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Wilmer Flores enjoying hot stretch since his return from DL

Wilmer Flores #4 of the New York Mets

Wilmer Flores #4 of the New York Mets follows through on a sixth inning home run against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Citi Field on Tuesday, June 26, 2018 in the Queens borough of New York City. Credit: Jim McIsaac

TORONTO — Wilmer Flores served as the Mets’ designated hitter for both games against the Blue Jays this week, giving him — and perhaps the league — another glimpse at the life he lived with some regularity in the minor leagues: all hitting, no fieldling. For a utility infielder with no natural position, that sounds like the dream.

Flores didn’t dare publicly broach the idea of DHing regularly, at least not while he’s employed by a National League team like the Mets, but he does enjoy it, he said.

“Flo is a hitter. I’m sure he loves to hit. I wouldn’t be surprised if DH is very enjoyable for him,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “He can kind of lock in, go watch some film, go in there and hit in the cage, stay loose and go out there and perform at the plate. [A DH routine is] probably different for every hitter and what they’re comfortable with. As long as you’re staying loose, staying busy between innings, it’s probably not that big of an adjustment.”

Flores said he has a stretching routine to help keep his legs loose between at-bats. It paid off for the Mets on Tuesday, when he sent a booming solo home run to center. That extended Flores’ hit streak to a career-high 10 games and his on-base streak to 17 games heading into Wednesday’s series finale, highlighting what is on pace to be Flores’ best year yet.

That run began June 15, the day he returned from the disabled list after dealing with a back issue. Since then, he is hitting .281 with a .317 OBP and .561 slugging percentage. The only Met slugging more in that time is Jose Bautista (.587).

Differentiating this hot stretch from much of the rest of his career are his reverse splits. Traditionally better against lefthanders, Flores has been vast improvement against righties this year. He’s slashing .280/.308/.480 (26 plate appearances) against southpaws since coming back from the DL. Against righthanders, it’s .281/.324/.625 (37 plate appearances).

That success is a version of Flores’ pre-DL trends. This season his slash line is .293/.354/.545 against righties, .211/.269/.324 against lefties. Flores is also walking at the highest rate of his career (8.4 percent) and striking out at the lowest rate of his career (9.9).

“He just really got into the flow of things. No pun intended,” Callaway said. “He’s a guy that goes out there and puts together good at-bats. He’s been a traditionally slow starter and he’s starting to really come around and we need him in the lineup.”

Flores attributed his success against righthanders to facing them more often. You can’t improve a skill if you don’t practice it, after all. He’s been just about an everyday player at first base in recent weeks (and at third while Todd Frazier was out for most of May).

“If you struggle with something and just keeping doing it, keep facing righties, you’re going to make the adjustment you need to make,” Flores said. “If you face constantly lefties, it’s not going to help you.”

Would another team what to trade for Flores? If his improvement against righties is real, he is a more attractive piece. And while it’s not clear how interested the Mets are in dealing him, assistant GM John Ricco has said they are open to anything. Moving a bench player who isn’t strong at any particular position for someone who is would fit their mission statement of trying to become more athletic.

Playing time for Flores is a consistent question. The Mets are also carrying first baseman Dominic Smith, who has sat a lot since his recall more than three weeks ago. Callaway didn’t commit to playing Smith for a prolonged stretch upon the Mets returning to NL rules with a homestand starting Friday.

“We just always need to check and see who’s pitching against us and see how the guys are going,” Callaway said. “Flo has been swinging the bat so well.”

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