Stellar 'D' from Luis? Mets expect nothing less

Infielder's 12 chances at third base in finale tops in the Majors this season

June 29th, 2022

NEW YORK -- Twelve times on Wednesday afternoon, Luis Guillorme lunged, pounced, dipped or spun, acting as a magnet for baseballs hit in his direction. When Mets manager Buck Showalter tabbed the infielder for a start at third base, he couldn’t realistically have envisioned a dozen balls heading Guillorme’s way. He also couldn’t have chosen a better recipient of all that action.

Guillorme’s defensive performance didn’t necessarily include a signature play or highlight-reel catch, nor did it spare the Mets from a 2-0 loss to the Astros (or from losing three consecutive games for the first time this season). Nonetheless, it was Guillorme’s excellence that allowed Mets starter Taijuan Walker to hang with Justin Verlander at Citi Field, keeping things scoreless until Jason Castro finally hit a go-ahead ninth-inning homer off Drew Smith.

It also ensured that the skipper will have a difficult daily lineup decision moving forward.

“You purchase a ticket and you come out and watch him play third base today, that was fun,” Showalter said. “He’s some kind of defender.”

To observe Guillorme on Wednesday was to view a clinic in defensive distinction. In the second inning, Guillorme ranged to his left to cut off a Kyle Tucker grounder up the middle, acting more as a middle infielder given the overshift. Two batters later, Guillorme chose not to charge a slow Aledmys Díaz chopper, instead grabbing the ball and firing to first in one smooth motion.

By the end of the third inning, Guillorme had played a role in six of Walker’s nine outs. By game’s end, he had recorded two putouts and 10 assists -- including a slick play behind third base to rob Díaz of a hit in the fifth inning, and a sharp pickup of a Jake Meyers grounder to lead off the eighth. Guillorme’s 12 defensive chances were the most for a third baseman in the Majors this season, falling three shy of Art Devlin’s 114-year-old Major League record.

“I think it makes it a lot easier when you’re involved in a lot of plays out there,” Guillorme said. “Tai was doing what he does best. He was getting people to roll over on that splitter.”

“Guillorme, he’s a Gold Glover,” Walker added. “Any time they hit it over that way, I know it’s a for-sure out.”

Heading into the afternoon, it was not Walker’s 49 percent ground-ball rate that prompted Showalter to use Guillorme on the left side of the infield. Instead, it was the manager’s desire to give struggling third baseman Eduardo Escobar two consecutive days of rest. Last week, Escobar played through his slump partly because second baseman Jeff McNeil was dealing with a minor hamstring injury, which forced Showalter to use Guillorme on that side of the diamond. This week, McNeil’s return gave his manager more options.

Now, all three are healthy, presenting Showalter with a daily dilemma. He can continue to start Escobar every day at third base despite his 4-for-46 freeze. Or he can establish something of a platoon at third base, with Guillorme drawing most starts against right-handed pitchers.

When asked about the situation, Showalter generally praises Guillorme’s versatility, noting that he’s capable of playing second base and shortstop just as well as third. In that fashion, Guillorme can even approximate the production of a regular without claiming ownership of a single position. For example, if Guillorme subs for Escobar two or three times per week, for McNeil once and for Mark Canha once (with McNeil moving to left), he’ll receive nearly as many reps as a full-time player. That, generally, appears to be Showalter’s plan.

“Luis, you can play him about anywhere and get a good defensive [performance],” Showalter said. “It’s a great thing for me to have that ability to move guys around.”

Guillorme has also proven to be a more effective hitter this season than he was earlier in his career, with his recent 1-for-16 stretch only dropping his season average to .305. Like most of his Mets teammates, Guillorme went hitless on Wednesday against Verlander (despite two hard-hit balls).

Like many of them, he stands a good chance of being back in the lineup on Friday, as the Mets look to snap their first three-game losing streak of the season.

“At the end of the day, it’s the same situation I’ve been in,” Guillorme said. “I know my role. I know exactly where I’m at, and I’m just going to keep doing exactly what I’ve been doing.”