Notes: Yo to DH opener; Ramos uncertain

July 21st, 2020

NEW YORK -- Two years and four days removed from his last big league game, will return to the field on Opening Day as the Mets’ designated hitter.

Céspedes said he expects to be the DH this Friday against the Braves, though he feels equally comfortable playing left field at this point. Mets manager Luis Rojas intends to work Céspedes in at both positions over the course of the season, but “at least for the first game, for Opening Day, I’ll be the DH,” Céspedes said through an interpreter.

“I feel ready,” Céspedes added. “And I will be ready to play.”

Opening Day will mark Céspedes’ first game since July 20, 2018 -- the night he revealed he needed multiple surgeries to remove calcification from both heels, sparking a two-year rehab period that included a setback when he fractured his right ankle in an accident at his ranch. Had the Mets’ regular-season opener taken place on March 26 as originally scheduled, Céspedes might not have been ready. But he is fully prepared to play Friday's 4:10 p.m. ET game against Atlanta at Citi Field.

“Full strength? Right now, he’s as strong as you could probably count on him,” Mets manager Luis Rojas said. “He’s doing a lot of things that we’ve seen him do before. Obviously, the baserunning part that we’ve talked about is not how he used to be as far as regarding his feet, but he’s able to run at a good, competitive speed, and also his defense is on a progression.”

Although Céspedes has worked in the outfield on nearly a daily basis, he did not receive much action there during a three-inning stint Sunday at Yankee Stadium, nor in another three-inning stretch Tuesday in a simulated game. The Mets have received more looks at his baserunning -- particularly on Saturday, when he slowed up halfway through a sprint to first base on an infield grounder.

“That was intentional at the time,” Céspedes said. “The trainers have been telling me that as long as I run at about 80%, I’m fine. At first reaction, when I hit the ball, I wanted to go out fast out of the box. But then I remembered what they told me, so that’s kind of why I slowed down.”

Regardless of what Céspedes is able to do athletically, the Mets will always be most interested in his bat. A career .274/.328/.498 hitter over seven seasons with the A’s, Red Sox, Tigers and Mets, Céspedes hit .282/.346/.543 with 74 home runs in 308 games with New York from 2015-18.

He believes that even at age 35, more than two years removed from his last Major League game, he can be that player again.

“I think the strongest part of me is my mind, is my mentality,” Céspedes said. “Whether it’s a good day or a bad day, my mentality has always been strong. So I’ll be ready to play once the time comes.”

Catching up
Starting catcher Wilson Ramos returned to Mets camp on Tuesday following a three-day absence to deal with a personal matter. Ramos did not participate in the Mets’ intrasquad game, however, and Rojas was noncommittal when asked about Ramos' status for Opening Day.

“We’ll reassess with him on a day-to-day basis,” Rojas said.

If Ramos does not have enough time to be ready by Friday, Tomás Nido would likely start behind the plate. René Rivera is in line to make the team as the third catcher.

All systems go
If any doubt remained regarding Jacob deGrom's Opening Day status, the two-time reigning National League Cy Young Award winner erased it with a pain-free, 13-pitch bullpen session Tuesday at Citi Field.

“I would say it’s totally in the past,” deGrom said of the back tightness that forced him out of an intrasquad game last week. “Everything is in line.”

As is his custom, deGrom will throw another side session Wednesday, then rest Thursday in advance of Opening Day. The only lingering effect of his injury is that he’ll be limited to around 85 pitches in Friday's start, rather than the usual 100.

From the trainer’s room
Outfielder  returned to intrasquad action on Tuesday, singling in his first at-bat and playing four innings in left field as he recovers from a bout of left hamstring tightness. Marisnick appears on track to make the Opening Day bench, though Rojas maintained that Marisnick's status is “day to day.”

Reliever  seems less likely to make the Opening Day bullpen. He has been playing catch off flat ground, but he has not thrown off a mound since complaining of right triceps tendinitis earlier this month.

Bullpen option
Three days after he pitched four innings in an intrasquad game,  returned to the mound for a two-inning start. The abbreviated outing hinted that the Mets are shortening Ramírez up for a role in the Opening Day bullpen, rather than keeping him stretched out as a starting depth option.

Earlier Tuesday, Rojas mentioned Ramírez by name as a bullpen candidate, along with Tyler Bashlor, Drew Smith and Chasen Shreve.

Ramírez, 30, has pitched in both roles over his eight-year career, most recently appearing regularly out of the bullpen in 2017.

“It’s great having him in camp,” Rojas said. “He’s another guy that -- I keep using the word versatility. He brings it to the table.”

In memoriam
Among the hundreds of cardboard cutouts now scattered around Citi Field, one holds special significance. The Mets on Tuesday placed a cutout of longtime New York Post photographer Anthony Causi, who passed away from COVID-19 in April, in the photographers’ well adjacent to the home dugout. Mets players -- many of whom expressed their condolences on social media this spring -- took notice.

“I did see the picture next to the dugout,” Céspedes said. “It hurt a lot when I found out that he passed away because despite him being a photographer, we also spoke a lot and we had a good relationship. He even visited my ranch at one point. I don’t think it’s only going to hurt me, but it will hurt a lot of baseball players as well.”