On the field, the immediate fallout of Yoenis Céspedes’ departure from the Mets centers around one man. Stuck on the bench for most of the season’s first week and change, Dominic Smith now becomes a member of the everyday starting lineup.
Smith was in the starting lineup Monday for a third straight game, batting sixth and playing left field. Going forward, Smith should spend most of his time starting at Céspedes' customary designated hitter spot or in left field. (The Mets have resisted using him at first base and putting Pete Alonso at DH, preferring to keep Alonso in a regular routine while he is playing well defensively.)
Regardless of where Smith finds the majority of his at-bats, what matters is that he will find them on a daily basis.
“He’s going to get more playing time now,” manager Luis Rojas said. “With Céspedes’ absence, we’re definitely looking forward to putting Dom in there.”
Smith, who is half a year younger than Alonso but was buried on the depth chart due to the latter’s breakout 2019 rookie season, still managed to bat .278 with 10 home runs through July last season before suffering a stress fracture in his left foot. He did not return until the final game of the season, in which he hit a walk-off three-run homer in his first at-bat back from the injured list.
Coming into this season, Smith figured to assume a similar sort of role, pinch-hitting most nights and starting in left field on occasion. But the implementation of a universal DH diminished his role significantly; not only did Céspedes have the DH role on lockdown, but Smith’s daily opportunities to pinch-hit for the pitcher vanished.
Now with Céspedes gone, Smith will return to the regular lineup for the first time in over a year.
“You can count on a quality at-bat with him,” Rojas said. “That’s some of the things the team counts on him for is this kid, despite his young age, we’ve talked about how maturely he’s handled the role of not starting every day and being ready when he gets that chance. Right now, he’s getting the chance.”
McNeil a late scratch
Minutes before first pitch on Monday, the Mets scratched Jeff McNeil due to a bout of lower back tightness that he experienced during his pregame batting-cage routine. The team did not initially provide any further update.
McNeil had been slated to start in left field for the first time this season, with Andrés Giménez at third base and Smith at DH. Instead, Smith shifted to left field, with J.D. Davis at DH.
The Mets had initially kept Davis out of the lineup because he woke up Monday with an upset stomach, but he hydrated throughout the day and was feeling better by late afternoon.
McNeil batted .343 with an .857 OPS through the Mets' first 10 games.
Mets officials placed Céspedes on the restricted list before Monday’s game, formalizing his decision to not play the rest of the season for COVID-19-related reasons.
To replace Céspedes, the team called up catcher Ali Sánchez, who could become the fourth Mets rookie -- following Andrés Giménez, David Peterson and Franklyn Kilome -- to make his Major League debut this season. Sánchez, the Mets’ 25th-ranked prospect, hit .261 with one home run in the Minors last season while bolstering his reputation as an excellent defender.
The Mets could have called up an outfielder, such as Billy Hamilton, or an extra reliever to replace Céspedes. They went with Sánchez mostly because he gives them the ability to pinch-run for starting catcher Wilson Ramos late in games, without fear of an injury forcing them to use an emergency backstop. The move, however, could be temporary, as rosters are scheduled to reduce from 30 players to 28 on Friday.
The Mets also announced that reliever Hunter Strickland cleared waivers and was outrighted to the team’s alternate training site in Brooklyn. He remains under team control, unlike pitchers Stephen Gonsalves (Red Sox), Tyler Bashlor (Pirates) and Jordan Humphreys (Giants), who all landed with other clubs after being designated for assignment last month.