ATLANTA — They started with Robinson Cano, Dominic Smith and J.D. Davis, and when that didn’t work, they turned to the trade market, adding Daniel Vogelbach and Darin Ruf in deadline deals to create what they thought would be a highly productive platoon. When that didn’t work, either, they mixed in Mark Vientos, who was among their best offensive minor-leaguers.
But here in the waning days of the regular season, facing imminent decisions about the construction of their postseason roster, the Mets still lack a productive, confidence-inspiring, decisive solution at DH.
Enter Francisco Alvarez.
“He’s in a good place swinging the bat,” manager Buck Showalter said, “and we hope to take advantage of it.”
Alvarez, 20, a catcher and the Mets’ top prospect, served as their DH on Friday, batting seventh against lefthander Max Fried, in the opener of a potentially division-deciding series against Atlanta. He went 0-for-4, punctuating his bases-loaded strikeout in the ninth by losing his bat, which flew to the backstop for the second time in the game. He said he did that once all season previously.
“I was excited because I was able to make my debut, but also sad and disappointed that we weren’t able to win that game,” Alvarez said through an interpreter. “My mindset [in the ninth] was just to go out there and do a good job. My approach didn’t change, it was the same approach. It was just to go out there and do the same thing that I always do. I just didn’t get the results there.”
Alvarez may well get the chance to win more at-bats in these final two series and beyond, too.
Consider: Ruf was hitting .152 with a .413 OPS when the Mets opted Wednesday to leave him behind in New York, deciding the injured list was the best way for him to deal with a neck strain. And Vogelbach had a .211/.375/.298 slash line in the previous five weeks.
Showalter was noncommittal regarding his DH choice for as soon as Saturday.
Vogelbach, a lefthanded hitter, has been the go-to option against righthanded pitchers the past two months; Atlanta’s Saturday starter, Kyle Wright, is righthanded.
Is Showalter open to deviating from his recent norm and plugging in a righthanded hitter (such as Alvarez) against a righthanded pitcher?
“We’ll see if something tonight will give me pause to think that way,” he said.
The Mets were willing to thrust Alvarez onto the brightest of September stages in the penultimate series of the year amid a pennant race. So unexpected was the move that Alvarez posted a sentimental Instagram missive Wednesday, after his minor-league season ended, about how he was counting down the days to next year. He was in South Carolina, driving from Syracuse to Miami with his parents, when the Mets told him Thursday night to detour to Atlanta.
“It was surprising, of course,” Alvarez said. “That’s also what the goal is, to be up here . . . I always had the hope that I’d get called up because I know that I can come out here and help the team. I never lost hope.”
Opening the year without a single game above Class A, Alvarez punished Double-A pitching (.277/.368/.553 with Binghamton) and did much the same with Triple-A Syracuse (.234/.382/.443, including vast improvement after getting over an ankle injury). He had 27 homers and 78 RBIs in 112 games on the two levels.
Alvarez, wearing No. 50, looked comfortable in the hours before his first game in the majors. He got to the ballpark early and hit in the batting cage. He chatted with team owners Steve and Alex Cohen. He took BP, slamming three home runs on four swings in his last round.
Unlike Brett Baty, who was all smiles and signed lots of autographs before his debut here last month, Alvarez had his serious face on.
“He’s been a high-profile guy from the word ‘go,’ but at the same time, I think quietly he’s a grinder,” said assistant hitting coach Jeremy Barnes, who got to know Alvarez last year when he was the acting farm director. “There’s an ‘it’ factor about him. Whatever that is, he has it. It seems that he always rises to the occasion . . .
“The moment is never too big for him, it seems like. For his age, just a quiet confidence . . . Puts his head down and goes about his business the right way.”