The way T.J. Rivera has been playing lately, it makes one wonder what took the Mets so long to give this guy a chance.
Rivera, a 27-year-old Bronx native, provided the eventual winning margin in the Mets’ 3-2 victory over the Twins on Sunday, banging his second big-league home run — and his first at Citi Field — to send the Mets to a sweep of the three-game weekend series with the lowly Twins.
“I just try to go out there and have good at-bats, play good defense, and luckily, you know, some of those hits I’ve been having have been key hits,’’ Rivera said.
The homer was his second hit of the game and his fifth hit in two games (5-for-9). It upped his batting average to .344, clearly impressing manager Terry Collins.
“I don’t think there’s any question he can play here [in the big leagues],’’ Collins said. “His swing plays here, he’s got bat speed, he’s got some power. I truly believe in overachievers, [and] I think he’s one of those guys.’’
The 6-1, 205-pound Rivera, a righthanded-hitting infielder who played at Lehman High School in the Bronx and Troy University in Alabama, was undrafted out of college but signed with the Mets as a free agent in 2011. Despite a career batting average of .324 over six minor-league seasons, he never got a look with the major-league club before this season, when all he did was win the Pacific Coast League batting championship with a .353 average for the Mets’ Triple-A Las Vegas affiliate.
He said there were times, especially this season, when he wondered why he wasn’t getting called up by the Mets. But he said he never let his frustration consume him.
“It’s not doing anything positive for me to dwell on those kinds of things,’’ he said. “I might have been frustrated at times, but I was able to push it to the side and just keep pushing. Now I’m here.’’
He first got called up Aug. 10 and then went back and forth before being called up for good on Sept. 6, two days before regular second baseman Neil Walker had season-ending back surgery. He has started the last five games and had nine hits in 20 at-bats with two homers in that span.
“I just think he’s got great confidence in what he can do, and that is put the barrel on the ball,’’ Collins said. “He’s always done it; everybody that’s ever had him talks about it, and he’s doing it here.’’
Eventually, Collins said, teams will figure out how to pitch to and defend against Rivera. But for now, the Mets are benefiting from their opponents’ unfamiliarity with him.
Said Collins, “We’re going to just take advantage of the fact that nobody knows T.J. real well yet and see if we can let him keep getting some hits.’’