Matt den Dekker was called up to the big leagues on Wednesday and has been a fixture in the starting lineup since, earning his third straight start in centerfield on Friday against the Nationals at Citi Field.
He was lifted in the top of the sixth inning when manager Mickey Callaway replaced Noah Syndergaard on the mound with Seth Lugo, but den Dekker seems to have carved out a legitimate role on the team thanks to his defensive work in the outfield.
Even if it’s just in the short term while more of the Mets’ injured regulars make their way back.
“I go out there and pride myself on playing good defense, and hopefully I can show at the plate, as well, that I can play at this level,” den Dekker said before Friday’s game. “Get on base, maybe steal some bases and see where it goes from there.”
Den Dekker went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts on Friday and is 0-for-10 since his call-up. That usually wouldn’t bode well for a 30-year-old who has had limited success in the big leagues, but Callaway said he’s been pleased with den Dekker’s defense.
“Centerfield defense is a big thing, and he’s made some pretty big catches coming in on the ball, going back,” Callaway said. “I think with the way our pitching has been, we need to value some of that, and that’s the reason he’s in there. But we do have to, obviously, weigh the offensive side of things, too, and I think at this point, with the way things have been going, maybe at times it’s easier to save runs than it is to come by runs.”
In the top of the seventh inning against the Phillies on Wednesday, den Dekker charged in to make a sliding grab on a shallow fly ball hit by Jesmuel Valentin. The play survived a review and helped keep the game scoreless.
Den Dekker made another highlight-reel catch on Thursday in the top of the fourth against the Nationals, ranging to his right before sliding to catch a sinking line drive off the bat of Max Scherzer.
“Center’s always been my natural spot in the outfield,” said den Dekker, who also has significant experience in the corner outfield spots. “It’s just kind of fun to go out there and run down balls and make plays.”
He’ll have to come around on the offensive side to justify keeping him on the roster when the likes of Todd Frazier and Yoenis Cespedes return from the disabled list, although neither has a firm timetable.
A career .228 hitter with seven home runs and 29 RBIs in 360 at-bats spanning six seasons, den Dekker likely won’t develop into a true everyday outfielder. But the Mets are willing to give him a look while the team’s offense continues to scuffle.
Said den Dekker: “This year in Vegas, I started off slow and told myself, ‘Just go out there and take it one at-bat at a time and have a good at-bat this time up and things will take care of themselves at the end.’ ”