David Wright knows better. At least, that’s what he said a few weeks ago, as he explained the strain of something as simple as preparing to pinch-hit.
Wright’s back requires rest. This is the inconvenient reality of spinal stenosis. So, he understands that his rest days must remain exactly that.
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Yet, his rest day on Sunday was interrupted by an emergency. The Mets were trying to avoid a sweep to the Rockies. And in the ninth inning, with lefthanded closer Jake McGee on the mound, the situation called for Wright. He obliged.
Two days later, it appears there was a price to pay for that force out on a ground ball, the result of his first pinch-hit appearance of the season.
Wright, 33, arrived at an unwanted milestone before Tuesday’s series opener against the Nationals. For the first time this year, he was scratched from the lineup as a direct result of his cranky back. But Wright returned to the lineup Wednesday.
“I don’t know,” Wright said on Tuesday, when asked if his first pinch-hitting appearance had anything to do with his absence. “Again, it’s probably not the ideal circumstances. But this is the National League, you really don’t have that much leeway especially when you’re playing with a short bench.”
Terry Collins caught wind of Wright’s sore back from the team’s trainers, who encouraged the manager to check on his third baseman.
“During the conversation I just said, I can’t do that to you, I can’t do that to us, the organization,” said Collins, who held firm after informing Wright during batting practice that he would be benched. “You sacrificing yourself tonight could lead to a month, or who knows how long of not being in our lineup.”
Wright put up a fight, hoping he’d have enough leeway to sway the manager. But following the Mets’ 2-0 win over the Nationals, Wright admitted that the benching was likely the right move.
“Maybe Terry saved me a trip to the DL,” said Wright, who was engaged in an animated conversation with the manager during BP. “Maybe he saved me missing multiple games. We’ll see how I feel tomorrow. Hopefully, it’s better.”
Still, at the moment, sitting out went against Wright’s instincts. With the Nationals in town, and slugging first baseman Lucas Duda already out of the starting lineup with a back issue of his own, Wright arrived at Citi Field expecting to be in the lineup. He clung to that expectation even though his back already was feeling iffy. Monday’s team off day seemed to do little good.
Wright began BP in hopes that additional treatment later on would be enough to get his back ready to go. But his body refused to consent.
“Just like any day, I try to be as honest as I can with our medical staff,” Wright said. “I told them how I was feeling. That message got relayed to Terry. In batting practice, he came up and told me he just couldn’t play me. I was hoping I could try to change his mind. Obviously, you want to play every day but especially under these circumstances with Lucas being out and with us with a short bench.”
In the short term, the Mets already have gone three deep for a replacement. Wilmer Flores is on the DL with a hamstring strain. Eric Campbell will be needed at first to relieve Duda. That left Triple-A call-up Matt Reynolds to play third base.
“I should apologize to Matt Reynolds,” said Collins, who was forced to insert the infield prospect against Nats ace Max Scherzer. “His first game in the big leagues having to face that guy. That’s not real fair.”
But it’s the best the Mets could do given the situation. Wright has five years, $87 million left on his deal. This season, his defense at third has taken a marked step backward. At the plate, he’s hitting .229 with 44 strikeouts, though walks have helped him maintain a healthy .373 on-base percentage.
As for his back, Wright’s ability to play remains a daily proposition, with no off day guaranteed to do the trick for the next one.
“That’s the most frustrating thing,” Wright said. “You just never know how it’s going to feel waking up. You try to go through the preparation. I basically did everything today to try to get it somewhat manageable. I just couldn’t get there. It’s probably the right call. It is the right call.”