandy Alderson said in a statement. “Her legal and baseball experience make her a welcomed addition to our team.”