Amid a bad half-season in his debut year with the Mets, Francisco Lindor is among the major-league leaders in at least one category: sacrifice bunts.
Lindor has five already. Entering play Tuesday, the Cubs’ Zach Davies — a pitcher — leads everybody with seven. Two more pitchers and Angels infielder David Fletcher have six. And then there are Lindor and others, tied for fifth.
In an era when sac bunts are as unsexy as ever — because analytics-driven teams loathe giving up a precious out and would much rather have a hitter swing away — the periodic decision by Lindor to give himself up for the sake of advancing a teammate on the bases is unusual.
What’s up with that?
"I’m playing the game," Lindor, who totaled four sac bunts in 2018-20, said Tuesday afternoon. "That’s it. Just playing the game."
Manager Luis Rojas strongly prefers Lindor not bunt and has told him as much on more than one occasion. But he understands where he is coming from.
"I’m not going to get in the way of a player like Francisco, who has this mentality and has brought a lot to this team, to have the mindset of winning games," Rojas said. "And he wants to be productive this way at times. I have his back. I understand his message to the team and I understand the play that he wants to do in the moment, when he wants to move the runner over."
Sacrifice bunting is not something the Mets do often. Pitcher David Peterson is second on the team with three. No other position player has more than one.
Lindor competes with some entire teams in this statistic. The Red Sox and Rays each have four. The Yankees have totaled six.
The most recent one by Lindor came Monday night, in the fourth inning against Brewers ace Brandon Woodruff, who had been cruising. Brandon Nimmo snuck a soft double, the Mets’ first hit, down the leftfield line. With no outs, Lindor squared up to bunt, all on his own without a call from the dugout, but fouled it off for strike one. On his second attempt, he was successful, forcing Woodruff to field it and throw to first, getting Nimmo to third. Nimmo scored on Dominic Smith’s ensuing sacrifice fly.
That it was Woodruff was a big part of the reasoning, Lindor said.
"That’s not one thing, that’s the main [piece of the thought process]," Lindor said. "The guy is the second-best pitcher in the league right now. People don’t score too many runs off him. Dom has been swinging the bat well. Nimmo starts the inning. Get him over. Let’s play the game."
Lindor’s other sac bunts have come against the Marlins’ Trevor Rogers (an All-Star), the Orioles’ John Means and Atlanta’s Kyle Muller and Charlie Morton. Those four all came in the first inning, most of them against very good pitchers.
"He knows who he’s facing out there," Rojas said.
This isn’t a new topic of conversation for Rojas and Lindor, who discussed it as early in March, when the manager asked the player how he felt about batting second (where he indeed has batted this season).
"He likes that second spot in the lineup," Rojas relayed during spring training. "He told me, ‘I can bunt guys over and move them over.’ I said, ‘No, that’s not what we’re doing."
Rojas said it with a laugh, as if to say, ha, yeah, our newly acquired star, among the preeminent shortstops in baseball, a perennial All-Star, who is negotiating a historically large contract extension, isn’t voluntarily going to make an out.
But here the Mets are.
"I wasn’t critiquing him, I wasn’t attacking," Rojas said of their conversations. "I just told him what I thought, that it was more productive in my eyes for him to swing. He explained to me the reason why he’s done it in his career and what he was trying to do there. He understands my part and I understand his part.
"Him and I have had conversations. I always want him swinging. But this is what he believes is part of his game."
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