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Jose Reyes hit rock bottom as Mets leadoff man

Jose Reyes of the New York Mets strikes out

Jose Reyes of the New York Mets strikes out in the eighth inning against the Miami Marlins at Citi Field on Saturday, April 8, 2017. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

Jose Reyes didn’t know it was happening. Slumps behave that way. They sneak up, with no regard for the time of the year, and once a player spots the signs, it is too late.

“Sometimes you try to do too much and you don’t even know it as a player,” said Reyes, the Mets’ leadoff man, who is working through the worst slump he’s ever encountered to begin a season. “Work. That’s the only way you’re going to get out of it.”

For years, it has been a given that Reyes would find his name atop the starting lineup. He identifies as a leadoff man, a speedy table-setter whose job is to jump-start the rest of the lineup. Instead, his failure to launch has forced a reshuffling.

With an .087 average (4-for-46), Reyes has been dropped to seventh, where he has been slotted in four of his last five starts.

That has been the uncomfortable compromise struck by manager Terry Collins, who has tried to defer to Reyes’ desire to stay in the lineup to hit his way out of his funk. Plenty of time remains for a turnaround. But so far, nothing has worked.

“Jose is just too big a piece,” Collins said. “We’ve got to get him started.”

The Mets have leaned upon two strengths to weather Reyes’ struggles: power and depth. Entering Monday, the Mets were tied for the major-league lead in homers (22) and ranked fourth in runs scored (61).

Yoenis Cespedes was tied for the major-league lead with six homers and Lucas Duda and Jay Bruce have slugged four apiece. Asdrubal Cabrera is hitting .286, with his production coming in big spots. Travis d’Arnaud has roared out of the gate, hitting .323 with a team-high 1.062 OPS.

The Mets have even showed signs of finally slaying a persistent adversary. They hit just .225 with runners in scoring position last season, and only a late surge kept them from finishing last in those situations in the National League. This year, the Mets are hitting .288 with runners in scoring position, fifth in the league.

But that production can’t be maximized until the Mets begin getting more men on base in front of those big bats, and that responsibility falls primarily on Reyes.

“There’s no question, we’ve got to start getting guys on,” Collins said. “We’ve got the middle of our order producing runs when guys are on base, but we’re not getting anybody on in front of them.”

The Mets have received scant production from the leadoff spot, ranking last in the NL in average (.086), on-base percentage (.172) and slugging (.155). The blame has been shared.

Reyes is 1-for-29 with a .034/.097/.034 slash line in the top spot. He has scored two runs as a leadoff hitter. Curtis Granderson, the Mets’ other alternative, has been nearly as bad. He’s 2-for-22 (.091/.200/.136) as the leadoff man. Only Michael Conforto has had some success, going 2-for-4 with a walk in his one start atop the lineup.

The Mets’ table-setting issues haven’t necessarily been confined to the leadoff spot. When leading off an inning, the Mets overall are batting .149/.218/.316. In each category, that ranks last in the National League.

Reyes, 33, understands his role in those struggles. While the hits have yet to come, he senses improvement, even if it might be incremental. He has walked in three straight games, a sign that he’s at least getting deeper in counts and perhaps finally resisting the urge to do more.

“That was something that I was looking for,” Reyes said. “Before I was 0-and-2 right out of the gate, and that’s a lot of pressure for a hitter.”

Indeed, 14 of Reyes’ at-bats have begun with an 0-and-2 count, the most on the team. He has just one hit in those situations.

Plenty of work remains in the batting cage and in the video room, where Reyes has been a fixture in recent days alongside hitting coach Kevin Long.

“When you’re in a slump, you’re in a slump, man,” Reyes said. “When you’re feeling good, they can even throw you a ground ball and you’re going to hit it. That’s how baseball is, man. But one thing you don’t do when you’re in a slump is sit back and don’t do anything.”

Notes & quotes: Steven Matz is expected to begin a throwing program next week. The Long Island native is on the disabled list with what he called a strained flexor tendon. The Mets have listed the injury as left elbow inflammation . . . Seth Lugo is scheduled to begin his throwing program Tuesday, throwing off flat ground from 60 feet. Lugo has a partially torn elbow ligament and hopes to avoid Tommy John surgery.

Mets leadoff hitters’ numbers aren’t pretty:

.086

Batting average

.172

On-base pct.

.155

Slugging pct.

New York Sports