MILWAUKEE — Their outfield depth sapped and several of their biggest bats missing — injured or otherwise — the Mets seem to have found a new offensive catalyst at the top of their lineup. And he just so happens to have the most consistent smile on the team.
Brandon Nimmo spurred the Mets to a 5-0 win Thursday over the Brewers with a 4-for-4 night, setting a career high for hits in a game and finishing a homer shy of the cycle. He has reached base in all of his past eight plate appearances, upping his OBP to a team-best .450.
(Next best among healthy regulars: Asdrubal Cabrera, .351.)
“When you have a guy that can be as patient as he can be and walk, and also hit extra-base hits, that turns into a really valuable player,” manager Mickey Callaway said.
The Mets, after dropping a series in blown-save fashion to one of the majors’ worst teams in the Marlins on Wednesday, bounced back with a win against the NL’s best to open the four-game set at Miller Park. Nimmo led a balanced offensive effort, while lefthander Steven Matz shut out Milwaukee for six innings.
Matz’s start was his first scoreless appearance since last July 3. His six frames also tied his longest outing of the season. In their last turn through the rotation, Mets starters have allowed two runs in 31 innings (0.58 ERA).
It was Nimmo who got things started. He doubled twice, tripled, walked and beat out an infield dribbler for a single, reaching in all five of his plate appearances.
“That’s my job. That’s what I’m supposed to do,” Nimmo said. “I’m in a good place right now, just really glad I’ve been able to create some traffic for Cabby behind me.”
The big night amounted to an extreme version of the sort of production Nimmo has offered all season, though the Mets’ roster construction is such that he hasn’t always been given the chance to provide it.
Injuries to outfielders Yoenis Cespedes (out indefinitely with a strained right hip flexor) and Juan Lagares (out likely for the year after Thursday foot surgery) created playing time for Nimmo in left. And a lack of consistent production from Michael Conforto and others created a hole at the leadoff spot.
Nimmo has filled in both gaps, starting in leftfield in six out of seven games since the Mets lost Cespedes and Lagares. He has batted leadoff in 11 of the Mets’ past 12 games, Callaway offering him a consistent lineup home for the first time in his major-league career. Nimmo is batting .341 in that stretch.
His previous most consistent stretch of playing time in a particular lineup spot? Batting seventh for four games in a row in June 2016.
Consistency on the lineup card has helped his consistency at the plate, Nimmo said.
“That’s really been beneficial for me, to be able to get these consistent at-bats, get into the rhythm of the game, come in, be able to make adjustments from game to game, at-bat to at-bat,” Nimmo said. “That’s a really big thing for me — for anybody in this game. You can ask any hitter.”
On Thursday, Cabrera and Flores each drove in a pair of runs. Every Mets starting position player had at least one hit. Devin Mesoraco and Amed Rosario each had two. Rosario is hitting .273 this month and is up to .253 on the year.
Matz scattered four hits, three walks and a hit batsman, bending plenty early but never breaking. He struck out three. Milwaukee stranded seven runners and went 0-for-5 with men in scoring position against Matz, whose biggest escape job came in the third, when he loaded the bases with one out.
“I’m just really thankful that I’m healthy and get to work on stuff,” Matz said. “I’m feeling more comfortable out there, able to attack the zone a little bit more, pitching to contact.”
“He bounced back, didn’t really worry about what had happened and kept on making pitches,” Callaway said. “He was really aggressive tonight. You could see it on his face. We need him to be able to do that. He did an unbelievable job.”