Shorthanded Mets try Smith in left field

May 30th, 2019

LOS ANGELES -- was wary enough of his situation this spring that he asked Mets officials if he could take reps in left field, seeing it as an additional avenue to playing time. The Mets said thanks, but no thanks, telling Smith to focus instead on his primary job at first base.

Flash forward two months, and the Mets have grown thin enough in the outfield that on Wednesday, they started Smith in left despite their previous reservations.

“You try to prepare for everything you can,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “But when you’re trying to get the best out of your players and see what you have going into the season, you have to get the guys a chance to perform at the position they’re supposed to perform at. They’re not true players that can just be moved around anywhere, so you’d almost be doing them an injustice if you did that.”

Smith, who lost a Spring Training competition at first base to Pete Alonso, has thrived in a bench role this season, entering Wednesday’s play batting .347 with one home run and a .947 OPS in 44 games. But he has started only six times at first because of Alonso’s success.

The Mets did not ask Smith to begin taking fly balls in the outfield until recently, with Jeff McNeil, Brandon Nimmo and (at the time) Michael Conforto all on the injured list. Asked whether he regrets the decision not to use Smith in the outfield this spring, Callaway said, “Not really, because the opportunity to actually play in the outfield wouldn’t have presented itself until now, and we feel like he’s prepared enough to go out there and do the job.

“It’s hard to move guys around just in case, and then take away from their real value to the team at that time. And everything changes. We’ve seen it. You can have three left-handed outfielders get hurt, and you have to make adjustments, and that’s what we’ve done.”

Left field is not entirely foreign to Smith, who appeared in 13 games there last season. The Mets subsequently sent him to winter ball to work on the position, but when Smith arrived in the Dominican Republic, his team tried to use him at first base instead. Smith departed the Dominican shortly thereafter, taking fly balls throughout the winter with friends from the Urban Youth Academy in Compton, Calif. -- an imperfect substitute.

“Live reps are always the best reps that you can take,” Smith said. “You can take as many BP fly balls as you want, or fungo fly balls, and have the perfect routes. But as far as game reps, that’s really going to be the test.”

Still, Smith is not begrudging the Mets for keeping him away from the outfield for so long.

“It’s May and I’m in the big leagues, so I’m pretty happy about that,” Smith said. “This team, we’re on the rise to do something special, and we’re playing good right now. That’s all I really want to focus on. I’m 23 in the Major Leagues. I could be in Triple-A right now. I could be in Syracuse. I could be somewhere else. So just to be here right now, and be able to be in the starting lineup, I just appreciate that.”

Bullpen boost coming

Reliever Seth Lugo, who has been sidelined since May 20 due to right shoulder tendinitis, is a strong bet to come off the injured list on Friday. Lugo threw a 26-pitch bullpen session on Wednesday, throwing off the mound for the first time since his injury.

“It felt great coming out,” Lugo said. “It felt better than it has all year. … I feel like I’m ready to go.”

The Mets originally expected Lugo to need multiple bullpen sessions before coming off the injured list, but Wednesday’s successful effort swayed them. Callaway indicated that Lugo could indeed return on Friday, following one day of rest.

The Mets have greatly missed Lugo, who owns a 3.12 ERA in 19 appearances, as a bridge between their starting pitchers and closer Edwin Diaz.

Davis clears

Outfielder Rajai Davis, whom the Mets designated for assignment last week, cleared waivers. The Mets subsequently outrighted him to Triple-A Las Vegas, where he will continue his career in the organization. Davis, a 38-year-old veteran of 14 big league seasons, went 2-for-7 with a three-run homer during his brief stint back in the Majors.

From the trainer’s room

McNeil had his “best day” Wednesday since landing on the injured list due to a left hamstring strain, according to Callaway. McNeil ran at approximately 70 percent intensity, took ground balls and hit in an indoor batting cage. He is eligible to be activated on Saturday, and while that may be a stretch, a return early in the Mets’ next homestand seems possible.