Defensive specialist? Nido showing thump 

May 26th, 2021

NEW YORK -- Before COVID-19 confined to his bed for 18 days late last summer, he had been establishing himself as a bright, young catching solution for the Mets. Nido’s breakout, combined with Wilson Ramos’ struggles, were beginning to result in something approximating a timeshare behind the plate.

Then Nido missed the rest of the season recovering from the coronavirus, the Mets signed James McCann to a $40.6 million contract, and Nido once again found himself buried on the depth chart. Over the first 22 games of this season, he started just three times behind the plate.

Only recently have injuries rejiggered the equation for Nido, who has done almost exactly with this opportunity what he accomplished during the early part of last summer. Nido found himself in the starting lineup on Wednesday for the 11th time in the Mets’ last 21 games, carrying a .300/.349/.575 slash line with two doubles, three homers and nine RBIs over that stretch.

“You know, I put in a lot of work this offseason and the offseason before, so I’m prepared for obviously whatever they throw at me -- whether it’s playing every day, playing part time,” Nido said. “Whatever. I prepare to be ready no matter what.”

Over the past two weeks, with so many starting position players injured, manager Luis Rojas has worked to find ways to keep Nido in the lineup. Most prominently, Rojas recently asked McCann to play first base -- a position he had not manned since his college days more than a decade ago -- so that Nido could receive more reps behind the plate. In that manner, Rojas has managed to start both McCann and Nido on a daily basis.

“His confidence is high,” Rojas said of Nido, noting that he talked to the catcher last week about receiving more playing time. “There’s a plan. … Both guys are in good places, I think.”

It’s a neat arrangement for the Mets, even if it has the potential to soon become awkward, with starting first baseman Pete Alonso due back from the injured list as early as this weekend. Once Alonso returns, the Mets will have little choice but to shift McCann back to his natural position at catcher. They are paying him $40.6 million, after all, to crouch behind the plate.

But Nido, who like McCann is a strong defender, has outperformed the man above him on the depth chart by no small margin. Entering Wednesday’s play, Nido owned an .835 OPS, a .357 wOBA and a 131 wRC+ in 27 games. By comparison, McCann had produced a .527 OPS, a .242 wOBA and a 56 wRC+, which are all well below-average marks. Because McCann signed such a large contract to join the Mets, he will continue to start most days over Nido. But the longer this discrepancy in performance continues, the louder the calls for Nido will become.

“We’ll see what the playing time is going to be for both behind the plate,” Rojas said, brushing aside the question for the time being. “Right now, it’s just a little too soon before Pete joins us.”

In the interim, Nido will continue to state his case. A former Top 10 Mets prospect and Futures Game participant, Nido is the son of an Olympic athlete and was a childhood teammate of Francisco Lindor. Three offseasons ago, Nido underwent Lasik eye surgery, which he believes has made a significant difference for him at the plate. Shortly thereafter, he began working with Alex Rodríguez’s former swing coach, Lorenzo Garmendia.

Now 27 years old, Nido broke into a wide grin when asked about his recent success, saying: “Hey, Puerto Rican catchers, they hit later in their careers, you know?” -- no doubt a reference to star catchers Jorge Posada and Yadier Molina, neither of whom enjoyed sustained offensive success until the back half of their 20s. Could Nido follow a similar sort of career arc?

“I always knew I could hit,” Nido said. “I’m not saying I have it figured out by any means, because hitting is the hardest thing in baseball. I know what I’m capable of. I’ve just got to have confidence in myself, and just be ready for any opportunity I get.”

Notes

• Dominic Smith became the latest Met to hit the injury report after bruising his right knee in a home-plate collision on Tuesday night. Smith would have been available off the bench with what the Mets termed a contusion, but Wednesday night’s game was postponed due to inclement weather.

• The Mets had no update on Noah Syndergaard, who underwent an MRI and other tests after leaving Tuesday’s rehab start due to elbow soreness. Team officials said to expect more clarity on Thursday.