Jeff McNeil is the Mets’ leadoff hitter for now and doesn’t plan to change anything about his free-swinging approach at the plate — and that’s just how manager Mickey Callaway likes it.
“He has that high on-base percentage and that high batting average for a reason, because he takes a certain approach,” Callaway said. “We want him to be himself at all times.”
McNeil batted leadoff for the third game in a row (and eighth time this season) Saturday night against the Brewers, with Brandon Nimmo dropping down to sixth.
Typically, a small part of being the first guy to see that night’s starting pitcher is working the count and seeing as many pitches as possible, to the hypothetical benefit of other hitters.
But in the case of McNeil, who entered Saturday fourth in the majors with a .365 average and seventh with a .438 on-base percentage, his routine of getting on base supersedes any benefit from making the pitcher throw more pitches.
“Whether I’m batting sixth or first, just try to get a good pitch early in the count,” McNeil said. “I’m not trying to work a count early in the game. I try to get on base. Swinging early in counts, that’s how I do it.”
McNeil has averaged 3.60 pitches per plate appearance, 157th among 183 qualified major-league hitters. Nimmo is 26th at 4.31. (Pete Alonso leads the Mets at 4.42, 11th in the majors.)
Even after coming out of his early slump, though, Nimmo hasn’t been his 2018 self. He entered Saturday hitting .219 with a .345 on-base percentage. Thus, he was dropped in the order and McNeil was moved up.
“[McNeil] does a great job of that with his approach that he uses every day, no matter where he’s hitting,” Callaway said. “To take that away just because he’s hitting in a certain spot is something I really don’t want to see happen, because we put him up there for a reason: to get on base, set the table for the other guys.”
Said McNeil: “We see enough on video and enough guys have faced [a given starting pitcher]. We have an idea of what they’re trying to do, [with] all the technology we have nowadays.”
McNeil gets the green light in other unusual spots, too. Last week against Philadelphia, Michael Conforto and Wilson Ramos each was retired on the first pitch he saw to open an inning. A lot of times when that happens, the third hitter takes his first pitch, simply to avoid a three-pitch inning.
“He looked at me and said, ‘Can I swing at the first pitch?’ I said, ‘Yeah, you whack it if he throws it in there,’ ” Callaway said. “And he hit a bullet up the middle. Of course, they made a play and it ended up as a three-pitch inning, but we don’t care about that. We want him to be himself and be the best hitter he can be — and he’s a really good hitter.”
Record for Alonso
Pete Alonso hit his ninth home run in the seventh inning Saturday night against the Brewers, tying a Mets record for most homers before May 1. Neil Walker (2016), John Buck (2013), Carlos Delgado (2006) and Dave Kingman (1976) also did it.
Before that, Alonso had only two home runs and a .205 average in the previous two weeks. Callaway said he wasn’t worried.
“He’s watching video and he feels like he knows what’s going on,” he said before the game. “He talks about how bad his at-bats were [Friday], so it’s not like he’s just satisfied with where he’s at. He’s going to turn it around.”
The Mets called up righthander Drew Gagnon and optioned righthander Corey Oswalt to Triple-A Syracuse . . . Lefthander Justin Wilson, placed on the 10-day injured list Monday with a sore left elbow, played catch Saturday. The Mets hope he’ll be ready to return late next week . . . Stony Brook native Anthony Kay allowed one run in 5 1⁄3 innings for Double-A Binghamton against Portland, Boston’s Double-A club. In five games, Kay has a 1.85 ERA and 0.99 WHIP, striking out 29 (and walking 11) in 24 1⁄3 innings.