MIAMI -- Earlier this month, when Ronny Mauricio introduced himself to the team with the hardest-hit ball of any Met in years, it distracted from the fact that there’s another rookie in town regularly doing the same sort of thing.
That’s not to shift the spotlight off Mauricio, who continues to brandish one of the most potent bats of any young player in baseball. It’s just an acknowledgement that as far as hard hits go, Mark Vientos has a rightful claim to be the rookie king. He provided further evidence to that end with his first career multihomer game in an 8-3 win over the Marlins on Wednesday night, capping a series win for the Mets at loanDepot Park.
“He’s smashing baseballs right now,” said teammate Brett Baty, who also went deep as part of a four-homer Mets attack.
In front of several family members and friends, Vientos opened the scoring with a solo shot off Eury Pérez in the second. Four innings later, he added another solo homer off George Soriano, becoming the first Mets player since pitch counts have been tracked (1988) to homer twice in the same game on 0-2 pitches. Over his last 17 games, Vientos is batting .306 with five home runs.
“I feel just comfortable,” Vientos said. “That’s the game. You have your rough stretches, then you have your times when you’re really good. Right now, I’m feeling really good, and I just want to take it to the end of the season.”
Data suggests that for Vientos, this career game was inevitable. The rookie entered play on Wednesday boasting the highest average exit velocity of any Met; on average, he was putting the ball in play roughly 4 mph harder than even Pete Alonso. Only eight Major Leaguers had a higher figure with at least 100 balls put in play, including Aaron Judge, Ronald Acuña Jr., Shohei Ohtani, Matt Olson and Corey Seager -- superstars all. And Vientos should move further up the list once his two homers Wednesday -- 100.7 and 109.2 mph, respectively -- are added to the ledger.
His hardest-hit ball of the season, a 114.9 mph single back on June 14, rates as the fifth-hardest by any Met this year (Alonso has nine of the top 15 in that category). And this is all in line with what Vientos accomplished throughout his Minor League career, suggesting it’s no small-sample-size fluke.
“It’s hard to teach,” hitting coach Jeremy Barnes said. “When you hit the ball as hard as those guys do, you have a little bit more leeway to do some stuff.”
For Vientos, the most important stuff at the moment is cutting down his strikeout rate, which still sits at 29.6% despite Wednesday’s performance. That has been a focal point for him all season; for a period earlier this summer, the Mets did not call Vientos up from Triple-A in part because of their concerns over his K rate.
Whiffs can be natural for a player who hits the ball as hard as Vientos does. But if the rookie can continue to impact the baseball in his usual manner while striking out a little less and walking a bit more, Barnes said, “you’ve got a monster.”
“He hasn’t had a ton of at-bats in the league yet,” Barnes added. “Getting at-bats up here and getting exposure is a massive component to it. Then it’s just continuing to try to clean up the path a little bit to where some of the foul balls turn into hits, some of the swings and misses turn into foul balls. … You’re not trying to make it perfect. You’re just trying to reduce the negative stuff a little more.”
Some Mets rookies -- like Kodai Senga, who threw another quality start on Wednesday -- have had an easier time adjusting to the league than others. The youngest Mets have leaned on each other for support, like in the eighth, when Mauricio animatedly cheered on Baty for his first home run since July 19. Those two and Vientos loved to compare exit velocities in the Minors, ragging on each other when one fell short of the desired mark.
These days, Vientos rarely finds himself the butt of such jokes. He’s in his element. A Connecticut native who moved to South Florida as a teenager, Vientos estimated he bought tickets for around 20 people on Tuesday, and for another, smaller group on Wednesday.
Then he put on a show for them.
“We’ve always known that he could impact the ball,” manager Buck Showalter said. “He did tonight -- twice.”