After a quick afternoon workout at Citi Field, a final test to prove to Mets decision-makers that he was ready, Jeff McNeil returned from the injured list Saturday.
He wound up missing the minimum 10 days with a strained left hamstring, and he said it could have been an even shorter absence if not for the darned rules. His leg “feels normal,” he said.
“I probably could’ve come back two days ago if I was able to, but 10 days, so that kind of sucked,” McNeil said with a shrug. “It wasn’t fun.”
“It was a lot quicker (than the recovery from a strained left hamstring in May and June). It felt great faster. The last one was bugging me a little longer. I was really happy with how the recovery went. Just ready to get back out there.”
The Mets designated outfielder Aaron Altherr for assignment to make room for McNeil. Altherr has a .082/.136/.164 slash line in 49 games with three teams this year.
McNeil went 2-for-2 with a pinch-hit double Saturday against the Braves, and he planned on starting Sunday against lefthander Dallas Keuchel. As Pete Alonso said, “Jeff rakes.”>
Manager Mickey Callaway said McNeil will see time at second, third, right and left — which would mean small drops in playing time for Joe Panik, Todd Frazier, Juan Lagares and J.D. Davis but large drops in playing time for nobody in particular.
“We’ll be able to move him around strategically to help keep guys fresh and keep the guys playing that should be playing,” Callaway said.
However the defensive playing time sorts out, you can be sure McNeil will play just about every day down the stretch, health permitting. He is, after all, the National League’s leading hitter with a .336 average.
The bigger question is where McNeil slots into the lineup. Amed Rosario (.326 OBP) performed well in the leadoff spot in McNeil’s absence, and the Mets have continued to win with Joe Panik (.314 OBP) batting second.
"That’s a tough one. Panik’s been good in the two-hole. Rosie’s done a great job leading off,” Callaway said. “We’re going to have to continue to think about that. I’ve been thinking about it all day, when I found out that we’d probably be activating him. So I’m not quite sure. We’ll have to see what happens.”
McNeil is third in the NL with a .403 OBP on the year. It’s worth noting that even during their hot streaks, Rosario (.384 OBP in the second half) and Panik (.348 OBP in 13 games with the Mets) haven’t gotten on base at a greater rate than McNeil.
Progress for injured Mets
Brandon Nimmo (bulging disc) and Jed Lowrie (left knee, left hamstring, left hip, right calf) both continue to take small steps forward in minor-league rehabilitation assignments.
Nimmo was off Saturday after playing a rehab-high seven innings in centerfield for Syracuse on Friday. Callaway said he didn’t know if Nimmo will return before rosters expand Sept. 1 (next Sunday).
“It’s hard to put an exact timeline on when he’ll be available,” Callaway said. “But he is progressing. And doing it pretty well. He feels good at the plate. He looks good by all the scouting reports that we’ve seen.”
Lowrie, meanwhile, played the field — second base — for the first time for advanced Class A St. Lucie on Saturday. He went 1-for-2 and was taken out to begin the fifth inning. He has not played consecutive games yet.
Edgardo Alfonzo, the retired longtime Met, picked up his 100th win as a manager Friday when his short-season Class A Brooklyn Cyclones swept a doubleheader … Righthander Brooks Pounders, designated for assignment Tuesday, was sent to Syracuse.