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Jeff McNeil in his comfort zone, goes 4-for-4 in Mets' win

New York Mets second baseman Jeff McNeil singles

New York Mets second baseman Jeff McNeil singles against the Atlanta Braves during the sixth inning of an MLB baseball game at Citi Field on Saturday, Aug. 4, 2018. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Comfortable at the plate, where he’s already homered and posted a .452 on-base percentage through 10 games (29 plate appearances).

Comfortable in the field, where he’s held his own at second base and made one error at third base, which isn’t his natural position.

And he’s comfortable in the clubhouse, lounging back in his chair while recalling the rocky road he faced before getting the call to Queens.

“It had been a rough couple of years, haven’t played too much,” said McNeil, a 26-year-old who battled myriad injuries in recent seasons. “To get that call, to finally make it here, it was a pretty special moment.”

McNeil, the Mets’ hottest hitting prospect for much of the season, went 4-for-4 with a double in the Mets’ 3-0 win over the Braves on Saturday night at Citi Field. He also made two sparkling defensive plays, leaping to snag a line drive by Johan Camargo in the second inning and ranging to his left and throwing on the run to retire Ozzie Albies in the fourth.

"It’s pretty unbelievable," he said of his night at the plate. "I felt really good up there, finally starting to see pitches well."

McNeil said he's still adjusting to the increased velocity.

“I’m still kind of getting used to the pitching,” McNeil said. “Little different here than in Triple-A, little bit more velocity. I’m still trying to get used to that, but it will come. For the most part, I’m recognizing pitches. I’m not swinging at a bunch of bad pitches in the dirt or anything, so I’m not too worried about that.”

Had it not been for several injuries (a double sports hernia, a torn hip labrum and a handful of lesser ailments), he might have broken into the majors sooner. He owns a .311/.380/.443 slash line in his six-year minor-league career, highlighted by a .342/.411/.617 slash line with 19 home runs split between Double-A and Triple-A this season.

He spent time on the disabled list early this season with what he called a bruised toe, but he considers it minor.

He worked on his physical preparation last winter.

“I just worked hard in the offseason, worked with a physical therapist, a personal trainer, to make sure everything’s strong,” he said.

Mickey Callaway said of McNeil's 4-for-4 night: “That’s the kind of hitter he is. He really goes with the ball. The one hit, back up the middle, kinda looked like Ichiro a little bit. He’s able to manipulate the barrel. He’s able to put tough pitches in play, foul them off to see other pitches. He’s done a really great job at the plate.”

Callaway has been impressed with McNeil’s work ethic.

“I think he’s done a pretty good job,” Callaway said. “I love his at-bats. He has the ability to kind of manipulate the barrel and foul pitches off, tough pitches off. He puts the ball in play . . . His work on defense has been really good. He goes out there every day and he focuses on things he needs to do to improve.”

He made an impression in his debut, lacing a pinch-hit single in his first MLB at-bat. On Tuesday, he hit his first home run, a looping blast in the Mets’ 25-4 loss to the Nationals.

With Asdrubal Cabrera traded to Philadelphia, McNeil is expected to have ample opportunities to prove himself and convince management that he can be part of the team’s long-term plans.

Should his bat awaken, McNeil could play himself into a regular role next season for the offense-starved Mets.

New York Sports