DENVER - Terry Collins stopped well short of declaring Eric Young Jr. the odd man out of the Mets' outfield logjam. When pressed on the issue Thursday, he remained vague.
"Hard to say," the manager said about the juggling act he faces as speedy centerfielder Juan Lagares returned from the 15-day disabled list.
However, Collins may have tipped his hand.
Lagares found himself in the starting lineup in centerfield against the Rockies Thursday night, along with leftfielder Chris Young and rightfielder Curtis Granderson. That left Eric Young Jr. on the bench, where Collins believes he could thrive.
"It's always amazing how many times late in the game you've got the pitcher coming up to lead off the inning," Collins said. "And [Young] is the ideal guy to go hit in that spot. He can switch hit. And when he gets on, things happen. So it's nice to have those types of guys over there."
Collins has long been an advocate for Young, who brings speed and the ability to play both second base and centerfield. He was last year's National League stolen base champion and he has a knack for creating runs.
Nevertheless, his ability to reach base consistently remains in question.
After a hot streak, Young has cooled off in his last 10 games, hitting .158 with a .273 on-base percentage. Those numbers won't cut it in the leadoff spot.
And Thursday night against the Rockies, Young found himself taking a backseat to the recently returned Lagares. Before missing the last couple of weeks with a strained right hamstring, Lagares had emerged as the team's most valuable player.
He wasted little time getting acclimated Thursday night, smashing a leadoff double off the fence in left-center against Rockies starter Juan Nicasio.
"It's a little hard when you do good and something like that happens," said Lagares, who replaced Kirk Nieuwenhuis on the roster. "But it's something you can't do anything about it. It just happens."
But Lagares' return has put Collins back on the spot.
"It feels normal," said Lagares, who was hitting .314 at the time of his injury. "I'm ready to run."
Chris Young has hit just .205 since coming off the disabled list on April 18. But Collins said he's pleased with the way Young has been swinging the bat lately, making him the choice in the starting lineup.
"I thought he hit the ball good in Philly," Collins said. "I thought he hit the ball good at home. I thought I'd go with him."
Granderson remains entrenched in the starting lineup even after finishing the opening month of the season with a .136 average in 25 games.
Nevertheless, Collins has been consistent in his belief that Granderson's best chance at a turnaround is with consistent playing time.
For now, Collins said he's willing to find playing time for four outfielders, though he ultimately wants a set alignment.
"I don't mind it for awhile," Collins said. "I think in the long run, you've got to have three guys you're going to run out there. To pick and choose your spots and who should play when, you can do that right now. But I think you're going to look up and you're going to want to have three guys that are primarily your guys are going to be out there."