Rene Rivera has grown accustomed to taking what he can get from his major league career. The Mets catcher doesn’t necessarily agree with the title of journeyman, though his travels through baseball match the description. But this year his status has changed.
Rivera’s bat is making more noise than ever before, and it is creating an interesting discussion for the Mets. That’s because Travis d’Arnaud is close to returning from his latest injury, a bruised right wrist, in the midst of what is becoming a career year for Rivera.
Rivera, 33, is hitting .308 with two home runs and 14 RBIs. He had a career-high 11-game hitting streak from April 30 to May 19, going 17-for-43 (.395) with 12 RBIs. Rivera has a much higher batting average than Yadier Molina (.261) and, entering Monday night’s games, had driven in more runs than Buster Posey (11). The Mets open a three-game series against the Padres on Tuesday night at Citi Field, and Rivera is expected to catch Matt Harvey.
Rivera broke in with the Mariners in 2004, and the Mets are his fifth major league team. His most productive season came in 2014 with the Padres, when he hit 11 homers, drove in 44 runs and batted .252.
“He’s been absolutely a brilliant, important piece of our lineup the last two weeks,’’ Terry Collins said Sunday. “And when Travis comes back — we haven’t made any decisions — but certainly Rene’s going to get some playing time. He’s worked extremely hard since he’s been a Met to get it going offensively. He has seen his opportunity to play a little bit due to the injury to our other catchers and he knows he has to step up. This guy is a tireless worker when it comes to the hitting side. He listens, he pays attention, he tries to apply what they’re doing in the cages and it’s paid off unbelievable.’’
Rivera is in weighty territory for someone who typically plays once or twice a week, catching a day game after a night game. Rivera had “backup” written all over the transaction when the Mets signed him as a minor league free agent in April 2016. He hit .222 with six homers and 26 RBIs in 65 games last season. He was re-signed for $1.75 million.
Rivera, who is a better defensive catcher than d’Arnaud, has no expectations of what will happen when d’Arnaud returns.
“You’re going to have a guy that plays less than a guy that plays every day,’’ Rivera said in describing the position. “Every offseason I work as if I’m going to play every day and I come every day like I’m going to play every day, put a lot of work into it through the season, through the offseason last year and the year before. I just want to have fun, I want to be available to go out there and have the team win. If it’s the starting job, it’s the starting job. If it’s the backup, I come each day ready to play.’’
The Mets reportedly tried to change their catching dynamic last season by inquiring about then-Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy, who instead was traded to the Rangers. D’Arnaud reportedly would have been included in the deal. Lucroy is eligible for free agency after this season, and the Mets could be among the bidders.
Rivera has played in 24 of the Mets’ 42 games, with d’Arnaud playing in 22 and hitting .203 with four homers and 16 RBIs. D’Arnaud, 28, has more power than Rivera, and 2017 was supposed to be something of a make-or-break year for his Mets career. He did extensive offseason work and had a good spring training. d’Arnaud, however, again has been unable to stay healthy, a hallmark of his career with the Mets beginning in 2013, when he suffered a fracture in his left foot in April. He has averaged 83 games a season since that year.