DJ Stewart has lived many baseball lives.
He was a stud college player who went in the first round of the 2015 draft. He slogged through the minor leagues, finally making his major-league debut in 2018, showing promise for Buck Showalter’s Orioles, but playing in just 17 games. He swooned in 2019, suffered a concussion, and struggled to make it work before electing free agency this past offseason — signing with the Mets in a minor-league deal.
He had a daughter this year. He got COVID-19. He’s struggled with a wrist injury and, like every other highly-touted prospect who hasn’t yet lived up to expectation, he wondered about his future.
But maybe his future could be in Flushing.
He’ll have another month-plus to convince the powers that be, but the two homers the lefthander hit in the Mets 8-3 drubbing of the Pirates Wednesday afternoon were certainly a credit to him. He has three home runs in two games and delivered a perfect relay from right in the fifth inning, hitting Jeff McNeil at second base, who gunned down Andrew McCutchen trying to score.
“I love this game,” said Stewart, 29. “I’ve had injury issues but I know what I’m capable of doing when I’m healthy. What kept me going is getting back to the big leagues. This game is unbelievable. I don’t take it for granted playing at the big-league level, so that’s what kept me going. I have a little girl and diapers aren’t cheap.”
Pete Alonso added his 36th homer of the season in the seventh, giving him 469 career RBIs — putting him ahead of Keith Hernandez for sole ownership of 10th place in the franchise’s all-time RBI leaders. Rafael Ortega went 2-for-3 with a walk, two runs and an RBI.
Tylor Megill glided in and out of trouble, allowing two runs on five hits with four walks and five strikeouts over five innings.
“Guys come through being a first-round pick and all these great expectations and they have some periods where they may not quite get to what everybody hopes they get to,” Showalter said of Stewart. “Sometimes, you get a good player after that’s over because [at] 27, 28, 29 — the world is full of players who really care, figuring things out a little bit. So hopefully, we’re seeing some of that with him.”
Stewart got it started in the second, when he pulled Johan Oviedo’s hanging 2-and-2 curveball 387 feet to right for a solo home run, his third of the season.
His second homer came in the fifth. With the Mets up 4-2, Daniel Vogelbach drew a two-out walk and Stewart teed off on reliever Ryan Borucki’s 82.2-mph sweeper.
After, Stewart credited two significant factors: He’s healthy and he tweaked his swing in the minor leagues.
“In my career, I’ve been a guy who doesn’t really stride forward,” he said. “I was having a little bit of a tough time staying back, so we started a little toe tap as a drill from Triple-A, with Colin Hetzler, our hitting coach down there, and I translated it into the game and I love where it’s got me.”
Stewart said he doesn’t try to think too much about securing his spot for next year — a possibility as the Mets appear likely to dial back their free agency approach as they look to “re-purpose” for the future.
“I don’t think I would be up here if they didn’t know what I was capable of doing,” he said. “I’m just trying to be ready whenever my name is called.”
But make no mistake — players like Stewart and Ortega know exactly what hangs in the balance.
“Let’s face it, there’s some individual stuff that they want to establish, too,” Showalter said. “Through that, it can benefit the team. But these guys know what’s at stake for the offseason, next year. I think they’re all trying to run with it.”