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Mets' Amed Rosario surprised about suddenly being a backup, but understands

Mets shortstop Amed Rosario stretches before an MLB

Mets shortstop Amed Rosario stretches before an MLB game against the Marlins at Citi Field on Aug. 25. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

BUFFALO — Within seconds of Andres Gimenez getting hit on the hand by a pitch Friday night, even before manager Luis Rojas could give him the signal to do so, Amed Rosario shot from his seat in the stands at Sahlen Field, readying himself to enter the game if needed.

Gimenez was fine. Rosario remained on the bench. That is where he has spent most of his time lately as the Mets try to save their season. He has been relegated to a late-inning replacement and a starter when the team faces lefthanded starters.

Rosario went 3-for-4 Saturday — and was picked off first base to end the game — as he played for just the second time in eight games, part of his new reality as of last weekend. Rojas told him that Gimenez would get, as Rosario put it, "a big majority" of starts against righthanders.

That makes Rosario the de facto backup shortstop, even if the Mets don’t use the B-word.

"If I’m being honest, it did catch me a little bit by surprise," Rosario said through an interpreter Saturday, his first interview since his playing time was reduced. "If I were to tell you Gimenez has played bad, I’d be lying. He’s played tremendous — offensively, defensively, in every aspect of the game. In regards to [why the Mets have gone with Gimenez lately], that’s not my decision, but he’s played great with his opportunity."

Entering play Saturday, Gimenez, a 22-year-old rookie, was hitting .287 with a .340 OBP and .426 slugging percentage, plus a long list of highlight-reel defensive plays. Rosario, still just 24, had a .230/.250/.345 slash line entering Saturday.

Rosario has not progressed like the Mets thought the onetime super prospect would. In 2019, with a strong second half, he finished with a .287/.323/.432 slash line and career-best offensive numbers. Virtually none of those late improvements have carried over to this season.

"Last year it was me being able to take off and get into a rhythm that I was able to keep consistent throughout the entire end of last season," he said. "This year it’s been a little bit different and some decisions have been made that are out of my control and I have to take that in stride.

"It’s been a tough couple of years. I think what’s benefitted me is when people underestimate me. That’s kind of when I’m able to take advantage of that and be able to do what I want to do. I think sometimes the biggest problem is that some people want me to shine the way that they want me to shine and I think that plays to my advantage because I’m able to play my way."

What does "my way" look like?

"It’s tough to be able to show because I’m not necessarily playing every day," he said. "When I do play every day, I’m able to show I give my all every single day and I put in that work and put in that effort to go out and have fun. That’s my brand of baseball."

All of this thrusts into question Rosario’s role for 2021. He said he is open to learning the outfield — which the organization flirted with but quickly abandoned last year — but both he and Rojas said they haven’t revisited that idea.

"We believe in Amed, we know how skilled he is. We know what he can do. Last year was the perfect example of what Amed can do," Rojas said. "The second half is when he really exploded and had a good offensive approach put together. This season has started slow. There’s guys like that. This is a two-month season. it’s different. With Amed we know what he can do."

A Familia feeling

When Jeurys Familia — the only current Met who played for Buffalo when it was a Mets affiliate from 2009-12 — entered in the eighth Saturday, the Sahlen Field public-address system blasted his home entrance music, "Danza Kuduro."

Extra bases

Steven Matz (left shoulder bursitis) is with the Mets this weekend and Rojas expects him to be activated "soon." He didn’t rule Matz out when asked about Tuesday’s to-be-announced starter. If the Mets stay on turn, it would be Michael Wacha (7.50 ERA), though they could also use Rick Porcello (6.07 ERA) . . . The Braves said Saturday that No. 1 starter Max Fried (back spasms) likely will return from the IL on Friday against the Mets.

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