Juan Lagares has seized his opportunities.
Coming into Thursday night, the Mets outfielder was experiencing his most successful stretch of the season, batting .448 (13-29) with two doubles, a triple, three RBIs and a 1.086 OPS in his last eight games. It’s a performance that’s impressed manager Mickey Callaway, who lauded Lagares for his play before the Mets wrapped up their series with the Indians at Citi Field.
It’s also a performance that has Callaway looking to keep Lagares in the lineup, even with the looming return of Jeff McNeil from the injured list. Callaway didn’t specify where McNeil would play upon his return, but second base or even third are distinct possibilities in addition to his usual outfield duties.
“It has an impact,” Callaway said before the game. “[Lagares is] saving extra base hits, which saves runs. He’s creating runs at the plate, so it’s definitely going to have an impact and I think we have to continue to figure out what the best fit for McNeil is when he comes back.”
Lagares hasn’t been a consistent presence for the Mets this season, starting only three games in July, but after McNeil suffered a strained left hamstring on Aug. 13, he’s stepped up to the plate. Quite literally.
Over the stretch of those eight games, Lagares had as many hits as he did in his previous 57 contests and 97 at bats. Callaway said he believes Lagares’ confidence has grown, adding that he’s worked with the coaching staff “to stay through the middle of the field.”
“He’s getting a chance to play, so he’s got to feel more comfortable at the plate automatically just because you’re getting more reps,” Callaway said. “That’s what we’re seeing.”
McNeil, who is batting .332 this season, is eligible to come off in the injured list Saturday. He played both corner outfield spots in a rehab assignment for Triple-A Syracuse on Thursday after running the bases earlier in the week and taking grounders at second on Wednesday.
Callaway said the biggest concern for McNeil when he eventually returns to the big-league club will be his ability to move in the field, adding that “we feel like he’s going to hit.”
“We want to see his range and running down balls, just to make sure he’s totally healthy,” Callaway said. “We want to see him run around a little bit and still be able to control the effort a tad before we activate him up here.”
And McNeil isn’t the only player the Mets might be getting back soon.
Callaway said Robinson Cano is continuing “that progression” from a torn left hamstring and ran before Thursday’s game. Brandon Nimmo (neck) played four innings with Syracuse Wednesday, while Jed Lowrie (knee and hamstring) was back in the lineup for Advanced-A St. Lucie Thursday after a scheduled day off the night before.
It’s a lot of moving pieces for Callaway to sort through, and while he said Lagares’ workload would be monitored during the rest of the Mets’ homestand, he was also quick to credit him for what he’s done so far.
“Lagares deserves to play right now,” Callaway said. “He’s stayed positive and knew if he got the chance he was going to prove that he could get the job done.”
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