The Yo show will redebut on Opening Day

Céspedes: 'I know for certain now that I will be ready'

July 11th, 2020

NEW YORK -- In ’ mind, there is no longer any doubt. When the Mets take the field for Opening Day on July 24, he will be among them, playing his first game in more than two years.

“I know for certain now that I will be ready,” Céspedes said Saturday. “I’m very excited for the season to start in two weeks.”

Céspedes has not appeared in a Major League game since July 20, 2018, after which he underwent multiple heel surgeries and fractured his right ankle in a ranch accident. Although he still feels some pain in his feet, Céspedes has progressed to the point where he can sprint on the field without major issue. He said he is prepared to play both left field and designated hitter for the Mets in '20.

One of the game’s most potent sluggers during the middle portion of the last decade, Céspedes is a .282 hitter with 74 home runs in 308 games for the Mets.

“It’s like riding a bike,” Céspedes said. “Once you see [big league pitching] and once you get used to it, you’ll be able to go out on the field and get it done.”

Those who have witnessed Céspedes’ recent performance at Citi Field understand his words could be prophecy. The slugger has routinely put on shows during batting practice, much as he did in Spring Training in March. In one of the Mets’ first intrasquad games earlier this week, Céspedes crushed a two-run homer off Seth Lugo, one of the game’s best relievers. He then casually walked back to the dugout without running the bases, seemingly unimpressed with his own feat. One of Céspedes’ teammates, Michael Conforto, recently called him “a monster.”

“He’s very secure in what he can do out there,” Mets manager Luis Rojas said.

The difference between now and Spring Training is that Céspedes appears capable of much more than merely swinging a bat. Since March, he has increased his running progression to the point that he can now sprint at something approximating full speed. Céspedes said a tendon in his foot still aches each morning when he gets out of bed, but a few minutes of walking puts that at ease. Otherwise, he feels little of the discomfort that kept him sidelined for two years.

Given his newfound health, Céspedes is confident he can play left field on days he does not start at DH. Although the Mets have not given him a breakdown of where and how often he might play, Céspedes is confident he will be able to do whatever they ask.

“Honestly, the hardest part has been getting to the point where my legs are right now,” he said. “They can still feel better, but the way that they feel right now, I didn’t think I could get to this point. … With coronavirus, it’s been a real tragedy what’s been going on. But for me in the baseball sense, it’s helped me a lot having this break and being able to actually work out. I was working out seven days a week, waking up at 5 o’clock in the morning every day to get my body right.”

From a team standpoint, Céspedes joins a lineup that includes Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil and several others who were not on the team when he last played in 2018. With so many other potent bats around him, Céspedes no longer needs to be the focal point of the offense.

He does, however, plan to make an impact, and has plenty of incentive to do so. In the past, Céspedes has discussed how he used his health issues as motivation, particularly after agreeing to a significant pay cut in December to avoid a grievance regarding his wild boar accident. (How the shortened season will affect Céspedes’ new incentive-laden pay scale is not yet public knowledge.) It is little secret that Céspedes can hit the market as a free agent in November, with an opportunity to cash in if he succeeds in 2020.

At age 34, Céspedes intends to do precisely that.

“People talking and doubting that I can do it, I think that has been the hardest part,” he said in Spanish. “I’m out here to prove something to myself, that after three surgeries, I can come back to play the way that I know that I can.”