SAN DIEGO — After a spate of errors drew attention to his diminished range at shortstop, after a surprise change to second base and an angry trade request that he’d later retract, Asdrubal Cabrera and the Mets seem to have found common ground.
“We’re on the same page,” Cabrera said after making his third career start at third base in Tuesday’s 6-5 win against the Padres.
Versatility has long been at the core of the Mets’ best chance to trade Cabrera, who has accepted his new reality at third. It’s part of an effort by the Mets to recoup some value from their veterans on expiring contracts after a season derailed by injuries.
Even a recent run of solid play appears to have come too late for the Mets (47-51), winners of six of their last seven, though they still appear headed toward a sell-off.
Yoenis Cespedes homered for the first time since June 23 — a span of 87 at-bats. He also doubled and tripled on a check swing, scoring on the play when Wil Myers’ throw to third sailed well wide of the bag.
Cespedes’ mad dash in the seventh inning ended with a head-first slide at home plate on what turned out to be the winning run. With a chance at a single to complete a cycle, manager Terry Collins pulled Cespedes because of tightness in the quad muscles that kept him on the shelf earlier this season.
“I’m not too worried,” Cespedes said through a translator. “I don’t think it’s going to be an impediment for playing tomorrow.”
Cespedes chalked up his early exit to fatigue, yet he wore a heavy wrap around his right leg, and Collins stopped short of committing to having the slugger in the lineup Wednesday.
With the trade deadline looming Monday, the Mets’ primary objective still appears to be showcasing the players who might be on the move. On Tuesday, some of the possibilities came into clearer focus.
A source confirmed that the Rays are the latest contenders to express some level of interest in closer Addison Reed, who nailed down his 18th save of the season despite allowing Dusty Coleman’s RBI double in the ninth. Slugging first baseman Lucas Duda is also on the radar for Tampa Bay.
Meanwhile, sources said that a solid market has developed for Cabrera, leading to optimism that the Mets may find a trade partner before the deadline. Moving Cabrera also would clear a path for the Mets to promote top prospect Amed Rosario.
Part of the team’s hesitation to bring up Rosario has been rooted in a logjam of infielders, an issue that would be alleviated once the switch-hitting Cabrera is traded.
“He’s played well, he’s swung the bat well,” manager Terry Collins said of Cabrera, who doubled in a run Tuesday. “[Monday] night, starting that double play, we might not have made that play. I think he’s done exceptionally well over there. Like I said, I think he’s really focused on ‘I’ve got to show my wares here.’ That might help, also.”
Until last weekend, Cabrera’s experience at third consisted of 1 1⁄3 innings as a defensive replacement in 2007. But with Rosario on the horizon, Cabrera sensed that this might be his final season at short.
“I knew at some point I was going to get moved to third or second, I knew it was coming,” said Cabrera, who is hitting .256 with nine homers and 30 RBIs. “I’m a professional player and I’m going to do the best for my team at any position they want me to play.”
Despite Cabrera’s loud and public initial resistance, circumstance has shaped his outlook. He downplayed the differences of playing at third.
Cabrera handled his first three chances over his first two games at third base before committing an error Tuesday. He bobbled a long hop on Jose Pirela’s chopper off the mound on a play that cost the Mets a run. But in the ninth, he made a backhanded play along the line, then uncorked a strong throw for the final out of the game.
“It’s early right now but every day I’m working to be a third baseman,” Cabrera said before the game. “At some point, I’m going to feel really, really comfortable. I feel fine right now. As soon as I play more and more, I’ll feel even better.”
Without command of his arsenal, righthander Seth Lugo allowed four runs and eight hits in six innings. But he improved to 5-2 with the help of two shutout innings by reliever Paul Sewald.
Said Lugo: “It was a pretty-good bad day.”