As the familiar faces in the Mets’ locker room seem to dwindle away daily, the perceived role players have been asked to take on much larger responsibilities — possibly none more than the veteran middle infielders.
Asdrubal Cabrera, appearing in all 70 of the Mets games, and Neil Walker (65 games) have been constants in what’s been an eventful first 12 weeks of the season. The 30-year-old veterans with 16 years of combined experience have each had their moments willing the Mets’ offense.
Walker started off the season strong with nine home runs in April in a largely protected lineup. But as the Mets’ disabled list continues to grow — Lucas Duda, David Wright, Juan Lagares — and Yoenis Cespedes leaving Wednesday’s 4-3 win over the Kansas City Royals early with a mild sprain of his left wrist and the team facing injury woes on the mound as well, these veterans are becoming increasingly vital offensively and defensively.
And Cabrera is doing his best to captivate New York this week.
“I got reports when we signed this guy, ‘Oh boy, his skills have diminished.’ Some people didn’t think he could play shortstop,” Collins said after Wednesday’s win. “This guy has been nothing but outstanding on both sides of the ball.”
On Wednesday, Cabrera made three diving stops to keep the ball in the infield — one leading to a shovel-pass fielder’s choice in the eighth inning — and hit his second home run in as many days. He also made an athletic slide at home to score a run on a ball thrown up the third-base line. Cabrera is hitting .270 — his best average since 2012 — with eight home runs.
“We’re working hard every day,” Cabrera simply stated. “Trying to do the best to help the pitchers, to make the pitcher confident on the mound.”
It’s not only Walker and Cabrera. Wilmer Flores homered in the Mets’ Tuesday win and James Loney drove in the first run Wednesday. Matt Reynolds joined the lineup and blasted his first major-league home run, which broke a 3-3 tie and gave the Mets the win and a total of 93 home runs, third best in the National League entering Thursday.
“All I know is guys grab opportunities and run with them,” Collins said. “Some guys take those opportunities and get the most out of them. Right now, we got some guys who are going to help out and we need them to step up.”
Collins said about dealing with the influx of injuries, “It’s not that much fun. I’d rather come in and have a normal day every once in a while. But it’s what the business is.”
Walker echoed Collins, calling all the recent injuries “strange” and saying, “You just got to keep pushing forward. Nobody’s going to feel bad for you in this game. Nobody’s going to take it easy on you.”
Walker and Cabrera know this just as much as anybody in the Mets’ locker room. As the 38-32 second-place Mets may face a crossroads soon with even more damaging injuries, the veterans remain focused on the daily tasks.
“Days like today are important for us,” Walker said after completing the two-game sweep of Kansas City. “They’re team wins. They come from different sources. They are coming from the bullpen coming in and throwing well. Scratching and clawing, playing good defense and that’s all you can do.”