Jeff McNeil didn’t even need a rehab assignment in the minor leagues to fully get back into the swing of things after missing 12 games with a strained hamstring.
The lefty hitting machine has rapped six hits in three appearances since he was activated from the injured list earlier this week, including two key singles — in a game he didn’t even start — in the Mets’ 7-3 win Thursday over the Giants at Citi Field.
“I feel pretty good. I’m just trying to get good pitches to hit and trying not do too much up there,” McNeil said after continuing to do a lot, raising his batting average to .345 this season. “It’s difficult, not seeing pitching for a few days and then come back facing [San Francisco ace Madison] Bumgarner the first day [Tuesday in the series opener]. That’s always a little difficult, but I guess it only gets easier from there.”
McNeil certainly has made hitting look easy since the Mets called him up from Triple-A last July, batting .336 with 40 multi-hit games over his first 112 big-league appearances.
After going 3-for-5 in Wednesday’s 7-0 victory, McNeil wasn’t in the starting lineup in what Mickey Callaway indicated was the predetermined “plan when we brought him back” from the IL.
Trailing 3-2 in the seventh inning, the Mets got the first two runners aboard before starting pitcher Zack Wheeler’s spot came up. Callaway instead decided to send up Carlos Gomez to sacrifice bunt, while waiting to use McNeil as a pinch hitter for leadoff man Amed Rosario after Gomez successfully moved both runners into scoring position.
“He’s a pure hitter. He’s a guy that we need in there as often as possible,” Callaway said of McNeil. “I think at that point you try to get runners in scoring position and then try to have the best matchup you can possibly have. McNeil might be the best matchup anybody can possibly have in the league.
“When you have that bullet like him, if it wouldn’t have been him on the bench, you would have done a totally different thing. But when he’s not starting that day, you have to be very aggressive and put guys in a position where when he touches the ball, he’s going to get it done. You don’t really worry about him striking out. So getting a runner on third or in scoring position with less than two outs is big for us there.”
With what he jokingly described as “like my ‘D’ or my ‘C’ swing,” the 27-year-old McNeil lifted a single barely over the glove of Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford against righty reliever Reyes Moronta to tie the game. He added another RBI single to right against Mark Melancon for the Mets’ final run one inning later.
“I hit it and knew it would be close,” McNeil said of his game-tying hit. “When I got down to first, the fans started to get louder and louder and I’m like, ‘That’s in no man’s land.’ It just happened to drop in there. I hit a little blooper and it worked out.”