SARASOTA, Fla. — One look around the visitors’ clubhouse Monday at Ed Smith Stadium — and at the Mets’ lineup in a 9-7 win over the Orioles — and the quantity of their quality players was striking.
As much as injuries have doomed the Mets in recent years, they earned their sweet release from spring training this time as a generally healthy bunch.
“The ones that were actually in camp stayed healthy,” manager Mickey Callaway said, “and got what they needed to go out there and start the season.”
Sure, Jed Lowrie suffered a sprained left knee capsule and Todd Frazier is still dealing with a strained left oblique, a shot to the Mets’ third-base depth. And Drew Smith had Tommy John surgery, a blow to a bullpen that could stand to have a young reliever or two emerge as a major-league regular.
But other than that, the Mets are intact, ready to begin a season with playoff aspirations in what is poised to be a difficult division.
The Lowrie and Frazier injuries came early in camp and in quick succession. Both will miss the start of the regular season, but Lowrie is traveling with the Mets to continue his work with the team’s physical therapists.
Coincidentally, third base arguably was the position at which the Mets were most able to withstand having their top two taken off the depth chart. Jeff McNeil played three out of his last four games at the hot corner — not leftfield, his focus early in spring training — which Callaway suggested was a hint about the Mets’ early-season plans.
“We’re still working on the roster,” he said. “But he’s been playing there a lot.”
J.D. Davis and Luis Guillorme, both expected to be on the Opening Day roster, also are able to handle third.
McNeil is just happy to be in the lineup regardless of where he plays in the field. Last season, he started with Double-A Binghamton — and batted ninth. This will be his first Opening Day in the majors.
“A little more exciting than opening the year in Double-A like last year. Definitely ready for it,” he said. “I was hitting ninth to open the year in Double-A. I should be a little higher in the big leagues this year.”
McNeil homered in Binghamton’s first game in 2018. Is that the plan this year, too?
“That’s the goal, I guess,” he said. “Put a good swing on it and you never know.”
In major-league spring training for the first time, McNeil followed his breakout 2018 with a strong showing, including a .352 average and 1.005 OPS. Those numbers are eerily similar to those of slugging first-base prospect Pete Alonso, who hit .352 with a 1.006 OPS.
McNeil hit his fourth spring training homer Monday against Baltimore, matching Alonso’s total for second highest on the team (behind Michael Conforto, who had five).
McNeil made sure to tell Alonso, his good friend, that they were basically offensive equals.
“I let him know, actually, after my home run,” McNeil said. “I want to say we have the same amount of pop, but I think he’s got a little more than me.”
Dominic Smith, who along with Alonso appears to have made the club, launched a three-run home run in the ninth to eke out a Mets win. They finished 13-16 in Grapefruit League play, a statistic that historically means nothing.
More significantly, the Mets are mostly healthy.
“Exciting last game, last couple innings of spring training,” Callaway said. “We’re ready to go out there and do what we need to do. I’m proud of the way the guys battled this spring and played and ran the bases, their approach at the plate. We’re ready to go.”
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