Jeff McNeil is learning to be cautious with his body. But not too cautious.
After getting subbed out in Saturday’s game and sitting Sunday, McNeil was back in the lineup in Monday’s game against the Nationals, but only as the designated hitter. Nick Plummer, Sunday night’s hero, played leftfield.
The Mets made the decision on McNeil a little more than an hour before first pitch — a sign, at least, that Buck Showalter and company were pleased with how he came out of pregame work. And, after a past of rushing back from injury, McNeil, whose hard-nosed play led to him careening into a side wall in leftfield while making a sliding catch with the Mets trailing by eight runs last week, is taking a more careful approach to his latest ailment, Showalter said.
The injury is being classified as wear and tear, but it seems likely that it’s tied to that play last Wednesday in San Francisco — one that forced him to miss the rest of the game after he hurt his knee on impact.
McNeil was in the lineup in the Mets’ next game on Friday and played until the seventh inning Saturday, when he was replaced by a pinch runner. He pinch hit Sunday and didn’t get on base, but if he had, the Mets planned on pinch running Brandon Nimmo (sprained wrist) in his stead.
“He has, in the past, pushed through some things and paid a price for it with a lot more [of a] long-term problem,” Showalter said. “I think [he’s showing] the maturity of knowing the signs of something getting close and deciding to back off of it . . . He’s just trying to get ahead of some things, but it’s very appreciated by me that he felt comfortable to tell us.”
Showalter probably was referencing McNeil’s hamstring issues last season. He originally tried to play through what the team called leg cramps and was a DH for two games. But that eventually led to a hamstring strain that ended up costing him more than five weeks on the injured list.
“He understands his body and his legs and his upper torso and, in the past, if I do this and I feel this and I keep pushing, then this happens,” Showalter said. “So don’t do that.”
Showalter said McNeil indicated he was experiencing discomfort to head trainer Joseph Golia during the game Saturday. The news quickly made its way to bench coach Glenn Sherlock and then Showalter himself. That came just in time to pull the trigger on McNeil, who had just walked.
“Remember how late it was taking him out at first base?” Showalter said. “I was listening to Joe, [and then I said] ‘Fine, get him out of there.’ Some guy’s going to hit a ball in the gap, and we’ve got an issue. So if a player tells you that, you need to support them . . . I’ve learned through the years that if it’s important to players, it better be important to you.”
You’d be hard-pressed to find a world in which McNeil’s health isn’t important to the Mets. Besides being a key part of their outfield depth with Travis Jankowski and Nimmo injured, he’s been among the team’s most productive hitters. Going into Monday, his .317 average was best on the team and fourth in the National League; he was second on the Mets in on-base percentage (.372) and slugging (.436). In his last 14 games, he’s driven in 13 runs and scored nine, with five doubles, two homers, three walks and a steal — all to the tune of a .919 OPS.