WASHINGTON -- With each passing game, what Jeff McNeil is doing seems like less of a fluke. The prospect of him repeating it grows more plausible. The idea of keeping him as the Mets' regular second baseman next season appears increasingly smart.It is difficult to deny what McNeil has accomplished
WASHINGTON -- With each passing game, what Jeff McNeil is doing seems like less of a fluke. The prospect of him repeating it grows more plausible. The idea of keeping him as the Mets' regular second baseman next season appears increasingly smart.
It is difficult to deny what McNeil has accomplished over his first two months in the big leagues, rapping out at least three hits in a game eight times. The most recent such effort occurred Sunday, when McNeil finished 4-for-5 in the Mets' 8-6 win over the Nationals, reaching base in five of his six plate appearances.
"It's awesome to come up here and have instant success," McNeil said. "I'm 200 at-bats in and still hitting well. It gives me a lot of confidence going into next year."
Demonstrating the full force of his compact swing and old-school batting approach, McNeil singled to right field in the first inning, to left in the third and to center in the fourth and fifth. He also walked, stole a base, scored a run and knocked in another, all out of the two-hole in New York's lineup.
With that sort of motor, the Mets had no trouble roughing up starting pitcher Erick Fedde and a slew of Nationals relievers. Batting ahead of McNeil in the order, Amed Rosario singled twice, scored twice, drove in a run and stole a base, while Michael Conforto hit a three-run triple.
The outburst was of little help to Mets starter Steven Matz, who didn't stick around long enough -- he allowed three runs in three innings, complaining afterward of skittish command -- to earn the win. But it was useful for rookie Andrew Gagnon, who followed with two shutout innings to pick up the victory.
It was also another data point in McNeil's favor. As recently as July, when the Mets were still burying the former 12th-round pick in the Minors, they seemed eager to look outside the organization for their 2019 second baseman. McNeil's .340 average in 57 games has flipped that script; it now seems probable that the Mets will stick with McNeil at second, allocating their budget to catching and bullpen help instead.
"He gets on base," Mets manager Mickey Callaway said. "He puts the barrel on the ball. I've seen enough to know that he's going to be tough to pitch to next year."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Bend but don't break: Asked to return for the eighth inning following a scoreless seventh, Mets reliever Drew Smith allowed three runs on five hits without recording an out. The Nationals subsequently brought the tying run to the plate in the form of Bryce Harper, who flied out against lefty specialist Jerry Blevins.
Still needing two outs to escape the jam, the Mets called upon Anthony Swarzak, who walked Anthony Rendon and moved both runners into scoring position with a wild pitch. But Swarzak recovered to strike out Mark Reynolds and pop up Juan Soto, preserving a two-run lead.
McNeil's four-hit effort was his third in 57 games, making him the fastest in Mets history to achieve that feat. David Wright and Rey Ordonez each had two four-hit games in their first 57 contests.
HE SAID IT
"You just have to push through it. Obviously, conditions weren't ideal. The game was getting long. A long road trip. And the guys went out there and did it." -- Callaway, on the four-hour, 14-minute game, which was played in misty conditions following a 25-minute delay
Following an off-day Monday, the Mets will activate Wright from the disabled list. With Wright available off the bench from Tuesday to Friday, the Mets will look for an opportunity to get him a pinch-hit at-bat or two before he returns to the starting lineup Saturday. Right-hander Noah Syndergaard will start Tuesday's 7:10 p.m. ET game against the Braves at Citi Field. Atlanta will counter with rookie Touki Toussaint.
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.