ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — As the losses pile up for the Mets, so are the injuries.
In falling Sunday to the Rays, 7-1, the completion of a weekend sweep, the Mets had two more starting position players potentially get hurt: Michael Conforto, who exited due to a tight right hamstring, and Jeff McNeil, who departed because of a tight left hamstring.
Both will get MRIs on Monday in Atlanta, manager Luis Rojas said. He added that McNeil maintained it was just tightness, while Conforto told him he felt a pull.
"Hamstring issues are no joke, right?" Rojas said. "It’s adversity. As a team, as a family, we know times like this can come, whether there’s injuries or there’s bad stretches, different things."
Both issues occurred in the first inning.
The designated hitter for a second time in three days after dealing with what he called a "cramp" in his left hamstring/back earlier in the week, McNeil led off with an infield single. He said he felt a grab at his hamstring in the final 10 feet as he beat out a ground ball to second baseman Brandon Lowe.
"It was right when I was getting pretty close to the base," McNeil said. "Definitely was trying to get a hit there, gonna run as hard as I physically can. Just a little extra effort there at the end that gave me the discomfort."
Rojas said there was "no hamstring issue" when McNeil came out of a game Tuesday. McNeil said the Sunday problem was "carryover" from the original instance of left hamstring discomfort, though he felt "great" when running Sunday morning.
Conforto’s concern popped up moments after McNeil’s. In grounding into an inning-ending double play, he pulled up at first base, reaching for the back of his right leg after hitting the bag.
Those developments meant Rojas had to put square pegs in round holes — and started to run out of pegs of any shape.
Jake Hager, a 28-year-old rookie who made his major-league debut Saturday, replaced Conforto in rightfield. Mostly an infielder in his decade in the minors, Hager had never played rightfield, though he did make one start in center and one start in left with Triple-A Syracuse this year.
Patrick Mazeika pinch hit for McNeil when his spot came up again in the third inning. In the sixth, he homered for his first hit in the majors.
That left Tomas Nido, and only Nido, on the Mets’ bench for most of the game.
The Mets (18-16) began the day with just three reserves: catchers Nido and Mazeika and utility man Hager. The latter two entered with a combined six major-league plate appearances.
How did they end up with that roster construction? The Mets called up Hager on Saturday to help cover for McNeil, whom they didn’t want playing defense. That meant sending down Khalil Lee, their only backup actual outfielder. And they had a mere three bench players because they are carrying 10 relievers to protect against back-of-the-rotation weakness.
Expect roster moves Monday.
"We’ll see what kind of need we have," Rojas said.
The Mets are missing four of eight starting position players: Conforto and McNeil, plus Brandon Nimmo and J.D. Davis. Backups Luis Guillorme and Albert Almora Jr. also are hurt.
On the field, meanwhile, Tampa Bay lefthander Josh Fleming allowed one hit — that McNeil single — in five shutout innings.
Marcus Stroman lasted six innings, allowing five runs and three homers, matching the long ball total from his previous seven starts. Rojas blamed it on Stroman’s sinker not sinking. Manuel Margot, Willy Adames and Lowe went deep.
"I didn’t have it," said Stroman, whose ERA rose from 2.01 to 2.72. "You have those types of games throughout a baseball season. I’m not slightly worried about it."