LOS ANGELES — The Mets are closer than ever to seeing their trade-deadline vision come to fruition.
When Francisco Lindor (strained right oblique) and Javier Baez (back spasms) return from the injured list — perhaps as soon as Sunday — the team’s preferred defensive alignment will be Lindor at shortstop and Baez at second base, manager Luis Rojas said Thursday.
During the infield practice portion of their workout in the afternoon, Lindor and Baez teamed up on several flashy double plays, inspiring hooting and hollering from Mets onlookers.
"They joke about probably switching in middle of the game," Rojas said. "Baez will go to short sometimes and Francisco went to second the other day in San Francisco and they were playing around. They’re both great athletes, great defensively. Up the middle, they’re going to make up a lot of ground.
"With our shifts, they’re going to be moving all around, too. It’s good that they work from every angle, as they do."
The Mets have not decided when either will be activated. The hope all along for Baez has been that he will return Sunday, the first day he is eligible after the minimum 10-day stay on the IL. Lindor is about five weeks through his expected recovery of four to six weeks.
Another workout at Dodger Stadium on Friday will factor heavily into the team’s decision.
"It would be ideal if both guys are in Sunday," Rojas said. "We are optimistic for this weekend, or if not, the next series against the Giants (beginning Tuesday)."
Lindor faced live pitching as a lefthander hitter — for the first time since getting injured — in addition to hitting righthanded Thursday. Baez took batting practice on the field, his first time doing so since being sidelined.
Baez being the starter at second would displace Jeff McNeil, who Rojas said has been working out at third base and leftfield. He has played both positions previously.
That would leave a combined two full-time spots for McNeil, J.D. Davis (the starting third baseman) and Dominic Smith (the starting leftfielder).
"We had the conversation where this scenario could be, where Javy is at second and Francisco is at short and (McNeil will) have to go to," Rojas said. "J.D.’s been playing really good at third and he’s been one of our best hitters. So it would be hard to take J.D. out of the lineup."
James McCann said he was "moving a lot better" but was probably unavailable Thursday, when he was out of the lineup for a third consecutive game. Rojas had hoped he would be able to come off the bench.
"We are more optimistic about just keeping him off the IL," Rojas said. "Talking to him, too, he’s very optimistic."
Has he ever experienced back spasms like he has this week?
"Not like this," McCann said. "My back just locked up on me."
Patrick Mazeika again started in his stead.
A quirk of the schedule has the Mets playing the Dodgers for a second weekend in a row, which means several pitchers making consecutive starts against the same team.
It started with Taijuan Walker on Thursday and will continue with Carlos Carrasco/Walker Buehler on Friday and Rich Hill on Saturday.
Such an arrangement comes with challenges — and benefits.
"Two really good pitchers (in Buehler and Scherzer). That’s the challenge. They have great stuff," Rojas said. "The benefit of it is we just saw it, so we’re not too far away from watching their repertoire and probably preparing a lot better than we did in the two games that we had against them last week."
Buehler struck out 10 batters and allowed one run in seven innings last time. Scherzer lasted six innings and gave up two runs.
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