WASHINGTON - Earlier this month, Mets manager Terry Collins declared defensive wizard Juan Lagares his everyday centerfielder, a reward after he was arguably the team's best player to begin the season.
But against the Nationals on Friday night, Lagares was not in the starting lineup for the fourth time in the past five games, triggering yet another wave of criticism.
"Right now, we're not scoring," Collins said. "And we've got to come up with some runs on the board. So I'm trying to put guys out there I think will drive in some runs."
Lagares, 25, has made strides at the plate, hitting .296, but just .174 in his previous eight games, opening the door for Eric Young Jr. Lagares walked as a pinch hitter in the ninth.
"Juan is the centerfielder," Collins said. "But we've got to somehow get his stroke back. He's starting to expand the zone a little bit right now. We've got to get him back to where he's taking some of those pitches."
Young is hitting .236 after going 1-for-4 Friday night; he had hit .320 in his previous eight games. For Collins, that disparity has been enough to temporarily displace Lagares, who has the potential to emerge as a top-flight outfielder if his bat ever catches up to his glove.
Curtis Granderson remains a fixture in the outfield along with Chris Young, whom the Mets signed with assurances he would be given the opportunity to play. Collins has also wanted to give Bobby Abreu some starts in the outfield.
"It's a little hard, but you have to be ready for the opportunity," said Lagares, who is expected in the lineup Saturday. "You never know what's going to happen. When you play every day, you can make better adjustments. You just have to be ready for it. I just come here ready to play every day."