The Mets’ plan to get offensive production out of the centerfield spot until Michael Conforto returns from shoulder surgery has gone as well as they could have hoped.
Brandon Nimmo started the opener, had two hits and reached base four times. Juan Lagares started Saturday’s game and had two hits, and he followed that by going 3-for-4 in Sunday’s 5-1 loss to St. Louis at Citi Field.
With Sunday’s news that Conforto was headed back to New York and might be close to returning, the outfield could be getting crowded, and Lagares and Nimmo are likely to get less playing time despite their excellent early-season play.
Conforto was an All-Star last season — he had a .939 OPS and 27 homers in 109 games — and he is viewed as a centerpiece player for years to come. He will face rehabbing lefthander Jason Vargas on Monday and get a diet of live batting practice before a decision is made whether he can be activated on Thursday.
As soon as Conforto is deemed ready, he will become the starting centerfielder. Yoenis Cespedes and Jay Bruce are cemented in leftfield and rightfield, respectively. For Lagares and Nimmo, their opportunities to start would come when one of the regulars is given a day off or manager Mickey Callaway opts to give Bruce a start at first base.
Lagares had three singles against the Cards on Sunday, a start he didn’t expect until Nimmo turned up with flu-like symptoms. The Mets tried to get Nimmo well enough to come off the bench before ultimately sending him home.
Callaway has shown an affinity for planning lineups in advance, but Lagares said nothing has been laid out to him about what will happen when the outfield is fully healthy.
“Not really,” he said when asked if he knows the plan. “I just come here positive every day and ready to play. You have to be ready because you never know when you’re [getting into the game]. I come ready . . . It doesn’t matter whether I am in the lineup or not.”
Lagares re-tooled his swing for this season with an emphasis on getting a higher launch angle. He hit .200 in spring training but finally might be getting comfortable with it. After getting five hits in his last six at-bats, he said, “It’s just the beginning of the season, but I’ve been working and I feel a little bit better.
“In the spring, I was working on it and was thinking too much in the games. Now I am just working and try to let things happen in the game and not do too much.”
“He’s looked great at the plate,” Callaway said. “He looks comfortable. He looks confident. He’s covering pitches. He’s not chasing. I am seeing what we wanted to see out of Juan, and obviously the defense is always going to be there.
“That’s very encouraging to have Nim and Juan playing like they are — that’s a good problem to have,” he added.
Lagares’ pleasure at producing at the plate is obvious and he said, “I am going to keep working and take advantage of every opportunity.”
There still may be an opportunity for Lagares and Nimmo to make a positive impression in the games, but along with Conforto’s stay on the disabled list, that time may be running out.