PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — After declaring the Tim Tebow Tour pretty much done, the Mets reversed course on Monday, brought the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback / outfield prospect back to major-league camp and started him in leftfield against the Marlins.
Tebow delivered with a diving catch and his first hit, a hard ground single to left in the Mets’ 6-4 victory at First Data Field.
Tebow went 1-for-3, making him 1-for-10 with four strikeouts and a hit by pitch in three big-league spring training games.
“It was fun,” manager Terry Collins said. “He’s gotten better.”
Tebow’s thoughts on his big day were not recorded for posterity. The Mets, perhaps wary of the circus they created by signing the former NFL quarterback at age 29 to attempt a baseball career, declined to make him available for interviews.
On Friday, Collins said the Mets had no plans “right now” to bring Tebow back to big-league camp after two super-hyped appearances. But the Mets changed their minds, Collins said, because of a shortage of players due to the World Baseball Classic and a pair of split-squad games last week.
“He’s not going to play a lot,” said Collins, who added that Tebow will come off the bench on Tuesday against the Astros in West Palm Beach. “We need players.”
Collins has complained recently that his regulars — and even the backups and the backups to the backups — are tired from seeing too much action thus far in spring training.
Tebow, wearing No. 97 with no name on the back of his uniform, made his first impact on Monday on defense. He ran in and made a diving catch of a line drive, robbing Justin Bour of a hit for the first out of the second inning.
Tebow, who has received ovations for poking his head out of the dugout, for being announced in the lineup and for simply making contact during his at-bats, got a well-deserved ovation from the crowd of 6,031.
Tebow got another ovation when he led off the fifth with a single to left off lefthander Kyle Lobstein, who has a 5.06 ERA in 34 big-league games with the Tigers and Pirates. And Tebow got the ball.
“He hasn’t seen too many lefties in the last 14 years,” Collins quipped. “There’s no reason for him to bail. He stays right in there on them.”
Tebow also grounded to second in the second and struck out in the seventh.
The Mets had three position players at the WBC: outfielder Brandon Nimmo and infielders T.J. Rivera and Gavin Cecchini.
Nimmo is returning to the Mets, but not to the field anytime soon. He suffered a Grade I strain of his right hamstring chasing a fly ball on Sunday in Italy’s 9-3 loss to Puerto Rico.
The Mets said they will evaluate Nimmo, but he is expected to miss at least a few weeks. Nimmo had been a candidate for an Opening Day reserve role. His absence could open a spot for . . . not Tebow. Michael Conforto, actually.