This hasn't been the season anyone imagined for Juan Lagares. Coming off a Gold Glove season, the centerfielder has struggled to find any semblance of consistent offensive success.
His hitting problems have deprived him of his everyday job, something that usually would be unfathomable for a player with gold on his glove.
But, getting the start in the leadoff spot against Rockies lefthander Chris Rusin, manager Terry Collins saw the potential for a breakout night.
"Big-league players are proud guys,'' Collins said. "Every guy in that room has an ego. That's what makes them great. They believe they're really good and they are good. He's used to playing every day. He hasn't, and it doesn't sit very good. Sometimes you have to prove that you're the guy that belongs out there. He's been itching and I thought he might have a good night.''
That itch was scratched in a big way. Lagares went 3-for-5 with two doubles and two RBIs in the Mets' 4-0 win Tuesday night at Citi Field. His two-run double in the eighth, one that bounced on the warning track, gave reliever Eric O'Flaherty a more comfortable lead heading into the ninth inning. It was Lagares' first three-hit game since June 14 against the Braves.
"I felt great tonight,'' said Lagares, who bumped up his average to .257 and his on-base percentage to .286. "I tried to look for a good pitch and put a good swing on it. Wherever the pitch is, I just tried to make a good swing.''
Collins said the righthanded Lagares is a "must start'' against lefthanders. He is hitting .267 with seven RBIs and one homer against them this year.
"You have to remember, he's got a Gold Glove to his name,'' Collins said. "If this guy hits lefties and you have gold in the outfield, that's pretty cool.''
But whether Lagares can break into the everyday lineup, regardless of matchups, remains to be seen.
"He'll decide that when he gets his opportunities,'' Collins said. "If he hits righties, he'll play more. That's why we have [Michael] Conforto here. We think our offense is better with some lefthanded hitters. We're not going to do a lot of changing right now. We've got things going and we're going to try and stick with the game plan.''
Lagares, part time or not, knows the next two months are about way more than pride.
"It's a little hard,'' he said of sitting on the bench. "But we've been winning a lot of games and that's what matters right now.''