Jay Bruce’s return from the disabled list on Friday means the Mets will get a month-plus of frequent looks at a defensive arrangement that could be their norm in 2019: Bruce at first base, plus Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo in the corner-outfield spots.
Bruce, who hit a two-run home run in the Mets’ 3-0 win over the Nationals, split time between rightfield and first during his rehab assignment — the end of a two-month stint on the DL as he managed hip and feet issues — and will play both spots the rest of this season. But Mickey Callaway made it clear that he wants to see Bruce at first base a lot.
“We need to make some kind of determination going into the offseason whether or not it’s feasible to bring him back as a first baseman next year or a guy that’s going to play both or a guy that’s going to be a rightfielder,” Callaway said. “So we’re definitely going to play him at first quite a bit moving forward.”
Could Bruce be the Mets’ everyday first baseman in 2019?
“I definitely think that’s a possibility,” Callaway said. “That’s one of the things we need to find out this last part of the season.”
Bruce, for his part, has said all of the right things regarding a potentially permanent position change. “I’ve got both gloves in my locker,” he said. “Whatever they tell me I’m doing, I’ll do.”
If Bruce proves comfortable and able at first — and if the Mets are comfortable with his ability — it will free up rightfield for Nimmo. He and Conforto both have played centerfield for stretches, but the Mets prefer them in the corners.
That all comes with the caveat that with their general manager search yet to begin, the Mets don’t know who will be running their baseball operations come November.
The playing-time casualty in all of this is Dominic Smith, who was optioned to Triple-A Las Vegas. Smith spent five games with the Mets and made one start in which he hit three balls hard (including a home run). He also played several innings in leftfield, where he botched a 13th-inning fly ball that cost the Mets a game against the Giants.
If Bruce emerges as the regular first baseman, it will further cloud the future for Smith, a top-100 prospect a year ago, and Peter Alonso, a top-100 prospect now. Both are 23.
“The deal here is you might not ever get a look,” Callaway said of Smith. “That’s how it goes in the major leagues. Nothing is fair. It is what it is. But he has to keep on grinding and putting himself in a position where he can come up here and get at-bats.”
Devin Mesoraco’s neck MRI on Friday revealed nothing serious, but he expects to need a couple of days off with what the Mets are describing as stiffness. He is not on the disabled list. Callaway said Mesoraco could catch “in a pinch,” but the Mets called up Tomas Nido from Double-A Binghamton to serve as Kevin Plawecki’s backup.
Another moving piece: Plawecki’s wife is due to have a baby, so he’ll land on the paternity list sometime soon. “Any day now,” he said.
The Mets optioned utilityman Jack Reinheimer to Las Vegas along with Smith.