Kevin Pillar #11 of the Mets walks off the field...

Kevin Pillar #11 of the Mets walks off the field after game one of a double header against the Colorado Rockies at Citi Field on May 27, 2021. Credit: Getty Images/Elsa

PHOENIX — Reinforcements arrived for the first-place Mets on Monday, with first baseman Pete Alonso, reliever Seth Lugo and outfielder Kevin Pillar returning from the injured list.

That lowered the Mets’ IL total to 13.

"It’s huge," manager Luis Rojas said of those players returning. "Those are the guys that we were waiting for to keep this thing going."

To make room for the returnees, the Mets optioned outfielder Khalil Lee, catcher Patrick Mazeika and righthander Sean Reid-Foley to Triple-A Syracuse.

Pillar’s activation was particularly noteworthy. He missed just 13 days (10 games) after getting hit in the face by Atlanta reliever Jacob Webb’s 95-mph fastball, causing a badly broken nose.

The initial expectation was for Pillar to begin baseball activities 10 to 14 days after surgery. Monday marked 10 days since surgery, and instead of doing baseball activities he was available off the bench.

Pillar said it was his surgeon, Dr. Anthony P. Sclafani of Weill Cornell in Manhattan, who told him he could be an active player 10 days later, so Pillar set his heart on that. Mets decision-makers preferred to wait a few more days. The sides compromised on Pillar returning to the roster but being on the bench for a day or two; he said he is targeting a start Wednesday against Arizona lefthander Madison Bumgarner.

 

"I'm just happy to be back playing," Pillar said. "It was important to me to get back as soon as possible considering everything that’s going on with this team right now and just make myself available."

Rojas added: "Even at the beginning of this, I didn’t think he was going to be active [so soon]. We all saw that. It's incredible. This guy, he's a tough dude."

Pillar's nose remains broken — it takes four to six weeks for the bone to heal, he said — and he will wear a protective mask in the outfield and on the basepaths (but not while batting). A custom-made mask will arrive in the next couple of days, he said.

He also will wear a c-flap, a batting helmet extension that covers more of his face.

"I’m not in any pain," said Pillar, who has become a fan favorite for his fortitude. "It’s been overwhelming. It’s been awesome to see. But for me, it keeps things in perspective. I didn’t set out to be a cult hero, I didn’t set out to do anything. I just feel like I get paid to play baseball."

For Lugo, something unexpected happened while he missed the opening quarter-plus of the season while recovering from February surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow: The Mets’ bullpen has been very good.

Mets relievers began the week with a 3.51 ERA, fifth in the majors. That is a significant improvement over last year (4.60) and the year before (4.99).

That it was Reid-Foley — who has a 1.98 ERA in six games (13 2/3 innings) — who got squeezed out speaks to how effective the group has been.

"It’s incredible," Lugo said. "When I got with the team, I was [telling] guys, hey, let me jump on board here. Let’s figure out what’s going on. Let me get a piece of that."

Alonso, batting third in his return, missed a dozen days with a sprained right hand. Rojas said he is "full go," no restrictions.

As was the case with Pillar, Alonso told the Mets he did not want to go on a minor-league rehabilitation assignment, though Rojas initially thought Alonso would need one.

"That’s how much confidence he had in his hand and the way he was swinging and impacting the ball," Rojas said. "There's nothing he felt there. He's 100 percent, he's good, there's nothing that’s really bothering him there."