PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — In one frustrating season, Juan Lagares went from the reigning Gold Glove centerfielder to platoon outfielder with an achy elbow.
But a year later, and with elbow healthy, a trimmed-down Lagares reported to Mets camp ready to push for playing time.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen yet,” said Lagares, who dropped 20 pounds while working out with former-Met Jose Reyes this winter. “But like I said, I feel 100 percent and I’m ready to help the team in any way that they need me.”
Yoenis Cespedes figures to get much of the playing time in centerfield with Lagares seeing time against lefthanded pitching. Of course, he had been the full-time centerfielder before his troubles began.
Lagares struggled badly against righties, though it was his defense that regressed. Not only did he appear to cover slightly less ground in centerfield, but his lingering elbow injury compromised his ability to trust one of the strongest arms in baseball.
Manager Terry Collins took some responsibility. He had insisted that Lagares cut down on his throwing last spring, a tactic that ultimately backfired.
“Like I said, I feel 100 percent,” said Lagares, who hit .259 in 143 games last year. “I want to do everything normal. Last year, I really didn’t throw. When the season came, I wasn’t ready to throw.”
Cespedes later took the bulk of the playing time, which proved to be a blessing of sorts for Lagares. Playing less allowed Lagares extra time to rest his elbow. By season’s end, he said he could make hard throws without feeling pain.
Lagares, 26, said he made strong throws while playing a month of winter ball in the Dominican Republic. He also changed the way he eats, doing away with his habit of 2 a.m. meals.
“As you look at him, you’re saying that this guy came in here with a mission,” Collins said. “So, it’s a great start.”
Jacob deGrom threw a bullpen session on Wednesday with no issues. The throwing session had been delayed two days because of soreness in his left leg . . . Reliever Hansel Robles will serve two days of his original three-game suspension for throwing at Cameron Rupp, a source confirmed. He will miss the first two games of the season . . . SS Ruben Tejada will be a free agent at season’s end, a source confirmed. Tejada was granted a day of extra service time as part of his arbitration settlement, which granted him free agency a year early.