ATLANTA — For the Mets, an injury to one very popular player meant the return of another.
Jeff McNeil landed on the injured list Wednesday with a strained left hamstring, though general manager Brodie Van Wagenen described the strain as “very low grade” and the team is hopeful he won’t be out much longer than the minimum 10 days.
In his place, the Mets promoted infielder Ruben Tejada. He has had a big season for Triple-A Syracuse, but hasn’t played in the majors since 2017 and hasn’t played for the Mets since 2015 — since Game 2 of the NLDS against the Dodgers, when Chase Utley’s dirty slide into second broke his leg.
“It's never easy to lose one of your core players,” Van Wagenen said. “Obviously, Jeff at the top of the lineup and the ability to get multiple hits it seems like every night is a big blow. But I think that the team has shown all year some resiliency and the belief that the next guy up can contribute. I think the guys haven't lost their spirit.
“[Tejada] has a lot of history here. We're excited to bring him back. He's been having a great year in Triple-A and hopefully he can carry that over here to us and be another versatile player for us.”
The Mets transferred righthander Jacob Rhame, who had season-ending elbow surgery Tuesday, to the 60-day IL to make room for Tejada on the 40-man roster.
Without McNeil, manager Mickey Callaway said he expects Amed Rosario to bat leadoff and Tejada and Joe Panik to platoon at second base — Tejada against lefthanders, Panik against righthanders. It also opens up everyday playing time for centerfielder Juan Lagares, with Aaron Altherr being the only reserve outfielder.
That McNeil’s injury seems to be minor qualified as good news for the Mets, who saw him come up lame on a ninth-inning groundout Tuesday night. An MRI Wednesday morning revealed the extent of the injury. This will be McNeil’s second IL stint due to a strained left hamstring; he missed 12 days with the same issue in May/June.
“Hopefully, we'll get a quick turnaround like last time,” Van Wagenen said.
Added Callaway: “We're still going to miss him. We need some other guys to step up.”
McNeil said this injury feels similar to the previous one.
“This one, I feel strong still,” McNeil said. “The strength is still there. The last one, I was left a little weaker. I’m encouraged by that . . . It was kind of what we thought it would be. We didn’t think it was that bad. The MRI confirmed that.”
For the Mets, a relatively short McNeil absence is a positive development for their postseason contention. They are three games back of the second NL wild-card spot, and McNeil being available for the final stretch is critical to their playoff hopes.
For McNeil, it means his shot at the NL batting title is still alive. He is hitting .332, third behind Pittsburgh’s Bryan Reynolds (. 338) and Milwaukee’s Christian Yelich (.333) heading into play Wednesday.
For Tejada, it means another shot at life in the majors after rejoining the Mets in late March. Tejada, 29, hit .330 with a .408 OBP and .476 slugging percentage in 71 games with Syracuse. He has been playing second, third and short.
“It’s huge for me because this is the organization I was in before,” said Tejada, who has his old No. 11 back. “They gave me the opportunity the first time. Finally, I’m here to do my job.”
Van Wagenen said the Mets picked Tejada over their other options — utilityman Dilson Herrera (.255/.332/.528) or outfielder Rajai Davis (.280/.330/.392) — because of Tejada’s versatility. Herrera has played more positions this year (all four corner spots, plus second base) but Tejada has more experience at second and short.
“Really solid defense,” Callaway said. “He can play three infield spots, and he's been swinging the bat well all year. There's been discussions about him before this. This seemed like the right opportunity for him.”