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Jeff McNeil's career off to a flying start

Jeff McNeil of the Mets reacts after his

Jeff McNeil of the Mets reacts after his 10th-inning single against the Reds at Citi Field on Tuesday. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Pete Alonso gave Jeff McNeil a four-star review after he delivered yet another four-hit game.

“He looks like Ted Williams out there,” Alonso said after the Mets’ win over Cincinnati on Tuesday night at Citi Field.

“That’s pretty cool,” McNeil said before Wednesday night’s loss to the Reds. “I’ve had other teammates kind of joke around with that in the past. Pretty high honor to be compared to that.”

McNeil — aka the “Flying Squirrel” or just “Squirrel” — hasn’t been showing 521-homer potential, the number hit by Williams, “The Splendid Splinter.” But McNeil has been belting out hits and looking like a star in the making since his call-up last July, when he had a pinch single on the first pitch of his first at-bat.

He finished the 2018 season with a .329 batting average in 63 games. McNeil arrived for Saturday night’s game in Milwaukee with 112 at-bats through 31 games this season and an average of .348 — third-highest in MLB.

The high-contact hitter with the knobless bat, who had a homer and 12 RBIs, said he isn’t thinking about winning the batting title. But he isn’t ruling it out, whether it’s this season or down the road.

“I think if it happens, it happens,” McNeil said. “But I know I’m a kind of hitter that hits for average. So when you put the ball in play, good things happen like that. I’m just going to keep trying to get on base and at the end of the year, if that wins the batting title, it wins the batting title.”

His on-base percentage of .430 ranked fifth the majors. His total of 13 multihit games was tied for fifth. His total of 39 hits put him in a tie for eighth. He had reached safely in 27 of his 29 starts and 73 of his first 82 games.

“I didn’t have anything to prove,” McNeil said. “I played well last year. I just wanted to keep it going.”

His four-hit game was his second of the season. He owned five of those in his first 94 career games. Dating to 1908, Wally Moon was the only major-league player with more than McNeil in that span, with seven for the 1954 St. Louis Cardinals.

“He has the baseball aptitude,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “He’s got the ability to put the barrel on the ball even if it’s a tough pitch.

“He’s definitely proved that he’s going to be a very good player at the major-league level . . . And it’s probably bought him some leeway when things don’t go so good.”

McNeil was penciled in as the second baseman after last season, but that changed when general manager Brodie Van Wagenen acquired Robinson Cano. Jed Lowrie, who currently is coming back from an injury and on a rehab assignment, and J.D. Davis also were acquired to help in the infield. So McNeil has started 20 games in left, six at third and four at second.

“When we made all the moves, I was in contact with Brodie,” McNeil said. “He said, ‘You’re going to get your at-bats and probably play a lot of outfield.’ . . . I enjoy [the outfield]. It’s fun. I just keep working on it every day and keep getting better.”

The 27-year-old California native, a 12th-round pick by the Mets in 2013, also enjoys leading off, as he has been doing recently.

“I think one or two is where I fit in best — put the ball in play,” McNeil said.

A teammate at Long Beach State nicknamed him the “Flying Squirrel” for the gritty player’s penchant for diving here, there and everywhere.

The nickname finally is growing on him.

“Yeah,” McNeil said, “I got to wear it for the rest of the year, I guess.”

Or longer.

“Flying Squirrel,” Todd Frazier said from his nearby locker.

“Flying Squirrel,” McNeil said with joy in his voice.


Jeff McNeil went into Friday night’s game tied for third-best batting average in the majors. The leaders:

1. Cody Bellinger, Dodgers .425

2. Christian Yelich, Brewers .353

3. Jeff McNeil, Mets .352

Tim Anderson, Chisox .352

5. Elvis Andrus, Rangers .348

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