BOSTON — This week, the Mets are going back to the future.
With the Mets playing by American League rules at Fenway Park, manager Luis Rojas had the privilege of filling out a lineup card that included a designated hitter instead of the pitcher batting on Tuesday. Pete Alonso took that spot in the series opener.
The DH was implemented in the AL in 1973, long before any current major-leaguer was born. There is a sense within baseball that that mid-to-late-20th-century change might come to the NL permanently in 2022, as part of the new collective bargaining agreement that MLB and the players’ union are negotiating.
Like so many others, Rojas — a lifelong NL fan who grew up around the Montreal Expos managed by his father, Felipe Alou — is ready for the DH to become an MLB-wide rule.
"I love the National League. I was raised watching the National League game unfold. And I love the strategy. As a baseball fan, I love watching the game in the National League just unfold, both managers just going at it," Rojas said before the Mets played the Red Sox. "But health [of the] pitchers, having more position players play, I think it'll be a good thing for the game. Let's see where it comes down to, but I can see where the discussion can be a positive for the game."
Mets pitchers have taken a beating while hitting and running the bases this season.
Jacob deGrom attributed his first four injuries — right lat inflammation, right side tightness, right flexor tendinitis, right shoulder soreness — to offense-related activities. Taijuan Walker, similarly, had a May stint on the injured list due to a tight left side, sustained while batting, and finishing swings caused him so much pain in his left (non-throwing) shoulder that he started batting lefthanded.
Marcus Stroman on multiple occasions exited games after running the bases, the Mets preferring to be careful in what had been chilly weather. And Carlos Carrasco was removed from his most recent outing earlier than he otherwise would have been because he jammed his right thumb during an at-bat, triggering issues gripping the ball.
"I like [hitting], but my first full season again, it’s exhausting," Walker said last month. "Now it’s like, ugh, I have to go hit. I have to get up and hit or stand there and whatever.
"I think everyone is [in favor of the DH coming to the NL]. I was all for it, and now I’m, like, over it. I’m tired."
In recent seasons, the Mets have had a roster that would have benefitted from the DH rule, with more starting-worthy position players than available positions, including some wedged into secondary spots on the field. Heading into 2022 — with a potentially volatile offseason between now and then — that might still be true, especially with a 39-year-old Robinson Cano returning from a season-long PED suspension.
Asked about the benefit of having the DH spot in this two-game series against Boston, Rojas tied it to the need to score as many runs as possible as the Mets make a last-minute bid at the playoffs, an unlikelihood that he frequently references.
"We'll take advantage of that with [Marcus Stroman] not having to hit or bunt, you'll take that. You take the extra hitter and see if it makes our lineup a little deeper, brings [Dominic Smith] into the lineup," Rojas said. "There's a lot of good things that can play and we need to score runs, especially when things haven't been going our way and against this team, this team can hit. To have a couple more guys that can be involved, it's nice to have the DH."