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Explaining a few of Luis Rojas' decisions in Mets' loss to Padres

New York Mets manager Luis Rojas in the

New York Mets manager Luis Rojas in the dugout against the Arizona Diamondbacks on May 8, 2021. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

SAN DIEGO — The Mets’ 4-3 loss to the Padres on Thursday — the opener of a four-game set between two of the better teams in the National League — was marked by the Mets’ missed offensive opportunities, Yu Darvish’s early dominance and Fernando Tatis Jr.’s all-around excellence.

Sprinkled in, though, were a series of decisions by manager Luis Rojas and his staff that impacted the game, ultimately not in the Mets’ favor.

Here is a closer look at three of them, plus a bonus explanation of a play at third base.

1. Bunt with Blankenhorn?

The inning: Top of the ninth

The score: Padres lead, 4-3

The situation: No outs, runners on first and second

The matchup: Travis Blankenhorn against Mark Melancon

In the modern, analytics-driven baseball world where sacrifice bunting is unpopular, this seemed like a potential exception.

Blankenhorn, claimed off waivers from the Twins this week, was stepping to the plate in a major-league game for the seventh time in his life. He has played in just 10 games at Triple-A. The Mets acquired him because of injuries to several other players.

Rojas said the Mets did not consider having Blankenhorn bunt — especially because if it went well, it would have meant merely having the righthanded-hitting Kevin Pillar face the righthanded Melancon, a matchup the Mets didn’t like.

"This is a kid that, from what we know, is known for a little bit of his power, especially against righthanded pitchers," Rojas explained. "He got himself to a really good count. He was disciplined enough, laying off some tough breaking balls. And he got himself in a 3-and-1 and he was late on a cutter."

Blankenhorn sent a grounder to third. Manny Machado tagged lead runner Tomas Nido.

Pillar then grounded into a double play to end the game.

2. Keep Pete in the game?

The inning: Bottom of the sixth

The score: Padres lead, 4-2

The situation: Alonso, a pinch hitter, grounded into an inning-ending double play

The matchup: The Mets against the Padres’ extremely effective bullpen

The Mets needed runs. Pete Alonso is perhaps their best hitter. Leaving him in the game would have meant at least one more at-bat.

But Alonso was out of the lineup to begin with because the Mets wanted to give him a day off. He was on the injured list, skipped a rehab assignment and played three full games in a row.

So this was part of the agreed-upon easing-in process, Rojas said. Keeping Alonso in the game would have defeated the point.

"We didn’t think of him coming in at that point and finishing the game, staying in that long," Rojas said. "His availability was to probably use him off the bench and probably at some point do a double switch where he stays. But not to play the four innings."

Instead, Rojas double-switched reliever Jacob Barnes into the game. That allowed him to throw two innings, helping protect a worn-down bullpen.

That spot in the lineup led off the ninth inning. Pinch-hitter Nido singled.

3. Pinch hit for Walker?

The inning: Top of the fifth

The score: Padres lead, 3-0

The situation: Two outs, runners on the corners

The matchup: Taijuan Walker against Darvish

The options were leave Walker to fend for himself so the Mets could squeeze one more inning out of him, or take a shot at scoring by using an actual hitter.

Rojas opted for the former, for two reasons: The Mets were short in the bullpen (after a de facto bullpen game Wednesday) and short on the bench (with Jonathan Villar unavailable because of right hamstring tightness).

"It was a really, really hard decision with the two-out situation," Rojas allowed.

Walker hit a grounder 106 mph, but it turned into an out. Then he indeed provided that one more inning (with the Padres adding an unearned run).

Bonus: Send McKinney home?

The inning: Top of the eighth

The score: Padres lead, 4-3

The situation: Two outs, Billy McKinney approaching third base

The matchup: McKinney versus first baseman Jake Cronenworth and catcher Victor Caratini

A weird ricochet in rightfield meant McKinney had at least an RBI triple. It could’ve been a game-tying inside-the-park homer. Third-base coach Gary DiSarcina, wary of making the last out of the inning at home, stopped him at third.

Rojas said he always wants the Mets to be aggressive on the bases, but he ultimately supported DiSarcina’s call.

"It’s a tough decision," Rojas said. "Coaching third base is a hard job.

"A lot of times you want to take a chance, because they still gotta take a perfect throw to home and make a tag. But I’m going to stick to my third base coach’s decision. I think he probably would’ve been out at home plate."

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