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Kirk Nieuwenhuis thrives in leadoff spot

Kirk Nieuwenhuis of the New York Mets steals

Kirk Nieuwenhuis of the New York Mets steals second base against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. (April 18, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

ATLANTA — In need of a leadoff hitter, Terry Collins tabbed Kirk Nieuwenhuis for yesterdayWednesday’s series finale against the Braves, something he was unsure about earlier in the week. The manager had planned all along to sit Ruben Tejada, who was looking like he could use the breather, but choosing Nieuwenhuis for the top spot was another challenge for the rookie outfielder.

He passed the test. Nieuwenhuis went 3-for-4 with two doubles, a walk and an RBI in his leadoff debut. He also scored three runs and stole a base.

“When you’re a rookie in the big leagues, one of the things you got to gain is some confidence,” Collins said. “I think with every game Kirk is believing that he belongs here and can play here. I think today he had some very very good at-bats. I thought it was a real plus for him today.”

Nieuwenhuis hasn’t seemed fazed by much since he was called up from Triple-A Buffalo to replace the injured Andres Torres. He has taken the added pressure of hitting leadoff in stride.Even the added pressure of hitting leadoff he took in stride.

“I just try to get on base for the big boys,” Nieuwenhuis said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

Collins could go back to Nieuwenhuis in the leadoff spot for this weekend’s series against the Giants, but if so, probably against just one of their lefthanders, and most likely Barry Zito. As for Tejada, he’s cooled a bit in the leadoff role, and was batting .190 (4-for-21) over the first five games of the road trip. He also matched a career high with three strikeouts against Cole Hamels last Sunday, which convinced Collins that Tejada would need a rest soon.

“He’s got a long season ahead of him,” Collins said. “Sporadically he’s going to get some breaks for exactly that reason. It’s not only a physical break, it’s going to be a mental break.”

The Opening Day injury to Andres Torres forced the Mets to hit Tejada leadoff, which wasn’t the ideal situation in the Mets’ minds. Having Torres gave them the flexibility to put Tejada further down in the lineup, a move they felt was better for his development.

“Let somebody who’s a veteran do that stuff,” Collins said. “Unfortunately we had to put him in that spot and he’s done a great job, but it’s going to wear him down. He needs a break now and then.”

Eye on Santana

Despite lasting only 11/3 innings on Tuesday night, the shortest start of his career, Johan Santana said his surgically repaired left shoulder was not an issue. While the schedule will afford Santana an extra day of rest again for his upcoming start, the Mets are more concerned about the one after that, which will be a standard break in between.

“When he comes back on four days, that’s when we’ll re-evaluate how he is,” Collins said. “We’ll need to take a look at it.”


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